The flute in the Classical Era incorporated changes that were largely designed to change the quality and consistency of sound on all of the notes. The bore of the flute became more narrow and conical, and a more elliptical shape of the embouchure hole replaced the more rounded one of the Baroque flute.
Even the keys that were added to the flute during this period were designed to improve tone rather than improve technique. The Classical flute ranges from the 1-keyed design used in the Baroque Era to a 5-keyed instrument. Two keys extended the range of the flute from low D, adding a C# and C. The other keys were added to strengthen some of the weaker notes on the flute.
While some embraced these innovations, others at the time were skeptical of the new keywork. Their criticism was that making the flute sound stronger and more homogeneous detracted from the charming tone of the 1-keyed flute.
Johann Joachim Quantz Flute – Frederick the Great
J.J. Quantz joined the court of Frederick the Great in Prussia in 1741 as a flutist, composer, and flute/composition teacher to Frederick the Great.
Quantz also was a maker of flutes, and made an instrument for Frederick the Great during his time in court. The Dayton C. Miller collection at the Library of Congress includes the flute that Quantz made for and sold to Frederick the Great, included several corps de rechange and the porcelain storage box and the receipt of sale. This flute is a 2-keyed instrument with several corps de rechange.
Quantz was an innovator with the 2nd key on his flute, but the 2-keyed flute never did become very popular. Likely this is due to other innovations in keywork that occurred around the same time. Quantz also pioneered changes to a more tapered bore and elliptical embouchure hole to create a stronger sound.
This 4-part flute is a replica of a Charles Schuchart flute. Schuchart was a flute maker during the mid-1700s, so his flutes would have been used during the late Baroque/early Classical period. Charles and his father John Just, both flute makers, were known to have experimented quite early (1720s) with extensions on the flute to allow notes lower than D. Though it is a Schuchart replica, the flute shown on this page does not have the low note extension – its lowest note is D.
Innovations in the Late Classical Flute
In the late Classical Era, flute makers started to add more keys to the flute. One might think that additional keys would be to make the instrument easier to play technically, and in some ways it does. The additional keys, however, served mainly to allow the tone of all notes of the flute to sound more even.
Lisa Beznosiuk provides a wonderful overview of the flutes used in the late Classical Era in her synopsis of the flute used for Beethoven’s music.