When performing a solo flute recital you do not have to play a programme full of pieces accompanied by the piano or harp! Although there are many good pieces for flute and piano, introducing a solo flute piece can be an excellent way to vary your programme for the audience.
There is some incredible solo flute repertoire out there that is worth considering for your concerts. As a flutist that has performed on stage countless times, I know that solo pieces remove the pressure of playing with the piano. Let’s get into some of the best unaccompanied flute solos you can put into any recital.
J.S. Bach – Partita in A minor for Solo flute
This piece is one of the first unaccompanied flute solos ever written. Prior to this, melody instruments were not considered able to play unaccompanied pieces. 1722-23
This piece is a partita in four movements:
- Bourée angloise
The Allemande is the longest of the four movements. Within this movement we see many leaps from one register to another. By doing this, Bach is able to show the implied harmony around the melody
The Corrente is a lively movement within this partita. It has a quick tempo and is written in a simple triple meter. It is very true to tradition with asymmetrical dimensions. It has two clear halves – twenty two bars and forty one bars. There is a very unexpected high D# at the end that does not resolve in the same register. Rather, we hear the resolution of E natural in the octave below!
The Sarabande has much rhythmic flexibility. Sarabande’s are played slowly and this one is no exception.
The Bouree Anglaise is immediately striking within this piece. It is built upon the short short long rhythm.
Telemann – 12 fantasias
Telemann’s 12 fantasias for flute were published in Hamburg in 1733. These fantasias are a beautiful example of the flute alone. The movements within these fantasias are alone in the baroque repertoire, in that it includes musical forms that were deemed impossible on a solo instrument such as the fugue, French overture and passacaglia.
These pieces are truly beautiful and a great addition to your repertoire!
C.P.E. Bach – Sonata in A Minor
C.P.E Bach’s Flute Sonata in A minor is another great unaccompanied flute solo.
C.P.E Bach was J.S Bach’s son and this is perhaps a tribute to his fathers solo partita in A minor. This is also one of the few unaccompanied solo sonatas from this time. C.P.E Bach wrote this around 1747. During this time he was a chamber harpsichordist for Frederick the Great who was an avid amateur flute player.
This sonata has three movements, each written in a rounded binary form.
The first movement is marked as poco adagio, the second movement is Allegro and the final movement is also Allegro! The final movement is significantly more difficult than the other two movements!
Debussy – Syrinx
This piece is perhaps the most famous unaccompanied flute solos out there! It was the first solo flute piece to be written for the new Boehm system flute. The solo pieces mentioned above were written for the wooden baroque flute.
Debussy’s syrinx is a great introduction into impressionist music and all flutists no dub will play this piece at some point in their journey. The piece was written in 1913 and was originally written as incidental music for the uncompleted play Psyche by Gabriel Mourey. The title of the piece refers to the myth of the pursuit of the nymph syrinx by the god pan.
Karg-Elert – Sonata Appassionata op.140
Karg Elert wrote the sonata appassionata in 1917. The sonata appassionata is a one movement work in sonata form with a huge emphasis on timbral changes. At the time of composing, Karg Elert was very influenced by the music of Schoenberg, Scriabin and Debussy and it is thought that Debussy’s Syrinx is what influenced him to write a solo flute sonata.
Honneger – Danse de la Chevre
Danse de la Chèvre literally translates as ‘dance of the goat’. This piece is a one movement work written in 1921.
The piece begins with a slow and dreamy introduction which soon moves into a dancing ‘goat like’ theme.
This is one of the great unaccompanied flute solos that is slightly more accessible than other pieces mentioned.
Ferroud – Trois Pieces
Ferroud Trois Pieces has three movements as the name suggests. The piece was written between 1921-1922 and each movement is dedicated to a different person, which give each a very special character. The first piece ‘Bergere Captive’ has a plaintive but pastoral mood, the second piece ‘Jade’ is much faster and shows strong Asiatic influences with pentatonic melodies and pitch bends and finally the third piece ‘Toan-Yan’ depicts a Chinese festival!
This piece offers a lot and is a great addition to any recital!
Hindemith – Acht Stucke
When talking about Hindemith we usually talk about his sonatas. However, the Acht Stucke is a wonderful example of an unaccompanied flute solo! As the title suggests, it contains eight short pieces. Written in 1927 this piece helps a performer to develop their breath control, expression, tempo and performance!
Ibert – Piece Pour flute solo
The composer Ibert wrote this piece in 1936 and was premiered by the famous flutist Marcel Moyse. The piece has fragments from Ibert’s famous flute concertos third movement. The piece is written in three parts with two contrasting themes. The first theme is a slow lyrical melody and the second theme is a faster and wittier theme.
Cinq – incantations Jolivet
Jolivet wrote his cinq incantations for solo flute in 1936. This five movement work deals with the life cycle and the idea of the harvest. He wrote the piece shortly after the death of his mother and you can hear this emotion throughout the five pieces.
Bozza – Image
Bozza wrote this single movement work in 1939. This is one of Bozza’s most famous compositions and includes many extended techniques for the flutist, including flutter tonguing. Another excellent choice is you’re looking for unaccompanied flute solos!
Berio – sequenza I
Berio Sequenza I was written in 1958 for the flutist Severino Gazzelloni. This is the first of a series of fourteen sequenzas for different instruments, and a great example of contemporary music.
The piece is roughly 6 minutes in length and includes the use of flutter tonguing throughout the range of the instrument, key clicks and the first use of multi phonics ever seen in a concert piece for flute.
Kazuo Fukushima – Mei
Kazuo Fukushima was a Japanese composer. He wrote the piece ‘Mei’ in 1962. Mei can translate as dark, dim and intangible. In some Asian cultures the flute is believed to be able to reach the world of death and it is important to know this when embarking on this piece. This solo flute piece utilizes many extended techniques.
Muczynski – Three preludes for flute
Muczynski wrote the three preludes for solo flute in 1962. It is a three movement work that conveys very different moods. The first one is playful, the second movement is calm and the third movement fast movement with a mixed meter and pulse that alternates driving you to the end of the piece.
Marilyn Bliss – Murali for solo flute
Marilyn Bliss wrote her solo flute piece ‘Murali’ in 2004. Murali is the name of Krishna’s flute, Krishna was is from the Hindu tradition. This piece has a tight structure to help listeners easily understand the work.
The piece begins mysteriously trying to capture the mercurial spirit of Krishna before moving into a driving dance. This dance builds to a climatic top D flat before the coda briefly revisits the opening.
Elliott Carter – Scrivo in Vento
This solo flute piece was premiered in 1991. The piece is based on a Poem by Petrach who lived in Avignon between 1326-1353. Carter uses the flute to show the paradoxical nature of the poem by using contrasting musical ideas and registers.
The piece begins with mournful notes in the low register but this opening phrase is repeatedly interrupted by screaming high notes. These high notes develop into their own, more violent, phrase! Despite the screaming high notes, this piece shows off the flutes voice with expressive and lamenting melodies.
Cassandras dream song – Brian Ferneyhough
Brian Ferneyhough completed his solo flute work Cassandras Dream Song in 1970.
This solo flute work is composed differently to other pieces in that the final performance will be different for each flute player. The work has two separate sheets, the flute player will play a line from each page in an order of their choosing. It is a fascinating piece that will push performers musically and emotionally. The listener will also experience each performance in a very different way.
Malcolm Arnold – Fantasy for flute
Malcolm Arnold wrote the fantasy for flute in 1966. It was commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for the Birmingham international wind competition. The work provides a challenge for the flute player and is a great choice if you need unaccompanied flute solos!
Ian Clarke – Great train race
Ian Clarke wrote this work in 2000. This is a great work and the title shows just how exciting the piece is by stating ‘the flute as you don’t usually hear it!’. This piece uses many extended techniques to depict a train. This is a real show piece and a great way to add excitement to your flute recital.
Opens with quiet chugging which makes the piece instantly sound like a train. An array of extended techniques then follow on from this.
Valerie Coleman – Danza de la Mariposa
Coleman wrote her Danza de la Mariposa in 2011. It is a rhythmic tone poem that is meant to give the listener a tour of South America. The piece is inspired by many species of butterfly. This piece is not for the faint hearted!
In summary, a challenge but a beautiful choice when choose unaccompanied flute solos.