The flageolet is a more modern form of the flute-a-bec, straight flute or fipple flute.
The upper part consists of a plain tubular mouthpiece, leading to a cavity, in which is a sounding lip exactly resembling that of an open pipe in the organ. The air is shaped by a thin groove into a flat sheet, which strikes against the feather-edge of an aperture formed in the intermediate part of the instrument.
The vibrations thus originated pass into a conical tube, which, unlike the organ pipe, is furnished with lateral holes, and sometimes with keys.
The fundamental note of the speaking throat, being coerced by different lengths of consonant tube, gives a simple scale; which can be extended by forcing wind in more strongly, and thus producing the first two or three harmonics of the ground tone.
The simplest form of the flageolet is the ordinary tin whistle with six holes. This consisted of a conical tube of metal stopped at the top by a square block of wood, except in a narrow anterior fissure. Below the fissure there was a gap, the lower edge of which was flattened so as to cut and intercept the stream of air.
In more elaborate instruments a chamber was added above containing moist sponge intended to hold back the condensed moisture of the breath.
In the whistle, and in the English flageolet, the scale was simply that of the flute; indeed, flutes are made from which the usual head can be removed and that of the flageolet substituted. The French flageolet is similar in its upper part, but possessed a more complicated scale, and an abundance of auxiliary keys.
The invention of the Flageolet is ascribed by Burney to the Sieur Juvigny, who played it in the famous ‘Ballet Comique de la Royne,’ 1581.
In the time of Mersennus (1588-1648) the principal teacher and player was Le Vacher. It appears to have superseded the more ancient Recorder, much as the Violin did the viol.
The two were obviously for a time in use together; for the ‘Genteel Companion, being exact directions for the Recorder, carefully composed and gathered by Humphrey Salter,’ is dated from the ‘Lute in St. Paul’s churchyard’ in 1683, whereas the ‘Pleasant companion, or new lessons and instructions for the flageolet by Thomas Greeting, Gent,’ was ‘printed for J. Playford, and sold at his shop near the Temple Church’ in 1682.
The former work gives a plate of a long bulky recorder, reaching half way down to the player’s knee, whereas the latter represents him sitting over a table on which lies his book, holding in his mouth and hands the ‘Flagelet,’ a pipe not more than nine inches long; on the table lies one somewhat larger, apparently above twelve inches in length. ‘It may be carried in the pocket, and so without any trouble be a companion by land and by water.’
In the same way early violins were termed piccolo violini all francese in opposition to the more bulky viol.
Both the flageolet and the recorder read from a staff of six lines, each of which represents a hole to be stopped.
In the recorder music the tune, with proper notes and time, is placed on a staff above, whereas in the flageolet a single symbol above the staff shows the time, but not the intervals of the melody.
The flageolet has only six holes, stopped by a different arrangement; their closure being appropriated successively to the thumb, first, and second fingers of the left, followed in order by the first finger, thumb, and second fingers of the right hand. This fingering seems to be unique of its kind, and persists in the French flageolet.
The double flageolet was invented by a person named Bainbridge about 1800, and his method for the instrument is supplemented after about twenty years by his son-in-law.
It consists of two ‘patent flageolets, the sides close to each other; the one has seven holes in front and one behind; the other only four in front.
The seven holed flageolet is played with the right hand; and in playing duets you will in general have the same number of holes covered on the second flageolet as on the first.’ From these examples it appears that in this case the two instruments play in thirds; intervals larger than this being possible in a few cases.
The two tubes are set in a single block and blown by one mouthpiece. Contrivances were added for silencing one of the two pipes when required, but they seem to have been often blown in unison to a single note.
Tripe flageolet had also been made. These instruments, though still within the memory of some, have entirely and most deservedly gone out of use. No music of importance seems to have been composed for them.
The single English and French flageolets are still around, chiefly in dance music. The former has been described as a simple form of flute-a-bec. The latter is a far more complicated instrument, possessing two holes for the thumbs at the back and four in the front for the two first fingers of the two hands. Indeed it is distinctly a descendant of the old flageolet given above.
The half stopping of the left hand thumb hole by means of a grooved plate for the thumbnail, and the introduction of the tip of the right little finger into the small everted bell at the bottom of the instrument, are devices peculiar to this instrument.
Its compass is two octaves and three semitones from g to b flat. A full method was published by Bousquet.
The flageolet is never found in orchestral scores, but there is a tradition of some authority, that the solo part in ‘O ruddier than the cherry,’ marked in the score as ‘flauto,’ was played in Handel’s time on the flageolet; and Sullivan introduced it with excellent effect in the part of Dr. Daly in his ‘Sorcerer.’