The Times They Are A Changin’

Welcome to a very (very) belated Flute Friday (posting on Tuesday).

Last week I took a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to London, England. This breathtaking city is home to numerous cultural artifacts and a wealth of history buried within spectacular museums and centuries old castle walls. As I walked through Hampton Court I was overwhelmed by the stories captured in each room and the rich background represented by simple, ancient objects. It was a bit difficult, however, to keep track of the timeline of kings, queens, wars and triumphs and how each event fit into the greater history of the country and the world. My hotel room in Greenwich offered a beautiful and functional solution by providing a timeline of significant historical events painted on the bathroom door. This door inspired me to compile the below timeline cataloging the history of flute development. Our modern instrument represents a long history of practice, experimentation and manufacturing that expands into ancient civilizations where the flute was a simple instrument created from basic materials used to symbolize significant cultural and religious events. You may not be inspired to paint this timeline on your bathroom walls but I hope you will gain a new appreciation of the developments happening to the flute during each musical era and how these developments shaped compositional approaches to the changing instrument.


300 B.C. – Artwork appears in western Europe, Asia, and the middle east depicting flutes held vertically made of hollowed out bones or sticks with embouchure holes, used for hunting and magical rituals.

200 A.D. – Flutes gain popularity with the Romans and Etruscans, used to entertain royalty, in theatrical productions, and at festivals and celebrations.

1000 A.D. – Flutes become less popular after the fall of Rome, but are eventually re-introduced to Western Europe through Germany.

1300 – The flute appears in France, Spain, and Flanders.

Circa 1320 – The one-piece, two inch, wooden flute is created, sounding in the key of “D”.

1360 – Guillaume de Machaut develops a distinction flute using a block to direct air at the edge of the embouchure hole and flutes requiring players to direct air with their lips (The transverse flute).

1350 – Flutes are frequently portrayed in paintings, primarily in the hands cherubs.

1460 – Flutes are introduced in military practices.

1511 – The Zwerchpheiff is created. This flute has six finger holes and has a narrower structure.

1529 – The descant, alto, tenor, and bass flutes are created.

1619 – Praetorius’ “Styntagma Musicum” features three Querflötten, flutes with ranges of two octaves.

1636 – Flutes Allemands (German Flutes) also called Transverse flutes, are developed in Germany. These flutes have keys of “D” and “G”, a cylindrical bore, and are made of wood.


1670 – Jean Hotteterre makes adjustments to the flute by sectioning the instrument into three pieces (the headjoint, middle joint and foot joint). Hotteterre also gave the flute a conical bore (the foot joint was smallest in diameter), reduced the size of the standard six finger holes, and added an Eb key (the first key developed for the instrument).

1670 – Three-piece, 1-keyed flute in “D” appears in Jean Baptiste Lully’s famous orchestra in France.

Circa 1710 – Flute method books are developed and sold to beginners.

1720 – The middle joint was divided into two pieces and into extra joints of different length, called the corps de recharge. The purpose of this new design was to allow the flute player to shift the pitch of the instrument to be in tune with the orchestra. The short and long bits could be adjusted to play higher or lower.

1722 –  Johann Joachim Quantz adds a tuning cork in the head joint, and a C# key on the foot joint.

1726 – The E- flat key was added on standard flute foot joint.

1760 –  Flute makers in London add three keys to the flute. The G#, B-flat, and F keys.

1774 – Flute makers Florio, Gedney, and Potter in London remove C# key from the foot joint.

Circa 1780 – Mozart and Haydn compose symphonies calling for flutes with four and six keys. The Meyer-system flute is also developed featuring eight keys.

1782 – Flutemaker J.H. Ribock adds the closed C key.

1800 – B-flat lever and left hand lever added.

1806 – 1844 Claude Laurent creates several glass flutes with three, four, or seven keys.

1808 – Rev. Frederick Nolan invents open holes (Finger pads cover holes), and connects the keys together.

1810 – George Miller develops flutes with metal bores in London England. Theobald Boehm creates his own model of the flute, experimenting with different keys, springs and pads.

1812 – Tebaldo Monzani places knobs on the mouth-hole

1814 – James Wood in London creates three tuning slides for the flute.

1822 – The Nicholsons (father and son) adjust the placement of keys, make the tone holes larger, and develop a thinner walled flute.

1824 – Marker Pottgiessen invents the ring and crescent keys which he subsequently adds to the standard flute.

1827 – Rudall and Rose create an eight keyed flute.

1829 – Boehm creates his own fingering system using rods that connected the keys and builds an elaborate machine for boring holes, pillars, posts, and flat gold springs.

1830-1831 Boehm finishes his new model and presents it in performance in London and Paris.


circa 1830 – Beethoven uses the flute extensively in his symphonies.

1832 – Boehm is impressed by flute virtuoso Charles Nicholson’s flute design, which produces a clearer tone, and switches to ring keys instead of open holes, thus improving the tone of his flutes. He also developed the thumb left hand crutch.

1833 – Gordon’s Diatonic Flute comes out with crescent-shaped touchpieces.

1834 – Boehm’s model becomes very popular among German and French flutists.

1837 – Auguste Buffet (Paris instrument maker) improves on the Boehm flute model – changing axles, hole placements, lugs, rods, and sleeves (the latter hold the rods and axles together)

1838 – Buffet and Coche add the D# key and the G# key.

1846-1847 – Boehm gives his flutes a new cylindrical bore. He also enlarges the embouchure to a quadrangular hole to produce a fuller and clearer tone. His new fingering system covers the inside of his closed keys with felt pads and the rims of keys with skins, holding the keys together with screws and washers. He experiments with different materials for making flutes. He decides that silver is the best, seeing as it is light and produces the best tone.

1847 – Rudall and Rose, Clair Godfroy and Louis Lot buy for rights to manufacture Boehm flutes from Boehm. The flute goes to New York, where it becomes very popular. Flutes are adopted as official orchestral instruments in the Paris conservatory.

1848 – Giulio Briccialdi, an Italian flute virtuoso living in London, introduces the lever for the thumb Bb fingering. This mechanism was a common retrofit to older flutes. The foot joint key design goes through rapid changes, with very probable influence from makers outside the flute world. Makers begin enlarging tone holes and utilizing pads with holes in them to cover the holes but still allow for Boehm’s fully vented design.

1855 – The Boehm Flute wins a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition, to general acclaim. New players make great technical advances thanks to Boehm’s mechanical breakthroughs. Louis Lot leaves the employ of Godfroy and opens his own flute making business.

1860 – Tulou retires from the Paris Conservatory. Dorus is appointed his successor. Dorus grants Louis Lot a contract to provide Boehm flutes to theConservatory.

July 20, 1860 – Dorus and Henri Altés visit Lot and each order a silver flute (Lot #475 & 476). With the adoption of Lot’s design by the Paris Conservatory professor and his eventual successor, this is the advent of the age of the silver flute.

1878 – Boehm perfects his ‘modern silver flute’. His final model is accepted as the standard today.


1948 – Alexander Murray, well-known flutist and teacher, collaborates with makers Albert Cooper and Elmer Cole, on the “Murray” flute – based on the “Cooper experimental” scale, and with a “corrected” C# key

1961 – 62 – Murray’s next model, the “Mark I” appears.

1967 – Murray collaborates with Jack Moore, a well-known maker with the Armstrong Company.

1972 – Murray and Moore bring out production model flutes and piccolos.


There are of course many developments from the 1970s to present day that do not appear on this list. Please let me know what you would like me to include on this timeline as I would love to have a more comprehensive collection of the advancements that have occurred in our modern age.

How do you think the development of the flute has changed our approach to flute music? What do you think is the most significant event in the creation of the modern flute? Please comment below!


Happy Fluting!





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