Big Flutes

Bass flutes are available from a number of makers, including Eva Kingma, Gemeinhardt and Emerson. The modern bass flute in C (not to be confused with the Renaissance or Baroque-era "bass flute" pitched in G - the counterpart of the modern alto flute) is usually made with a "J"-shaped head joint, which brings the embouchure hole within reach.  The bass flute sounds one octave below the C concert flute, with range down to the second-space C (bass clef).  Some bass flutes are equipped with a B foot.  Eva Kingma even makes highly-respected bass flutes with open holes and quarter tone keys.

The bass flute is most often found in flute choirs and other flute ensembles.  Its timbre often does not carry, and doesn't compete well with other instruments in the same register (e.g., soprano clarinet, alto sax).  However, when amplified, it is capable of beautiful and haunting melodies, and is sometimes used in jazz and in film scores.  

Flutes lower than bass have now begun to proliferate.  Eva Kingma produces a contrabass flute in G, pitched a fourth below the bass flute, as well as a full contrabass in C, pitched an octave below the bass flute.   Kotato & Fukushima make a sub-bass flute in F, as well as contrabass in C and double contrabass in CC (range down to C1).  Michael Heupel plays a subcontrabass flute in G (sometimes known as the "SKB" - for " subkontrabass" flöte), although I have not been able to determine who made it.   Jelle Hogenhuis has developed a relatively low-cost contrabass flute (see also) (made from PVC tubing), and is reported to be working on similar bass and subcontrabass flutes. Finally, Itallian flautist Roberto Fabbricciani has recently recorded a piece ("Con Fuoco" by Nicolas Sani) on a hyperbass flute capable of playing down to C0.  

the flute family, piccolo to "octocontrabass"

A fellow low instrument aficionado provided me with this image of flutes, including contrabass and " octocontrabass" flutes. The contrabass (with the "T"-shaped head joint) is actually a Pinschophone (named after the flautist who designed and/or commissioned its construction): it is actually a bass flute with an extension down to low G, but is also sometimes called a contrabass flute.

The octobass pictured here (it should be obvious which one is the octobass) is truly a contrabass, pitched an octave below the bass flute, two octaves below the standard C orchestral flute. 

There is a CD of both, played by the French flautist Pierre-Yves Artaud: "Contemporary Flute Music" by Pierre-Yves Artaud, Neuma 450-77 (CD). The octobass is used for John Cage's Ryonaji, including a prerecorded octobass flute tape part. The CD is good stuff, but very modern (i.e., don't expect a lot of hummable melodies!).

The Japanese flute maker Kotato & Fukushima makes flutes in a variety of sizes. The images below show (at the same scale) soprano flute in F, concert flute in C, a bass flute in C, bass flute in F (between the C bass and C contrabass), and a contrabass flute in C. The second image shows the double contrabass in CC (two octaves below the bass flute), at the same scale. The Piacere Flute Ensemble features all the Kotato flutes in a 16-piece ensemble, and is available on CD (Tokyo Sound City Club, TSC-CD-0029, 1995). The tracks include Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by J.S. Bach, Pictures at an Exhibition by M. Mussorgsky, and others.

The excellent Swiss Ensemble les joueurs de flûte also uses K&S contrabass and F bass flutes, and have thoughtfully provided these tracks (which I've converted to MP3 files) as examples (Magic Flute, Ricercar).  See their website for more information, pictures, and CD availability.

Paige MacDonald, director of the Thayer Conservatory Flute Orchestra in S. Lancaster, MA, and director of the New England Conservatory Metropolitan Flute Orchestra in Boston, MA, owns both a Kotato contrabass flute and a Kotato double contrabass flute.  The double contrabass made its American debut at the Greater Boston Flute Fair on March 6, 1999, playing an original compostition "Inishie", written by Japanese composer Tohl Awano for Piacere.  This piece is scored for piccolo, solo flute, 4 concert flutes 2 alto flutes, 2 bass flutes, contrabass and double contrabass flute.

Apparently, Robert Dick, Andy Findon and Matthias Ziegler now use Kotato contrabass flutes as well.  And Anthony Braxton appears to be playing contrabass flute on a few recent CDs...

 Kotato Flutes
Kotato Double Contrabass

I think Robert Dick has suggested that the members of the flute family below alto be renamed to parallel the names of the sax family.  Certainly, the bass flute must be about the highest pitched "bass" instrument there is (with the exception of the "bass" recorder, which only descends to F3).  The bass flute should be renamed "tenor", with the sub-bass in F considered a "baritone" flute.  The true "bass" flute would then be what is now called the contrabass: with range to C below the bass clef, this range would be much more similar to the ranges of the bass clarinet, bass sax, and bassoon.  The present double contrabass would then be called simply "contrabass", with a range similar to the contrabassoon, contrabass clarinet, and contrabass sax.  Not to mention the contrabass sarrusophone ;-)



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 Special thanks to Francis Firth
© Copyright 1995-2006 by Grant Green.

Last Revised: 1 Oct 2006