PHILIPPE BOLTON

flageolets & recorders


The French flageolet in the 19th century

A French flageolet by Prudent Noblet
a French flageolet by Prudent Noblet

The flageolet was probably developed during the Renaissance and existed side by side with the recorder. However it did not disappear at the end of the baroque period, and was played during the whole of the nineteenth century, and even later, in France, where it was used in dance bands and on other festive occasions. It seems to have remained popular until around 1930. Because of its shrill sound it could easily be heard amidst other instruments.

Sound is produced in a similar way to that of the recorder. Most 19th century French flageolets have a conical windcap above the windway with, at the top, a small mouthpiece which is usually made in ivory, bone or horn and looks somewhat like an oboe reed.

the flageolet's labium
a close up view of the flageolet's labium


In an English translation to his MÉTHODE COMPLÈTE DE FLAGEOLET, probably published in the early 19th century, Jules Gard gives the following definition of the windcap (called the "beak" in the original text):

There are flageolets with a windcap and flageolets with a beak. They do not differ in tone and range except that those with a windcap sound much softer and more pleasant. Moreover, they have the advantage of not moistening as those with a beak do, for the chamber after the mouthpiece, into which one can introduce a small sponge, is intended to receive the water from the vapour of the breath.

The windcap does indeed give the flageolet a particularly refined and elegant sound. It could possibly act as a resonator linked to the air column via the windway.

the windcap removed from the flageolet showing the fipple or block and the windway
the windcap removed, showing the windway and block

a section view of the wincap
a section view of the windcap, windway and labium

The French flageolet has four holes on the front and two thumb holes on the back, the upper one being used for playing the upper octave. In the 19th century it was usually tuned in A, but for practical reasons its music was often written as for a tranposing instrument in D.

the two thumb holes behind the French flageolet
the two thumb holes behind the flageolet and this instrument's key for B♭ (D#).

The English flageolet, on the other hand has its six holes in front and usually no thumb hole behind, high notes being played by increasing breath pressure. Double flageolets were also made during the nineteenth century in England, with a single windcap for both pipes.

another flageolet by Prudent Noblet
another French flageolet by Prudent Noblet with a piano key

The flageolet above, tuned to A=435 Hz was made around 1860 in La Couture Boussey, by one of the members of the Noblet family, possibly Prudent Noblet. It is fitted with a piano or echo key, enabling the musician to play softly without loss of intonation. This is not a very common feature. The top of the windcap is damaged, and the original mouthpiece is missing. The bore has an irregular tapered profile, narrowing downwards, as on most recorders.

a close up view of this flageolet's piano key
the piano key

Click here to see a picture of this instrument after restoration of the damaged part.


Prudent Noblet's stamp
Prudent Noblet's stamp

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Other examples of nineteenth century French flageolets

a boxwood keyless flageolet
An anonymous keyless boxwood flageolet (mouthpiece missing)

a boxwood flageolet with two keys
A two keyed boxwood flageolet by Thibouville Lamy (horn mouthpiece).
The keys are for playing semitones.

a 4 keyed flageolet
A four keyed ebony flageolet by Martin
(mouthpiece missing, upper part of the windcap not original).
The third and fourth keys are for trills.

a 5 keyed flageolet
An anonymous boxwood 5 keyed flageolet. The top of the windcap and mouthpiece not
original. The keys are for playing semitones.

a 5 keyed flageolet
A five keyed ebony flageolet by Halary (ivory mouthpiece).
The fifth key is a clé de sifflet or register key for the highest notes.

Boehm system flageolet
A Boehm system flageolet by Ch. Roy
(ivory or bone mouthpiece)

Victor Charles Mahillon's drawing of a French flageolet
The drawing of a flageolet in Victor Charles Mahillon's book
Eléments d'Acoustique Musicale et Instrumentale (1874)

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