The flute is an amazing instrument capable of being fast and flashy as well as slow and beautiful. The flute is often a solo instrument in orchestral works over other woodwind instruments and the solo flute repertoire is no different, perhaps it is all those high notes we are capable of playing! The flutes tone has the capability of sounding like the voice and is so often used to sound like a soprano. Within the flute repertoire you will find many flute concertos, flute sonatas, solo flute pieces and more. You may also find much use of the piccolo and alto flute. The flutes possibilities are endless!
This was an extremely difficult post to write as there are so many famous flute pieces. I hope that by listening to some of these incredible works you will come up with your next recital programme!
The first piece we will look at is Debussy’s Syrinx. This is one of the most famous solo flute pieces ever written! Debussy wrote this piece in 1913 and it was the first significant piece for solo flute after C.P.E Bach’s Sonata in A minor written over 150 years earlier. This piece is inspired by greek mythology. The syrinx was a nymph that was chased by Pan, the nymph did not want to be caught by pan and so prayed to the river gods to be transformed into reeds! There are many different interpretations of this wonderful piece of music ranging from 3 minute versions to much longer and slower versions! It is truly a wonderful piece of music.
Jolivet: Chant de Linos
Another incredibly famous flute piece is Jolivet’s Chant De Linos. This piece was written in 1944 as a commissioned work for the famous Paris Conservatoire competition. The piece is written for flute and accompanied by piano. This is a one movement work with many sections that move through different tempo and time signatures. This is a truly difficult work for any flute player. It requires huge dexterity, breath control, music interpretation, and great skill at the flute (including flutter tonguing, incredibly difficult articulation, huge leaps and incredibly difficult finger technique!)
Poulenc: Sonata for Flute and Piano
One of my absolute favorites is the Poulenc Flute Sonata. This piece is a three movement work and is dedicated to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge who was an American Patron of chamber music. Poulenc much preferred composing for woodwind instruments over strings and I think this is wonderfully evident in this beautiful piece of music. Each and every movement in this piece is full of sublime French romantic melodies. A truly beautiful piece with something for flute players ranging from Grade 6 and beyond!
Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major
Mozart wrote two flute concertos, one in G major and one in D major. It could be argued that both are incredibly famous but I would say that concerto no.1 is perhaps the most famous. The piece was written in 1778 and was commissioned by the dutch flute player Ferdinand De Jean. The piece has three movements and is scored for flute and a standard classical era orchestra. The reason I would argue it as the most famous is because it is a requirement for any flute player to learn this piece if they wish to land themselves an orchestral job!
Reinecke: Concerto in D major op.283
Another famous concerto for flute is the Reinecke Flute Concerto in D major op.283. This piece is written for solo flute and orchestra, a much larger orchestra than the Mozart as this was written in 1908. The work is about 20 minutes in length and consists of three movements
- Allegro molto moderato
- Lento e mesto
- Moderato – In tempo animato – Tempo I – Più mosso – Più lento maestoso)
This piece has a dramatic range as well as beautiful lyrical melodies. It is a truly incredible piece of music, sounding more like a violin concerto than a flute concerto! This was the last concerto that the German composer Reinecke ever wrote… and what a last concerto to write.
Bach: Sonata in B Minor
Bach wrote many sonatas for the flute, all of which are absolutely stunningly beautiful! The Sonata in B minor is perhaps the most wonderful. This sonata has three movements all written for solo flute and harpsichord with optional cello part. It is the longest and has some truly unforgettable melodies! This is a beautiful example of baroque music and a piece that every flute player should have up their sleeve for any recital.
Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
This piece is one of the most major orchestral works for flute players. Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune literally translates as ‘Prelude to the afternoon of a faun’. This is one of the most incredible pieces of music ever written for flute players. This piece was originally written as a symphonic poem for orchestra, inspired by the poem of the same name by Stephanie Mallarme. The introduction of this piece begins with just the flautist performing a solo flute line. As it is an orchestral work the whole orchestra is sat not playing and the conductor simply will look at the performer and they must start… talk about pressure!
There are also many versions for solo flute and piano of this piece.
Ibert: Flute Concerto
Another incredible flute concerto. This piece is extremely difficult and is not for the faint hearted of flute players! This piece was composed by Jacques Ibert in 1932. It comprises of three movements and is for solo flute and small orchestra. The piece was dedicated to Marcel Moyse, one of the most famous flute players.
Martinu – Sonata
This is a wonderful treat for any flute player! Most flute music is written by French composers and so it is wonderful to have this incredible sonata written by a Czech composer. This piece was written in 1945 and consists of three movements. It has a wonderful exchange between flute and piano and some brilliant technique’s to challenge any flute player!
Undine Sonata by Carl Reinecke
Another piece by Reinecke. This is another incredibly famous flute piece. This flute sonata is based on the novel ‘Undine’ by Friedrich de la motte fouque. It is for flute and piano and is a four movement work. It is extremely long and challenges any flute players stamina.
Copland: Duo for Flute and Piano
Aaron Copland was an American composer and he only wrote one piece for flute players and this piece is it. This piece has both instruments, flute and piano at equal importance. Copland composed it in 1971. The first movement of the composition opens with a beautiful solo flute line which is slow and serene. It sounds like it was inspired by folk music. The last movement closes with a beautiful virtuosic melody!
Of course there are so many other famous flute pieces out there but these pieces are a wonderful place to start!
Where to explore the sheet music for these pieces?
There are many places to explore this flute music repertoire but perhaps my favourite places are TomPlay and Virtual Sheet Music. You can access the music immediately at home and also have the option of backing tracks to help you with these.