The flute repertoire went through its greatest mutations in the Baroque period. From a minor instrument exclusively used in small-scale chamber music it became an integral part of the orchestra as we know it today. Its popularity began in France at the very beginning of the 18th century, with the publication of Hotteterre’s Pièces pour la flûte traversière which are often considered the solemn opening of the repertoire. Duets were a particularly popular format at the time, allowing the instruments to search for a pleasing sonority as the two parts intertwine.
As the flute spread across Europe, composers began experimenting with the possibilities of its tone and register, often adding it to the typical string orchestra as an equal part or as a soloist. Vivaldi used it for his highly descriptive La tempesta di mare and Bach called on the instrument’s uppermost register in his challenging Cantata No 8 to suggest the chiming of bells. Solo works for the flute like JS Bach’s Partita, and his son CPE’s response to it in the same key, are also a pleasure to play and listen to as they enable a real appreciation of the rich yet soft woody tone of the instrument that we rarely hear today.