The origins of the flute can be traced back over 20,000 years and is possibly very much older.

In the Baroque era, flute were made of three sections. The modern flute began to take shape in the 1760s when an extra length was added and ivory rings were added to reinforce the mounts. From 1770 to 1830, the flute evolved further with more metal keys being added to finally reach reach a total of eight. These “eight-keyed” flutes were usually made of boxwood or ebony with ivory or brass mounts between each joint.

During the 1830s and 1840, the Munich flautist, Theobald Boehm, revolutionised the design of the flute. He made the bore more cylindrical, made the holes larger to produce greater volume, repositioned the holes and devised the method of fingering still used today.

Flute d'amour
Flute d’amour
Click here to hear a flute

The clarinet is thought to have been introduced around 1700 by Johann Denner, a German instrument maker. The early clarinet had two cylindrical joints leading to a flared bell with a cane reed tied to the mouthpiece. It was usually made of boxwood and fitted with two keys.

More and more keys were added, culminating in the clarinet produced by Iwan Muller in 1810, which was very like the ones played today. During the first half of the 19th century, eight-, twelve- and thirteen-keyed clarinets were produced. As with the flute, changes were made to the positions of holes for the Boehm system of fingering introduced in the 1840s.

The oboe evolved from the shawm in France in the late 17th century. The number of keys was increased from 10 in 1825 to 14 by 1840. Two version, the French and the German, have vied for popularity since the middle of the 19th century. The French oboe has a narrower bore and a simpler outline.

Renaissance shawm, baroque oboe & modern oboe
Renaissance shawm, baroque oboe & modern oboe
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The English horn, or cor anglais, introduced in the mid 19th century is actually another, lower-pitched, form of oboe. It has a pear-shaped bell and curved mouthpiece.

A semicircular bugle was adopted by the English and German infantries as a signalling horn in about 1800. Soon after that, the modern coiled shape was developed. It remained popular until the development of the valve led to its displacement the cornet from the middle of the 19th century.

The modern trumpet was born when the valve was patented in 1818. It has continued to evolve but many argue that late 19th century French-style instruments represent the peak of the art.

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The first tuba to use a valve system was introduced in 1835, superseding the serpent and the bass horn.

In 1840, Alphonse Sax, a Belgian instrument maker living in France, developed the valved instrument that he called the saxophone. In the 1860s, the saxophone was taken up by the French Army Band which introduced it to other parts of the world, notably North America, where it became one of the most popular wind instruments.

Did You Know?

In the Dark Ages, the Church banned the use of musical instruments in churches. As a result the styles of instruments used in Ancient Greece and Rome were forgotten and most modern instruments stem from the Renaissance.


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