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The Bach Flute


BACH's music for transverse flute has always played a Cinderella role among
his compositions. Yet the newly developed one-keyed flute was virtually
equal to the violin in importance during the late Baroque period, and Bach
was composing at the time when its popularity was at its peak. He was
in fact among the very first composers outside France to write music
specifically for this instrument, and the amount of attention that he gave
to it suggests that he was particularly fond of it.
Musicologists and musicians have for a long time had misgivings about
these compositions and have been known to complain that his writing
for it is unidiomatic and shows no understanding of the qualities of the
instrument. Largely for these reasons, several of these chamber pieces
have been written off either as unauthentic (as the C-major, E\> major,
and G-minor sonatas, BWV 1033, 1031, and 1020), or as being intended
for some other instrument. Robert Marshall's important article on these
compositions1 makes some progress toward reinstating them; his argument
is that, far from being insensitive to the qualities of the flute, Bach departed
from his normal musical style in his efforts to work out a new idiom for
the instrument. However, Marshall, like all other musicologists, raises diffi-
culties over the tonalities and tessituras that Bach calls for in these com-
I suggest that most of the problems connected with these compositions
disappear once we understand what kind of instrument Bach was writing
for. As I have explained in a recent article,2 the Baroque flute was a far
more complicated instrument than has hitherto been appreciated. In par-
ticular, I have found that in France during the early part of the eighteenth
century the instrument normally played in chamber music was in the alto
or bas dessus range and transposed either a major or a minor third against
"J. S. Bach's Compositions for Solo Flute: A Reconsideration of Their Authenticity and
Chronology," Journal of the American Musicological Society, XXXII (1979).
"In Search of the Baroque Flute," Early Music, XII/1 (1984); also my letter in Early Music,
XIII (1985), in which I introduce a great deal of new material.


Ex. 1, Jacques Hotteterre le Romaln: I 'Art de PritMer (from Ch. Ill), .

if. re, .ml, .?'.Y Illajeure. i jurl* sftcuft* (ttfmepottrj (

.. T' nl,,rrt:,. ;

The instructions read: "Clef on the second line for the preceding suite. The key is E Major or Eb Major." In this chapter, CO

which presents "Preludes" for wind instruments in many different keys, the author provides transposing instructions of a.
this sort at the end of each key-based section. In some keys, such as the present one, G major, he leaves an option between a
the major and the minor third transpositions. Bach was familiar with these rules, since he wrote sonatas both in E and Eb,
for a G-major flute part. Telemann uses the same pair of keys in his compositions scored for Flute Pastourelle/Flauto
Bach Flute 265

the keyboard. From about 1730, it became more usual to play the haut
dessus or concert flute, which was tuned to le ton d'ut, or concert pitch
(at that time, roughly between a':392 and a':415); however, there were
still partisans of the low French pitch in Quantz's time.
With the exception of the trio in The Musical Offering, it is generally
agreed that Bach's flute sonatas were first written between about 1720 and
1730 when flute playing and composition were dominated by the French. If
he took an active interest in this instrument, then Bach must have familiar-
ized himself with the theories and techniques used in France. The leading
authority was Jacques Hotteterre le Romain whose textbook L'Art de
Pre"luder, which first appeared in 1712, 3 gives very detailed instructions
on how to transpose flute scores (Table I and Ex. 1). Bach either knew this
book or had received instructions (probably from the flutist Buffardin) on
Hotteterre's system, since at least six of his pieces are almost certainly meant
to be transposed in accordance with these principles. I have played through
all of these chamber compositions on both kinds of one-keyed flutethe
haut dessus and the bas dessusand find that they were all intended for the
alto instrument, with the possible exceptions of the E-minor sonata (BWV
1034) and G-major sonata (BWV 1038). (See page 272.)
There is also textual evidence in favor of this view, and I think it is
significant that this is strongest in the cases where we come closest to the
composer himself. The two sonatas which have come down to us in Bach's
own autograph contain transpositions of the type used for the bas dessus
flute in France. We have two versions of BWV 1030, one in B minor and
one in G minor (the keyboard part only). This has puzzled many musicolo-
gists, and led some to imagine that the G-minor version must have been
intended for some other instrument such as the oboe. But the manuscript
of the G-minor version is headed with the words, in the hand of Graf Voss-
Buch: "G [H corrected to G] moll Sonata al Cembalo obbligato e Flauto
traverso composta da Gio. Seb. Bach." 4 There is no suggestion that the
piece was intended for any instrument but the flute, though there is a
certain amount of confusion as to the composition's "real" tonality. But
both the ambiguity about the tonality and the interval between the two keys
are in fact typical features of flute music during this period. As it happens,
the transposition from two sharps to two flats was at the time probably
the most common of all those that were used in flute music. Hotteterre,
who is our most important authority on flute transpositions, uses this
pairing in one of the two written-out preludes with which he ends L'art
The original is in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (Res. Vmc. 175(6)). It is a 1719 edition
of a text which was first printed in 1712. The only modern edition (Zurfluh, 1966), omits Hotte-
terre's G-clef transpositions.
Berlin, Deutsche Staatsbibliothek, Mus. MS Bach P 1008.
Bach Flute 267

Table I: G-clef transpositions for flute, oboe and recorder (from Hottetene, L'Art de
Prituder, Ch. ID).

Flute Keybottd Interral

(modern key denatures)

Major Third

E(orEk): Maj./Mtn. Third

A: Minor Third

F | (or F) Minor MaJ./Min. Third

D: Maj./Min. Third

B Minor Major Third

G: Maj./Min. Third

E Minor Major Third

C: Minor Third

A Minor Maj./Min. Third

F: Minor Third

D Minor: Maj./Min. Third

Bk: Minor Third

G Minor. Minor Third

Interchangeable with E MaJ.

C Minor

F Minor Interchangeable with Ft Minor

4 Minor Third

BkMrnor A LK>U 0 Minor Third

268 The Musical Quarterly

de Pre'luder. This has the flute part in D major, with instructions on how to
transpose the continuo part to Bb major. This same combination of key signa-
tures occurs several times in his Airs et brunettes pour les flutes traversieres
more frequently, in fact, than any other combination. Bach also uses it
more often than any other, since it occurs in three of his sonatas (if we in-
clude the Siciliano of the Eb sonata). Hotteterre notates this transposition in
the normal French manner, by overwriting the two clefs: gj> \&h But
Bach did not have this device at his disposal, since the "Qef franchise," with
the G on the bottom line, was not usually used by German flutists. Hence he
found it necessary to write two separate scores for the flute and keyboard
parts, based on the "clef italienne."
When he wrote out the other autograph score, that of BWV 1032 in A
major, Bach appears to have been transposing at sight. Various errors in the
score show that he was copying from another version in C major.5 The C-
major/A-major transposition is another very common one, not only in
music for the flute, but also for the oboe. If Bach had scored this sonata for
oboe, musicologists and players would long ago have realized that we are
dealing with an instrument in the d'amore range. And yet the flute, at
that time, was the transposing instrument par excellence. Another proof
that Bach was here using a d'amore transposition is his rather unusual
scoring of the right hand of the harpsichord part for the "Soprano" clef
(Cl). This clef, played against the Italian G-clef (G2), was commonly used
for transpositions of a third, and had particular associations with the bas
dessus or haute contre voice6 (Ex. 2). (It is interesting to compare this
sonata with one by Telemann which is in the same key, and scored for
the same instrumental combination.7 These two compositions are obviously
related, and are both meant to be played, I think, on an alto flute with
two harpsichordsone obbligato and one continuo).8
Of the other chamber works for flute, two were originally intended
for unaccompanied flute, the Partita in A minor (BWV 1013), and the
Two eminent Bach scholars have independently arrived at this conclusion: Hans Eppstein (1966)
and Marshall (op. cit). In a recent article in Early Music, "A Trio in C Major" (August, 1985), Michael
Marissen has explained these transposing errors as a vestige from an earlier version for recorder. But
this cannot be correct, since Bach always scored for the recorder in the Gl (French) clef; hence a piece
would be transposed from C to A simply by changing clefs-the position of the notes on the staff
would not be affected.
A complicated technique of transposing by overplaying the seven clefs that were then in use
wai a normal part of every musician's training, especially in France. This system of "suppositions,"
as they were called, is mentioned by almost every musical textbook of the time, yet has been dis-
regarded by modern scholars. The most complete exposition of the system can be found in Monte-
clali'i Prtndpes de mustque (Paris, 1736), pp. 14 and 15. See also Andrew Parrott's article in Early
Musk, XII (1984), 490-500.
' From Eserditt mutici. The manuscript is in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Mus. MS 3498
and has the right hand of the keyboard part scored in the Cl clef, like BWV 1032.
* This seems to me the most logical way to interpret a score for harpsichord which gives a writ-
ten-out obbligato part for the right hand, as well as a figured bass. But I realize that I am in deep
water hen and prefer to refer this to the experts.
Bach Flute 269

Ex. 2. J. S. Bach: A-major sonata for flute and obbligato harpsichord (BWV 1032)
(harpsichord part).

In the original manuscript, the rJi. of the harpsichord part is written in the Cl clef, as
above. A system of transposing by overplaying the clefs (known as "suppositions") was
very common throughout the Baroque period. Telemann's A-major sonata for the same
combination {Esercizii Musici) has the keyboard part written in the same way.
sonata in C major (BWV 1033).9 In French flute music, continuo was fre-
quently regarded as optional. I think the main reason for this is the discrep-
ancy between flute and harpsichord pitches, which made it difficult for in-
strumentalists to play together, even when using transpositions. These two
compositions by Bach are more gallicized than the others and are usually
thought to be earlier works. He may thus have written them in their original
form before he had fully mastered Hotteterre's transposing technique.
There is no foundation for the belief that the A-minor Partita was
not originally composed for the flute. It has many features which we know
from his other works that Bach considered typically flutistic. For example,
the steplike descending sequences in sixteenth notes, which play a prominent
part in the Allemande, are very similar to passages in the E-minor and the
Elrmajor sonatas. The Sarabande is so close in feeling and rhythm to the
middle movement of the A-major sonata that they can only have been
written for the same instrument-perhaps even the same player.
The remainder, with the exception of the E-minor sonata and the G-
major trio, are all in "remote" keys for the flute. Composers of the time
were well acquainted with the limitations of the one-keyed flute and seldom
wrote for it in any but the seven easiest keys: C, G, and D major, and A, E,
B, and D minor (the latter key, at that time, was usually written without
the flat in the key signature). But three sonatas, in their surviving forms,
' Marshall, op. cit., offers this hypothesis as a very plausible solution to the problems presented
by BWV 1033.
270 The Musical Quarterly

and the trio from The Musical Offering, show what appears to be a perverse
disregard for the technique of the instrument, as they are in the keys of E
and Eb major, G minor, and C minor, respectively.
However, an experienced flutist of the time would have realized at a
glance that these scores were meant to be transposed. By about 1730, the
Germans had established a convention in scoring for the transposing flute,
which worked on the opposite principle to that of the French system. Up to
that date all French composers, except Couperin, had written the flute part
in the Gl clef, as they expected it to be played in the upper voice, leaving
the task of transposing to the accompanist. The Germans rarely used this clef
and wrote such music at its "absolute" tonality, as played by the other
instruments, so that it was left to the discretion of the flutist to choose one
type of flute over another. (This is one of the reasons why it was not normal
to score for any particular type of flute by name.) The flutist would have
known from experience when the alto flute was being called for. In particular,
the use of certain keys would have acted, in practice, as an "obligatory trans-
position" sign. All four of the keys mentioned above fall into this category.
An example of this system at work is a group of overtures and concertos
by Telemann, Graupner, and Molter, probably dating from the early 1730s.
(See Table II.) It is fairly obvious that the type of flute called for in all of
these compositions is the same. The three composers knew one another well,
and appear to have written this collection of pieces as a group, perhaps for
performance by a single player. Two of the Telemann pieces are preserved in
the same library as Graupner's, and are even copied out in Graupner's hand.
Anyone who has played through these works will find that they display a
very marked unity of style and have many thematic connections with each
other. In all of them the Baroque "pastoral" style is very pronounced. The
final fast movements, all in a rollocking three time, make frequent use of
hunting calls. This effect sounds beautiful on a wide-bored alto flute; the
concert flute, with its thin, squeaky tone, is not the right instrument to
imitate the sounds of the horn, especially when it is wrestling with a
"remote" tonality like E major. There is a difference, however, in the way
they are scored. Telemann has followed the usual practice of supplying the
flute part untransposed in the key that is used by the orchestra. The other
two composers, however, call the flute the flauto traverso d'amore by name
and give transposed scores. These are the only compositions dating from the
Baroque era in which the flute d'Amour is actually named. This cannot mean
that such instruments were seldom played, since all the available evidence
shows that they were very common in Germany before Quantz's time.10
Only a tiny number of flutes made in Germany before 1750 have survived. Among thete,
the proportion of alto (or d'amore) instruments to concert flutes is about 1:2. Since, a* I have ex-
plained elsewhere, the selective factor in preservation is likely to have worked in favor of the latter,
Table II: The "Flute d'Amour" in Germany, early 1730s

Johann Melchior Molter Orch. keys Flute keys

(Karlsruhe BLB 307): "Concerto Flauto Trav: d'Amore" and orch. in Bb Maj. (+ G Min.) D Maj./B Min.

Christoph Graupner

1. (Darmstadt, BRD DS Mus. MS 411/7) "Concerto Flaut: d'Amore" and orch. in A (+ E) C/G
2. (Darmstadt, BRDDSMus. MS 464/34) "Ouverture a Flaut. d'Amour" and orch. in E G
3. (Darmstadt, BRD DS Mus. MS 411/13) "Concerto a Flaut. d'Amore, Oboe d'Amore,
Viola d'Amore" and orch. in G (+ E Min.) Bb/G Min.
4. (Darmstadt, BRDDSMus.MS464/40) "Ouverture aFlaut./Oboe/Viola d'Amore"
and orch. in A C
5. (Darmstadt, BRD DS Mus. MS 464/56) "Ouverture a Flaut. d'Amour Hautb.
d'Amour" and orch. inG Bb
Bach Flut*

6. (Darmstadt, BRDDSMus. MS 464/71) "Ouverture a Flaut. e Oboe d'Amore" CD

and orch. in E (+ E Min.) G/G Min.

Georg Philipp Telemann

1. (Darmstadt, Mus. MS 1034/14) "Ouverture/Flute Pastourelle" and orch. in Eb (G)

2. (Darmstadt, Mus. MS 1033/1) "Concerto a Flaut. Tr." and orch. in E (+ C | Min.) (G/E Min.)
3. (Dresden, Mus. MS 2392.0/32) "Concerto/Ob. d'Am: Flauti, Via e Basso" inE(+BMin.) (G/DMin.)

There is an interesting comparison between these pieces and the system used in France twenty years previously (see Table I). In
Telemann's triple concerto for "d'amore" instruments, only the oboe is designated as such. However, the scoring of the "viola"
part shows that the "d'amore" qualification is meant to apply to all of the instruments. Telemann's "Flauto Pastorale" appears again
in "Der Getreue Musik-Meister"; here the tonality is E Major, not Eb as in the Ouverture. ->
272 The Musical Quarterly

Rather, it demonstrates how unusual it was at that time to draw distinctions

between the various types of flauto traverso. These compositions are valu-
able because they give us a good idea of the keys that were normally associa-
ted with the alto instrument. It is interesting to see that, by this time, the
"sharp" keys, which call for the minor third transposition, had become
much more common than the "flat" keys. Telemann used both forms, but
the fact that he gave this flute an exotic name {flute pastourelle) shows
that it was becoming rareat least in Germany. As it happens, in all three of
his compositions listed here, the flute part transposes to G majorwhich vies
with D major as the "strongest" key for the Baroque flute.
The Bach pieces fit into this pattern perfectly. The copyists of the
sonata manuscripts and Bach himself at the time of The Musical Offering
would have been following the German convention of putting the music
into the key used by the keyboard participant. This is the reason why they
appear in the same "remote" keys as we find in these orchestral composi-
tions. The moment they are converted back into the keys that would have
been used in the flute part, they turn out to be in some of the one-keyed
flute's most idiomatic tonalities: G major, B minor, and A minor. In Table
III is a list of Bach's chamber music for flute, giving the keys in which
he originally expected each part to be played.

Table III

Bach: Chamber Music for the Flute: a Reconstruction of the Original Tonalities
BWV No. Flute part Keyboard part
1013: A Minor Unaccompanied
1033: C Major Originally unaccompanied,
(continuo later added by C. P. E. Bach)
1032 C _, M ~^^=r from Bach's autograph
1030 B Minor
1020 B Minor G Minor
1031 G E b (alternatively E)
1035 G E (alternatively Eb)
1079 (The Musical E Minor C Minor
Offering trio)
Doubtful cases
1034 E Minor E Minor (possibly C Minor)
1038 (trio-sonata) G C, D, EborE

it seems very probable that even in Germany the alto flute was almost as popular as the high-pitched
Bach Flute 273

Altogether, there are five flute compositions attributed to Bach for

which our only sources are in the tonality of the keyboard part (and in
one case the violin part as well): these are BWV 1032, 1031, 1020, 1035,
and 1079 (the trio from The Musical Offering). In each of these cases, the
performance of the music is greatly improved if the flute part is transposed
in the manner illustrated in Tables I and III. If we do not accept that Bach
meant these pieces to be transposed, then we shall have to agree with the
common opinion that he had no feeling for the flute. Composers had good
reason to avoid the keys which contain several sharps or flats when writing
for the one-keyed flute. These all contain notes which require difficult
forked fingerings. There are two ways in which this impairs performance.
First, these fingerings are very clumsy and complicated, especially in the
fast passages which occur in all of Bach's pieces. Second, even if a performer,
with great effort, succeeds in playing the correct notes, the presence of
these weak notes invariably causes an unevenness of tone quality and bad
intonation. 11 Tessitura is another important consideration. People have
often complained that these pieces lie too low in the range of the flute.
From the two cases in which we can tell for certain about Bach's ideas
in this matter (BWV 1013 and BWV 1030), it appears that he favored the
middle and top register of the instrument. But when we transpose for the
alto flute, we play a third higher than the written score. This brings the
music of these five compositions into exactly the same range as BWV 1013
and 1030. Notes in the top register are common, but never go above the
g'" fingering. (See Table III.)
In all of these cases, the existing sources date from the time when
the practice of fixing a flute composition in the key of the continuo part
was well established. However, at the time that Bach started writing for
the instrument, the flute was a novelty, at least in concert music, and the
two autograph scores show us that he had some difficulty in coping with
the ambiguity that existed between the keys of the two instrumental parts.
His solution, it appears, was to write separate versions for each instrument,
each in its own key. It is probable that the sonatas that have come down
to us only in copies each had two separate scores originally. Bach would
thus have written G-major versions of the sonatas in E and Eb major; and
it is interesting to find that the manuscripts of both pieces contain the
Several years ago I heard a radio interview in which the flutist William Bennett expressed
his doubts whether Bach's sonatas, especially the one in Eb major, could originally have been written
for the type of instrument which is known today as the "Baroque flute" (in other words, the one-
keyed concert flute in D). He felt that Bach must have had in mind some kind of instrument which
is strong in the "flat" keys. It takes a musician's insight to hit upon a fact which had escaped the
musicologists for years. I can now prove beyond dispute that there existed such an instrument in
Bach's time-the Bb alto flute, which is particularly at home in the keys of this composition and of
The Musical Offering.
274 The Musical Quarterly

Ex. 3. Bach's two sonatas in G major (for the flute part) (BWV 1035 and 1031)
BWV 1035

Adagio ma non Unto

5k 6 Sk

BWV 1031

Transposed according to Hotteterre's rules (see Ex. 1). Bach did not use the above nota-
tion because the "clef franchise" (Gl clef) was not used in Germany for that flute. Hence
he probably wrote separate scores for flute and keyboard; only the keyboard-based
versions have survived. The manuscripts of both sonatas contain "transposing errors" of a
third, which show that G-major versions must also have existed.

same kind of "transposition errors" as Bach's two autograph scores.12

The E-major sonata provides us with a valuable insight into Bach's
connections with the French flute tradition. Hans Eppstein points out
that the second movement is almost certainly inspired by the "Rigaudon"
in Couperin's Concert Royal No. IV, which was published in 1722. Both
movements are in the same key, and the thematic similarity is striking. Bach
must have known the Couperin suite as a flute composition. As I argue
in my article for Early Music, Couperin's Concerts, when played on the flute,
are typical examples of the kind of music which was meant to be transposed.
In BWV 1031 there are nine occasions on which the two main sources-usually in agreement
give a note in a position a third too high. (See Alfred Dun's critical apparatus in the Birenreiter
Edition.) The sources for BWV 1035 (Berlin Mus. MSS P 621 and P 622) contain hardly any errors.
There is only one misplaced note, a D$ for a b in the bass line, measure 11 of the fourth movement.
It is the prevalence of the same type of copying error in the autograph of BWV 1032 that has led
scholars to the conclusion that this work has been transposed.
Bach Flute 275

The G-minor sonata (BWV 1020) has fared less well at the hands of
scholars than any other flute composition by Bach. Few of them have
accepted it as a genuine Bach compositioneven Marshall will not admit
it into the canon; and most of them cast doubts, for the reasons stated
above, on the possibility that it was intended for the flute. Yet the most
striking thing about this piece is its kinship with the Eb-major sonata. The
two compositions are closely related not only in their form, themes, and
style, but also in their keys and tessitura. They are almost certainly com-
panion pieces. What makes this particularly evident is the perfect symmetry
between them in the use of keys. Both have three movements. These are
arranged as follows:
BWV 1020: G minor - Eb major - G minor
BWV 1031: Eb major-G minor-Eb major.
Both of these combinations are most unusual for the time, especially in
flute music. But if the Bb flute is intended, it looks as though the composer
is falling over backwards to provide the instrument with its favorite keys,
B minor and G major. Whatever the views of musicologists, I think that
all musicians who have frequently played these two compositions will
agree that they are by the same composer and written for the same in-
strument As Marshall points out, the evidence in favor of the authen-
ticity of the Eb sonata is overwhelming. Nowadays there is increasing sup-
port for the idea that the G-minor sonata is also by Bach, since it has been
found that some of its thematic material occurs in other works certainly by
him. As for instrumentation, we know that Bach wrote another piece in
the same key (G minor for the harpsichord part) expressly for the flute.
When 1 play BWV 1020 on the alto flute, in its transposing key of B minor,
it seems to me the most idiomatically flutistic of all the flute works attri-
buted to Bach.
The Musical Offering trio differs from the other works we have discussed
in two features: it is the only one which involves a third type of instru-
ment (the violin), and it was composed some twenty or twenty-five years
after Bach's other flute pieces. Here again, players and scholars have always
been puzzled by the apparently unsuitable key of C minor. If it was not
known beyond all doubt that Bach was the composer, and that he wrote it
specifically for the flute, I am sure that the experts would unanimously have
condemned it like the G-minor as a non-Bach, non-flute composition. With
its three flats, C minor is one of the most difficult keys for the one-keyed
flute// played as written. It is almost as if Bach had meant this composition
as a deliberate insult to its dedicatee! But here again, we are dealing with a
typical transposing key for the flute. Any flutist versed in the traditions of
the late Baroque would have recognized it immediately as requiring the
major-third transposition; hence a flute part in E minor.
276 The Musical Quarterly

However, there is a further complication with this piece-the date

on which it was composed. By the middle of the century there had been
some radical changes in the flute and in the music played on it. Transposing
flutes were still playedKing Frederick himself owned at least two of
thembut were passing out of fashion. Furthermore, as we know from
Quantz and other sources, the flute d'amour, as the alto flute was now
called, was normally played only at the minor-third transposition.
My own theory is that Bach's object in composing The Musical Offering
was partly didactic. King Frederick and Quantz had turned Sans Souci
Palace into a kind of "musical workshop" where they were developing
a new idiom for the flute based almost entirely upon the high-pitched
concert flute in D. To Bach's conservative ears, when he made his famous
visit on May 7, 1747, it must have seemed as if they were trying to denature
the instrument. We do not know all that passed between the composer
and the monarch in the conversation that took place that evening. However,
I suspect that Bach hoped to persuade the King to return to what he con-
sidered the "true" sound of the flute. This is why he dedicated to him
a composition which makes sense only if played on the old-fashioned bas
There is less certainty regarding the two remaining pieces of chamber
music for flute: the E-minor sonata for flute and continuo (BWV 1034)
and the trio sonata in G major for two flutes and continuo (BWV 1039).
In the E-minor sonata, we obviously have the version that Bach wrote
for the flute part. Both the key and the tessitura are perfectly flutistic.
But there remains the question of whether Bach meant the keyboard part
to be played in another key. If he did, this would have been C minor (as
in The Musical Offering). The fact that this version has not been preserved
does not mean that it never existed. After all, it is only chance that has
preserved the G-minor version of BWV 1030; if it had been lost, no one
would have suspected that the piece was meant to be transposed. There
was less reason for Bach to write a separate bass score for the E-minor
sonata since the keyboard only plays continuo, not obbligato. Any compe-
tent harpsichordist of the time would have been able to transpose such a
part at sight.
However, it would be as dogmatic to treat all of Bach's flute music as
being automatically meant for the bas dessus as it would be to take it for
granted that he wrote for nothing but the concert flute in D. If he ever
decided to write chamber music for the high-pitched flute, then this com-
position is our most likely example. It certainly works very well on the
haul dessus. One small but interesting detail tends to support this view,
though not conclusively. In measures 76-79 of the last movement there
is a long descending sequence, whose lowest note ought logically to be a
Bach Flute 277

low c'. This note is not usually within the compass of the Baroque flute,
and the existing sources have a d' in its place. However, we know that
in Germany, in Bach's time, there was a flute which had an extended foot
joint, to play the bottom c'. 13 Bach may have written this virtuoso composi-
tion in order to put such an instrument through its paces.
It is most unlikely, on the other hand, that the trio sonata in G major
was intended for the concert flute. It seems that the bas dessus was con-
sidered particularly suitable for music in which two flutes play together. 14
If Bach favored this type even for solo pieces, he would a fortiori have
wanted to use it in his trio sonata. However, it is quite likely that, for
this piece, Bach had in mind an even lower form of flute, such as the low
quart or quint flute.15 He later rewrote it for bass viol and keyboard (BWV
1027). The adaptation of a flute score for a bass instrument shows a lapse
in good tasteunless the flutes themselves were already in the bass range.
This theory fits in well with the very low tessitura of the two flute parts.
Hotteterre, in L'Art de Prouder, Chapter X, mentions that when playing
the bass flute one should stick as much as possible to the bottom octave.16
C. P. E. Bach later wrote a trio sonata for bass flute (Wotquenne 163).
Did he get the idea from his father?17
A particularly interesting point emerges when one begins to play these
pieces on what I believe to be the correct instruments and at the correct
tonalities: there is a strong element of unity between them. This is some-
thing that almost all players and writers have found lacking. The apparent
patchiness of Bach's flute scores has led many people to believe that he
did not have a consistent idea of the qualities of the instrument. But when
played at the transpositions set out in Table III, these compositions give
exactly the opposite impression. I find that there is a consistent feeling

" (1) Quantz (I, 16); (2) the tablature to Majer's Museum musicum (Leipzig, 1732); (3) above
all, the Denner flute in the Berlin KulturbesiU, which unfortunately disappeared during World War
II (Sachs Catalogue).
Flutes of the bas dessus I flit tc d'amour type were often made in pairs. Also, it is particularly
in compositions for two flutes that the continuo part is either treated as optional or omitted alto-
gether-a practice probably connected with the discrepancies in tuning between the flute and other
In L'Apotheose de Lulli Couperin has one passage for two flutei transposing a fourth.
The five-keyed "Encyclopedia bass flute" has a range of three octaves. But I doubt if it
was invented long before 1750. The types of bass flute that would have been played in Bach's time
are represented by two very dissimilar instruments-the Anciuti in Vienna and the Gedney in Edin-
burgh. Both of these, for different technical reasons, have a very limited compass, as Hotteterre
" Higbee, in his letter to Early Music (November, 1984), object* that C. P. E. Bach's trio sonata
cannot have been written for the bass flute, as this instrument did not go down to low F. In fact,
the Anciuti flute, dated 1739, has an extended foot joint to low F and is ideal for this composition.
There are half a dozen surviving octave flutes in low D that were made during Ctrl Philipp Emanuel's
278 The Musical Quarterly

for the type of sonorities that Bach expected from the flute. Throughout
these pieces, certain notes or sequences associated with particular fingerings
or voicings on the flute are given the same expressive weight. For example,
in BWV 1030, where we know that the B-minor version represents the
flute part, Bach shows a fondness for the effect that is produced by con-
trasting the " F " and the "Ff" fingerings in the middle register. The well-
known American flutist John Solum has described the slur between these
two notes as the most expressive interval in the Baroque flute. When Hotte-
terre's transposing rules are applied, it turns out that the same interval
also plays a prominent part in BWV 1032, 1031, 1020, and 1079.

It remains for us to answer another question: What flutes were actually

available to Bach and what did they sound like?
My first approach to the question set me off on a bit of a wild goose
chase. A narrow-bored alto flute, which was very common in the eighteenth
century, known as the flute d'amour, had either B or Bb as its bottom
note, which means that the instrument transposes either a minor or a major
third; so I assumed that this must be the kind of instrument that Bach
had in mind. Certainly it is quite possible to play all of these pieces on
one of these flutes d'amour; the tessitura is exactly correct. However,
the almost exaggeratedly narrow bore of the instrument gives it a delicate,
veiled quality which is ideal for the rather "atmospheric" style of C. P. E.
Bach; but it really cannot sustain a firm melodic line in counterpoint with a
In fact, this type of instrument is a fairly late development, dating
from the middle and late eighteenth century. It is a refinedperhaps over-
refinedversion of the original bos dessus de la flute traversiere, as it was
played in Bach's time. I have identified about a dozen alto flutes that date
from between 1680 and 1740.18 They differ greatly from the later flute
d'amour, especially in their bore, which is always wider. They also differ
among themselves. The French type of instrument is wide at the foot, with
a large mouth-hole. These features give it an eloquent, slightly husky sound
quality which is perfect for "le gout francois." The English type is quite
remarkable. It has a surprisingly wide bore, which gives it a uniquely beauti-
ful sound, but at the expense of technique. Neither type is very suitable
for Bach's chamber music. They are both weak in the upper register and do
not lend themselves to rapid, precise passage work.

I have to far found about twelve of these instruments, all made before 1750. It is probably
this type to which Graupner and Moltei are referring, when they score for the flauto d'amore, but I
prefer to avoid this name, in order to distinguish them from the later, narrow-bored type.
Bach Flute 279

However, there is also a German or Dutch alto flute from the same
period. The Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg has a boxwood
alto flute by J. G. Eisenmenger (MIR 345), who worked in Mannheim
during Bach's lifetime, and died in 1741. Instruments of this type could
easily have found their way to Leipzig (or C5then). The three lower joints
of the Eisenmenger are in good condition; the head, however, has been
replaced by another ill-fitting piece which dates from the nineteenth
century. Fortunately, it is possible to get a very good idea of what the
original head was like. In the Gemeente Museum, The Hague, there is an
alto flute in ebony by one of the Van Heerde family (292-1933), probably
dating from about 1720. In its three lower joints it is strikingly similar
to the Eisenmenger. I conclude that the missing head joint of the Eisen-
menger was likewise very similar in design to that of the Dutch flute. During
this period Dutch- and German-made flutes were almost indistinguishable
in appearance and proportions.
If this reconstruction is correct, then the German alto flute would have
had the following characteristics: (1) Bore. Considerably wider than the later
flute d'amour, but not to such extremes as the English type; (2) Conicity.
Very pronounced, in contrast with the English, and especially the French,
type; (3) Embouchure. Small, and very undercut. These features give the
instrument a sound which is strongor rond, to use the favorite description
of the timebut also sweet and expressive. Tonguing is light and precise.
The range is as wide as that of the flute d'amour, with the top register
true in pitch and easy to play. Unlike the other bas dessus flutes then
current, which are so perfectly suited to the French style of composition,
this German type is very much at home in the rapid, leaping passage work
that occurs in such movements as the Gigue in BWV 1030 and the Alle-
mande in the unaccompanied Partita. It also has no difficulty with the high
notes that are common in Bach's scores, including the high A with which
the Allemande ends.
Hence, there existed a flute whose technique and powers of expres-
sion perfectly match the kind of music that Bach was writing. Robert
van Acht of the Gemeente Museum has kindly let me play several passages
from the Bach sonatas on the van Heerde instrument. I have also made
a replica of it. It is from my experience in performing on these different
kinds of flutes, rather than from any theoretical considerations, that I
have arrived at my conviction that Bach composed for something like
the Eisenmenger or the Van Heerde flute, rather than for the high-pitched
haut dessus or concert flute. Not only does the music make much more
sense in terms of keys and tessitura, but it gains a depth and expressiveness
from the unique sound quality of the instrument. If this is the instrument
that Bach had in mind, then it appears, contrary to accepted opinion,
280 The Musical Quarterly

that he had a profound love and understanding for the flute. It is quite
possible that he could even play the instrument himself.19

" His elder brother, Johann Jakob, took flute lessons from Buffardin in 1707 in Constantinople.
Why not also Johann Sebastian? Buffardin became a friend of the composer some time after his
appointment to the Court of Dresden in 1717, and is generally believed to have been the inspiring
influence behind Bach's interest in the flute. It was quite normal for composers to acquire a working
knowledge of the most important instruments, and Bach's preoccupation with the flute occurred at a
time when he was experimenting with a variety of foreign musical forms.