Long military flutes of the sixteenth century: handout

Ardal Powell
Folkers & Powell, Makers of Historical Flutes

Renaissance Flute Days, Basel, 7 September 2002.

A few dates


References in the Niebelungenlied compare the sound of the flute to those of the trombone and trumpet.


A manuscript of the Roman d’Alexandre (Oxford: Bodleian Library, Flemish MS 264, f. 118v), illustrated by Jehan de Grise, contains marginal drawings and miniatures showing soldiers and sentries playing the instruments on high battlements, most often alongside large bells, drums, bagpipes and trumpets.


City of Basel engages fifers.


Swiss infantry squadrons win famous victories against Burgundian cavalry, revolutionizing European warfare. Their techniques, including the use of fifes and drums, are soon copied in other countries, spread by Swiss mercenaries and their German imitators.


French Ecurie, or military provisioning department, is making payments to tambourins suisses.


Pope Julius II founds a Swiss Guard corps at the Vatican; two drummers [tamburi] and two fifes [pifferi] appear in the rolls from 1548 until 1814, when they are replaced by bugles. The corps still exists and has recently revived the use of the fife, using modern 'Basel piccolos'.


The first printed treatise on musical instruments, Musica getutscht, by Sebastian Virdung, appears in Basel. Virdung uses the term Flöten to refer to recorders, reserving the word Zwerchpfeiff for the military fife and making no mention of the transverse flute in consorts or in any other non-military context.


Five fifes and three drums play at the the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the famous summit meeting between Henry VIII of England and François I of France.


Hans Burgkmair of Augsburg (1473-1531) publishes his extraordiarily rich and detailed set of prints entitled Triumph of Maximilian I, an imaginary triumphal procession for the Holy Roman Emperor headed by his personal fifer, Anthony of Dornstätt.


A print in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, (Gabinetti dei disegni, Stampe sciolte 27) shows the triumphal entry of Charles V into Bologna at the head of a procession that includes fifers and drummers among the pikemen and harquebusiers.


Musica instrumentalis deudsch published in Wittenberg by Martin Agricola (c1486-1556). Although he refers to Schweitzerpfeiffen (Swiss fifes) as well as Querfeiffen or Querpfeiffen, Agricola is clearly not really describing military flutes, but rather a different type of instrument for playing four-part consorts.


When Henri II marries Caterina de Medici, both flauti d'Alamagna and flauti traversi play. During the reception of the royal couple in Lyons in September, extra players are hired for the occasion, and corps of fifes and drums lead guilds and columns of infantry in processions though the city, while the King’s Swiss guard brings its own fifers and drummers. In intermedi provided for the court's entertainment, transverse flutes (flauti d’Alamagna) are played in four-part consorts, sometimes with spinets and groups of viole da gamba.


Leonhard Fronsperger’s manual of military discipline, Fünff Bücher. Von Kriegss Regiment und Ordnung (Frankfurt, 1555).


Philibert Jambe de Fer’s L'Epitome musicale de Tons, Sons et Accords, des Voix humaines, Fleustes d'Alleman, Fleustes a Neuf trous, Violes, et Violons (Lyons: Michael du Bois, 1556), a comprehensive introduction to musical theory and practice, gives the transverse flute pride of place, and does not mention the fife at all.


When the mathermatician, medic, and statistical theoretician Girolamo Cardano describes wind instruments in his manuscript De Musica, he mentions no transverse flute but the military fife (fifolae), having a range of only 9 tones.


Woodcut attrib. Tobias Stimmer shows Minerva playing a ‘Zwerchpfeif’


Thoinot Arbeau, in his French dancing manual Orchesographie (1589) describes a special Swiss playing style, in which fifers use a special hard articulation and play together with large side drums. Although he writes that the fife music is improvised on the spot, he provides examples of the kind of improvisation it plays.


Swiss federal drum ordinances contain printed fife tunes.


Basel Fasnacht celebrations are primarily a drumming event.


Basel fifers at Fasnacht play in three parts.


Oesch woodwind company founded. Erwin Oesch senior, originally