B Flat Fluegelhorn

Like the cornet, the Fluegelhorn began life as a type of bugle. The Fluegelhorn is possessed of certain Horn-like attributes, such as a deep funnel-cup mouthpiece, conical bore, and larger bell than the cornet, but like the cornet and trumpet, the B flat Fluegelhorn is approximately half the length of its analog in the Horn family of instruments, causing it to share the same partials as the cornet and trumpet. The Horn, because of its greater length, has partials that are much closer together in its playing range, giving it different fingerings, tone and performance attributes.

The early 18th century Fluegel horn was a large hunting horn of semicircular configuration. It's bearer was referred to as the "Flügelmeister." The role of the Flügelmeister was to direct the phases of the hunt, which like its British counterpart was a formalised affair. During the Seven Years War (1756-1763), a war of near worldwide proportions involving Europe, North America and India (which confirmed Prussia's new rank as a leading world power and made England the world's chief colonial power at the expense of France), the Fluegelhorn was adopted as a military instrument.

The name, Flügel, means flank, and probably originally referred to the flanking manoeuvre used to encircle and trap prey in the course of the hunt. This name is not altogether appropriate for the conducting of warfare, because the flanking manoeuvre is but one of many types of signals that would have been given during the course of battle. The signal for full retreat inevitably comes to mind.

Related Instruments

Most of us, when we hear the word "Fluegelhorn," think of an instrument that looks like a cornet or trumpet with a very large bell. In truth, this is the last surviving member, not only of an entire family of instruments, but of entire families of closely related instruments using the same mouthpiece type and having the same type of bore profile. The Fluegel family in its entirety consisted of: an E flat soprano, B flat alto (the one we're most familiar with), the B flat tenor and the E flat bass. Fluegelhorns have also been made in such other various keys as C, F, G and A. The E flat soprano and B flat alto instruments are configured in the same manner as the modern cornet, whilst the tenor and bass instruments resembled upright Saxhorns in general appearance.

An early family of related instruments was the Koenig family of horns, first manufactured in 1855 by Antoine Courtois, which used the same funnel-type mouthpiece, and had a similar bore-profile, though these instruments differed in design in that they were circular, with the bell facing down, forward or up, depending upon the manufacturer. The following year came a C tenor instrument called the ballad horn, first manufactured by Henry Distin. Distin was bought out by Boosey & Co in 1868, who subsequently came out with a soprano, alto, tenor and bass version of the ballad horn. Another company, Rudall Carte, soon brought out a competitive copy marketed under the name "vocal horn." The degree to which these and other instruments followed the Fluegel design configuration varied greatly, from 1856 to the mid-1920's, when the last of them finally went out of production.

Various Spellings

The word Fluegelhorn has been variously spelled: Fluegelhorn, Fleugelhorn, Flügelhorn, Fluglehorn, Fluegel horn, Fleugel horn, Flügel horn and Flugle horn. The Flugle spelling may be incorrect and phonetic in origin.

Untruths of Indeterminate Origin

This researcher has repeatedly come across "information," much of it offered as fact by otherwise reputable reference books and Internet resources, stating that: Antoine (Adolphe) Sax invented the Fluegelhorn; that the Fluegelhorn is a member of the Saxhorn family; that the Fluegelhorn was originally Sax's E flat soprano or B flat alto Saxhorn instrument, and so on.

Sax could not have invented the Fluegelhorn. It's existence has been noted since the beginning of the 18th century. The Fluegelhorn is not a Saxhorn. Saxhorns are valved bugles that resemble the cornet in profile.

Reasons for the Confusion

Circa 1846, German bandmasters began referring to the new E flat soprano Saxhorn as a Flügelhorn, while in continental Europe there was an F or E flat soprano instrument referred to as the petite bugle in France, and the pikkolo in Germany. The soprano Saxhorn, however, is not a Fluegel instrument, as it is not possessed of today's universally accepted Fluegel characteristics. The mouthpiece, bore profile and bell-size of the Saxhorn family of instruments are of valved bugle (cornet) configuration.

This confusion stems from interchangeable usage of the words Fluegelhorn and bugle. In many cases what is being referred to is actually one and the same instrument. The valved bugle, too, is often considered to be the parent of both cornet and Fluegelhorn, and this claim, too, is erroneous because the Fluegelhorn predates the valved bugle invented by Halliday, circa 1800.

What is true is that design and configuration were anything but standardized in those days, along with the nomenclature. Many people continued using these non-standardised names long after standardised design configurations and names were established, the way a person might refer to a trumpet or cornet as someone's bugle, or horn, or if we were in 19th century Germanic Europe, Flügelhorn.

This researcher has come across many instruments bearing names that are clearly inappropriate by today's standards, through regional convention or because of the then non-standardised word-usage. I have seen examples of cornets that are Fluegelhorns, trumpets that are cornets, Fluegelhorns that are cornets, trumpets that are early circular cornet\posthorns (cornet ordinaire), and so on.

So for the sake of clarity and continuity, this researcher will refer to all instruments having the universally accepted Fluegel profile as Fluegelhorns or instruments having Fluegel characteristics that place them squarely in the Fluegel family of instruments. The same goes for instruments belonging to the Horn, Cornet and Trumpet families.

Building Materials

Fluegelhorns in the past have been made from a number of unlikely materials, including wood, clay and ceramic. They have also been made entirely of: brass, bronze, silver and nickel. The modern Fluegelhorn is most often made of brass, and is sometimes electroplated with silver, nickel, gold or copper (rose).

Thanks to Greg Monks for Contributing this Article.