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Topic: Woodwind updates

  1. #1

    Woodwind updates

    I thought I'd mention a couple of updates and changes to the woodwind section since Rimsky's day. First of all, the instrument that Rimsky (or his translator) calls the "bass flute" is now known as the alto flute (in G). "Bass flute" used to be the common English name for the G instrument; Holst writes for it under this name in The Planets and other pieces. Andy Brick notes that there was no bass flute as we know it in Rimsky's day, so no confusion was possible (actually, some makers were experimenting with building them, but they were certainly not at all common). However, now there is a true bass flute (in C, an octave below the flute), so it's important not to call the G instrument by this name. The bass flute in C has a wonderful rich sound, but it takes a lot of air, and only professionals can be expected to own one (and not even all of them do!). Kennan points out that it may do better in situations where it can be amplified, as its tone can be rather soft. Robert Dick has written some incredible solo pieces for the instrument.

    Also, Rimsky gives the lowest note of the oboe as B. That was true in his day, but nowadays it's hard to find an oboe that doesn't go down to Bb (the English horn, however, still only goes to written B). The low end of the flute also bears commenting: Rimsky gives B as the lowest note, and most serious flute players have instruments that go down to B. However, this is by no means universal, and it's always wise to provide an alternative if you write low B for the flute. This only holds for the C flute: low B is nonexistent on the alto (despite what Rimsky writes) and bass flutes, and the piccolo still only goes down to D (although it's not hard to get a Db by covering half the end with your pinky).

    I understand that a few makers are now producing flutes with the low end extended to Bb (though I've never seen one). This is decidedly nonstandard -- don't write this note for flute unless you know your flutist has such an instrument.
    Last edited by marnen; 06-06-2006 at 12:00 AM. Reason: Typo.
    Marnen E. Laibow-Koser
    Composer / Web developer

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Orcas Island

    Re: Woodwind updates


    Thanks you very much for the clarification of the Rimsky-Korsakov material on woodwinds. There certainly have been some changes over the years as the instruments of the orchestra have evolved.

    Gary Garritan

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