The 1-keyed flute was used through the Baroque and Classical periods. This instrument, often called the Baroque flute, was made of wood and/or ivory. It could have 3 or 4 separate joints, or pieces, depending on the flute maker.
The Problem of Pitch
Modern musicians count on the fact that pitch is standard wherever they go. The standard of A=440 Hz has been in place for over a century. Though pitch drifts up to A=442 Hz or A=444 Hz in places, it is stable enough that switching from one to another is not terribly problematic.
Hertz (Hz) is a unit of measuring frequency where 1 Hz is one cycle every second. When we tune to A=440 Hz, this means that there are 440 vibrations occurring every second.
In the Baroque era, pitch was not standardized, so when musicians moved from place to place they often needed to play at a significantly different pitch. Overall pitch was lower during the Baroque era, but it also was not consistent. A musician might play A=415 Hz in one city, then at the next city they would find they needed to tune to A=392 Hz – that is a change of nearly a half step!
Pitch was as high as A=430 Hz and was as low as A=392 Hz.
You can use your computer to enter the number in Hz and have the computer play that tone at onlinetonegenerator.com. Listen to how different these A pitches are, then compare it to our current standard of A=440 Hz.
For string instruments, this change could be made by loosening or tightening the strings. For flutes it proved a bit more complicated and impacted instrument making.
Replacement Body – Corps de Rechange
Once flutes were made with 4 joints, instrument makers could help bridge the changes in pitch that flutists were required to make by creating replacement body joints, known as corps de rechange. The flute shown above is a four-joint flute with a single corps de rechange. A corps de rechange looked like a middle joint, but was slightly larger or smaller, depending on the pitch change that was desired. The Baroque Flute page on oldflutes.com shows a 4 piece flute that has 4 center joints (corps de rechange – scroll down on the page a bit), each of which tunes the flute to a different pitch.
The corps de rechange allowed flutists to play at different pitches, but the system was not without compromise. The corps de rechange made the flute longer, but the proportions between all of the finger holes was not accurate. Generally a flute was made to be “true” at one pitch – in other words, when one specific body joint was used, the flute played the most in tune. The other corps de rechange could allow the flutist to play at a higher or lower pitch, but the flute was less in tune with itself.
Flutists could make some adjustments to the cork in the headjoint to partially compensate for the pitch discrepancies, but much of the tuning had to be done by the performer.
Flutist Lisa Beznosiuk provides an introduction to the Baroque flute in this video. She shows several of her flutes, which are made of grenadilla wood, ivory and boxwood.
Flutist and early instrument teacher Kate Clark provides an introduction to the Baroque flute and compares it to its predecessor the Renaissance flute.