Quantz Flute


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Quantz flute by Pierre Etchegoyen - photo: Michael Dollendorf
Pierre Etchegoyen
Flute with two centers for 392 and 400 Hz in Combretum imberbe (bois de plomb/lead wood)
Washington DC, Miller Collection

Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) was famous early in his lifetime as a composer and his works were illegally copied and printed - full of mistakes. He was fed up with this and decided to publish six sonatas as his Opus 1 in a flawless edition in 1734. Thereafter little appeared in print, since he moved to Berlin/Potsdam in 1741 and worked exclusively for king Frederick II of Prussia. This music survived in manuscripts and much can be found online, also thanks to the Quantz Project by Benedek Csalog and Alexis Kossenko.


He had a classical training as 'Stadtpfeifer', mastering many instruments, playing from 1714 in Pirna and from 1716 in the Dresden town band. In 1718 he entered the service in the kings Polish band as an oboist. In 1719 he switched to being a full time flute player and stayed with the court orchestra until 1741, second to Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin (1693-1768). Dresden back then was considered the finest orchestra in Europe. From 1724-1727 he was given the chance to undertake a 'Grand Tour', spending several years in the musical centers of Italy and also went to Paris and London. In Paris he worked with flute builders and had a second key fitted to his flute, in order to make the intonation more perfect. From 1739 on flutes of his own design were made.

Today he is first of all known for his treatise 'Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen' , first published 1752. Since Prussia was at war from 1740-1745 an the king on campaign, he found the time to write on every aspect of music making. He had a very high annual income of 2000 Taler as composer of flute music, just matched by the music director and composer of operas Carl Heinrich Graun and Italian star singers, some of whom got twice this money. Quantz and Graun were the only musicians who could afford houses in Berlin and in Potsdam. Quantz got extra payments for every flute he made for the king, for training young flute players and for special concert appearances. He was not required to perform with the orchestra.

Quantz flute:

The traverso came to Germany in the last decade of the 17th century from France. The first German build instruments we know come from the workshop of Jacob Denner, Nürnberg, and are dated around 1710. They follow closely the French model by Hotteterre, Rippert and Naust. The Dresden orchestra had Frenchman Buffardin playing first flute from 1715, the son of a woodwind maker, of whom we know after a resents discovery, that he himself also made flutes. The orchestra in Dresden and Berlin played at a low French pitch of around 386 Hz and Quantz's flutes are intended to be at that pitch, despite them often coming with several middle pieces. In Dresden this pitch was standard until 1763, when the Seven Year War had wrecked the city and king Augustus III died. In 1740 Silbermann had build a new organ for the Hofkirche, which was the first instrument in Germany to be tuned to the new chamber pitch of 410 Hz. Makers like Grenser and Eichentopf worked at this new standard or at 435 Hz. (It should be noted, that there are always half steps between these pitch levels.) In Berlin the low pitch was used in the Royal Opera and at court until the death of king Frederick in 1786.

The Quantz flute has some elements most innovative:

  1. A tuning slide in the head. No matter which middle piece is used, the tuning slide should always be pulled out 3-6 mm. This gives the player the possibility to adjust in a warm hall or a cold church when the overall tuning goes off.

  2. Separate keys for D# and Eb.

  3. Often flutes come with a range of middle pieces, mostly five, each one 'Comma' apart. Quantz divides the whole step into 9 Comma. His small half-step has four, his large half-step has five Comma. Often only the longest middle piece shows signs of use. That means the flutes were played at 386 Hz. With the shortest the instrument would play around 410 Hz, but much less good than at the lower pitch. Modern builders tried to build Quantz flutes at a higher pitch. It doesn't work! These instruments loose all the qualities a Quantz flute has and are in the best case like an ordinary Baroque flute with a second key.

  4. Quantz had very precise ideas about tuning. His system makes it possible to play the flute in tune mostly with fingerings and not so much with adjusting the embouchure. For example the note F is in tune and doesn't need to be lipped down as on other Baroque flutes. He also asks the flutists to tune to the orchestra using the note F as the most reliable and stable note. The fingering for the F# is what he calls 'extraordinary': 1 2 3 - 5 6 in both lower octaves and not the normal one with 1 2 3 4 - - key. He gives fingerings for all notes to accommodate the Comma difference between a raised lower and a lowered higher note. G# is one Comma lower than Ab, D# one Comma lower than Eb etc.

  5. These tuning improvements had consequences for his music: Quantz doesn't shy away from keys that are not considered flute friendly. The same is also true for the compositions of his royal patron Frederick.

  6. The sound of Quantz flutes is as he wants it to be, strong, masculine. His ideal was the male alto voice. In his time these were castrati, not falsettists as we hear them today on opera stage. A voice more agile and powerfull, but with a strong fundamental timbre, like a modern Mezzo, and very easy, light and sweet on the top.

He gets this sound with the shape of his bore, which is 20.3 - 20.5 mm wide in the head joint (one millimeter wider than all other Baroque flutes) and narrows down to a little under 13 mm. This is the biggest taper in all conical 18th century flutes.

Here is a short list of bore tapers:

Haka 10%, Assisi 18 %, Bressan 21 %, Hotteterre 26 %, Naust 29 %, Quantz 33%

All these elements together make a flute that is extremely well in tune and very agile when it comes to big leaps over the entire range. It can be loud in order to cut through an orchestra, with a very full lower octave. It speaks very easy and can float high notes without any effort.

His musical ideas are totally influenced by the operatic style, whose major creator was Dresden court composer Johann Adolph Hasse, and the French ideals of gallant flute writing. Stylistically he is very advanced, especially in his newly discovered quartets. Quantz might be the first composer of music the Germans call 'Empfindsamkeit', later followed by WF and CPE Bach.

I also want to point out, that in the year before Quantz published his Opus I, Telemann had published his 12 Fantasies for flute. Given that the two composers knew each other, Telemann was for sure aware of the improvements Quantz had made to the instrument and used all these possibilities in his pieces.

Opus I is available as the 1734 print:


and as a reprint published in Paris around 1740:



There are instruments that are perfect for their task. My shortlist of perfect flutes in that respect would include a Renaissance flute (the Brussels Bassano) and its adaptation to 17th century musical needs by Richard Haka, followed by an Assisi/Hotteterre/Rippert/Naust/Bressan/Denner type 3-part flute. Then came IH Rottenburgh, the Naust-Pelletier-Delerablée family, Buffardin and Quantz. All these flute were at a lower pitch ranging from 357-408 Hz.

The Quantz flute is the most advanced and the most perfect Baroque instrument I can imagine. It also is the final point of a conical bore flute and Baroque aesthetics. The instruments made after 1760 by other makers are often trying to achieve something else but at the same time they are compromising qualities. Everything that needed attention in the classical period (higher pitch at 420, 435, 440 Hz, equal sound qualitity on all semitones, very easy top register) gave birth to many more or less usefull transitional instruments, but it took a Theobald Boehm to come up with a solution that equaled the qualities of a Quantz flute and opened the flute to the 19th century.

What I can't explain is the total absence of Quantz flutes at conservatoy level. Is the 2nd key really to much trouble? Are students and teachers not interested in performance practise and just play 415 instruments that work, even though they might be half a century to late for the music, like the famous GA Rottenburgh flute that dominated the traverso world for the past decades but which is a very very late 18th instrument and has little to do with Baroque music?

Quantz flute by Pierre Etchegoyen - photo: Michael Dollendorf
Quantz flute by Pierre Etchegoyen - photo: Michael Dollendorf
Quantz flute by Pierre Etchegoyen - photo: Michael Dollendorf
Quantz Flute | Michael Dollendorf - Alte Musik


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