The Flugelhorn Ancient & Modern
by Stan Lippeatt
Stan Lippeatt – perhaps one of the most famous flugel horn
players in the history of the brass band movement takes us through
the history of the one instrument in a brass band that seems to
have evolved some considerable time before brass bands were even
thought of. He also gives us some guidance about how to play the
very difficult instrument as well.
At the end of the article he gives his list of his top flugel players
from the past, present with a few others who have made the instrument
their own over the years in other fields.
The ancient flugel horn.
The history of the ancient flugel horn lies with the bugle family,
particularly the Hanoverian Halbmond (half-moon). Made of copper,
it was U shaped, with wide bore and leather cross straps. It was
pitched in D. The Halbmond was itself a development of the older
Flugelhorn of the German hunt, of which an example can be seen in
the Brussels Collection. A military version of the Halbmond was
in use with the Hanoverian forces in 1758.
The ancient flugel horn was similar to instruments used in the
4th and 5th centuries BC by the Roman Army. These instruments, the
Cornu and the Buccina are shown in catacomb drawings and in carved
The name flugel horn may come from the German word meaning wing
and the name may derive from the flugelman, the player who marched
on the wing or flank of the front rank in German and Austrian bands.
The instrument is also often mentioned in connection with hunting,
being used by the huntsman whose duty it was to watch in the flugeln,
or paths cut through the wood, and give a signal on the approach
Since it took over from the old flugel horn, the Hanoverian Halbmond
has remained the traditional instrument of the German hunt. Meanwhile,
it found its way to England in 1778, under then name of bugle horn.
A man named Robert Hinde used it, along with trumpets and French
horns, to signal instructions to light troops under charge conditions.
Around 1800, this English military bugle horn was reshaped and given
the layout of a trumpet, probably by William Shaw, a London Instrument
maker. It was pitched in C, with Bb crook for use in bands. This
English facing bugle horn was then adopted in Germany and the old
name, Hanoverian Halbmond, was dropped. It was called instead a
signal horn or flugel horn.
At this stage in the history of the flugel horn we look to Ireland
and Bandmaster Joseph Halliday of the Cavan Militia, who in 1910
patented his specifications for a keyed bugle, which was to become
a prototype of the modern flugel horn. In 1828 the Berlin instrument
maker Heinrich Stolzel, following his work on valves for brass instruments,
advertised a ‘chromatisches signal horn.’
When, five years later Weiprecht replaced the Bb trumpet in his
cavalry music with a virtually unflared instrument, known in Prussia
as the Sopran-cornett, he used the strong Berlin Pistons. Elsewhere
in Germany, the wide flare of the bugle was retained in the flugel
horn which, equipped with pistons, had by 1840 replaced the keyed
bugle in the majority of German bands and was also attracting attention
In 1845 the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax, inventor of the
saxophone, patented a full range of saxhorns. The upper members
of the family were virtually flugel horns. Sax’s prototype
of the flugel horn was his Bb contralto, which was an upright instrument
like the Eb tenor horn. When it was later changed to trumpet design,
it was compared with the keyed bugle patented in Austria in 1818
by Stolzel and Bluhmel. Using Berlin pistons and the modern French
and English design, it had a short cylindrical mouthpiece, made
to telescope for the purpose of tuning, leading straight to the
first valve. Following a wide loop the tubing expanded to a wide
bell. The mouthpiece had a medium width but great depth (about 18mm).
This instrument was imported into England by Dutin and Jullien and
by 1860 had found a regular place in the British Brass Band.
This instrument, with its wide bell and conical bore, tapering
as much as the valve mechanism would permit, and played with a deep-cupped
mouthpiece, possessed a full and haracteristically sonorous tone.
This, then was the basis of the modern Bb flugel horn, which has
changed very little in design from the 1800’s to the present
day, except that the materials used and research into valve making
and tuning have made the modern instrument far superior. It can
be said that, apart from the new technology, the early designs of
Sax have really stood the test of time.
The modern flugel horn.
Apart from the standard flugel horn in Bb there are two other (both
rare) members of the family: the soprano in Eb and Tenor (sometimes
referred to as Alto) in Eb.
In Austria it is commonplace to find a section of 9 or 10 Bb flugel
horns in a wind band of about 60 players. Large members of them
are also found in German bands and in the symphonic wind bands of
northern Spain, where they are mixed with trumpets. French bands
may contain three parts for Grand Bugle (flugel horn) with two for
cornet. In Italy the Flicorni series of brass instruments is widely
used and the lower pitched versions can be said to be part of the
flugel horn family. In Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada,
the USA and most European countries the flugel horn is found in
British style brass bands.
It is also used by Jazz and big band trumpet players as a ‘doubling’
instruments for those times, for example in slow ‘blues’
numbers, when they require a more mellow, dulcet sound than that
of a trumpet. Symphonic composers have not been generous to the
flugel horn but a few of the eminent ones have written for it.
In the Pines of Rome Respighi used flicorni to suggest the ounds
of the buccine of the Roman army. In 1957-8 Stravinsky (in Threni)
and Vaughan Williams (in his Ninth Symphony) both used the instrument.
Vaughan Williams, who considered it a ‘beautiful and neglected
instrument’, rewarded it with the longest solo cantilena for
a brass instrument since the horn solo in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth
Symphony. He gave strict instructions that it should be played with
a correct flugel horn mouthpiece and not a cornet one.
Sir Michael Tippett used the flugel horn in his Third ymphony.
When he wrote Festival Brass with Blues for brass band, he produced
a fantasy on themes from that symphony and the flugel horns is heavily
featured, taking the main solos in the ‘blues’ section
Present day flugel horns
Many instrument makers throughout the world now make flugel horns
and, because of the simple shallow curves of its tubing, small differences
in layout can be found. The tubing is four and a half feet in length
and the vertical taper seems to compound tuning problems. To assist
with these, triggers or movable tuning slides on 1st and 3rd valves
are now supplied. The bore has increased and the bell opens out
to about six and a half inches, which is bigger than the bell size
of the old ‘pea-shooter’ trombones. A variety of larger
mouthpieces can now be obtained to cope with the increased bore
I should say at this point that, although a lot can be said for
using the mouthpiece provided with the instrument with its maker,
one mouthpiece is not always preferred by everyone. Most players
seem to find a mouthpiece that suits them and stick to it. (I have
been playing on the same mouthpiece for twenty-odd years). Mutes
are also available now for the increasing numbers of works, which
require this effect.
Playing the flugel horn
Flugel horn players can be frustrated by their instrument at times.
It doesn’t play as loudly or as softly as they wish; its top
register is both insecure and hard work; its tuning is always a
headache. However, the third valve slide is real asset, and by keeping
it well greased so as to be easily moved by the left hand, a full
semitone drop in pitch can easily be achieved. An example of the
usefulness of this is the C natural tremolando, normally played
open to second and third valves. By pulling out the third valve
slide about 21/2 “3”, the tremolando can be played open
to third valve only and can be both quicker and louder if required.
Many other little tricks using the same means can be found.
Sound, however, is the hallmark of a good flugel player (as with
all brass instruments) and the characteristic sound has, in most
players, to be developed. I would say that the test of a good player
is whether he or she retains that characteristic sound throughout
the dynamic and technical rangers of the instrument. Some fine flugel
horn sounds are heard in our top bands, and other exponents of the
flugel horn should also be listened to: players like Chuck Manjonie,
Ray Farr, Philip Jones and Shake Keane all possess a beautiful,
lyrical sound. The instrument lends itself to a lyrical playing,
and young players should spend hours playing long notes and lyrical
melodies to cultivate that special sound.
In brass band work, however, the instrument is required to play
technically difficult passages as well, alongside the many cornet
virtuosi and, by the very nature of the instrument, we have to work
that much harder to master these technical difficulties.
Some early band composers seemed to regard the flugel as a secondary
soprano with a voice higher than that of the repiano cornet. Nowadays
we get a variety of jobs to do. We may play along with the different
voices of the cornet section, from soprano down to third, and we
get more and more work with the horn section. Solo leads are often
undertaken and accompaniment work is plentiful. The instrument has
also, since the arrival of the entertainment contest, been recognised
as valuable stand-up solo instrument.
For all these reasons, the flugels work load in bands is increasingly
demanding. Another useful skill for the young player to develop
is the ability to transpose Eb horn parts. Sitting as I did at Grimethorpe
(in the main) at the end of the horn section, our solo horn Bryan
Smith and myself developed a good working relationship and teamwork
by being able to transpose each other’s parts.
As well as making himself heard as a soloist, the flugel must be
able to blend into the different sections and into the collective
band sound. The large fat sound of a good player ought not to protrude
in, say, simple chord structures.
Because of many styles and sounds heard from flugel horns these
days, it is no surprise that some composers and arrangers are confused
by it and scoring for it is occasionally illogical. How interesting,
however, it is to see how present day composers like Elgar Howarth,
Derek Bourgeois, Joseph Horovitz and Edward Gregson see the role
of the flugel in the brass bands: they are moving strongly towards
true recognition of the versatile and valuable tone colour of the
The Development of the flugel horn in Brass Bands.
In the long history of brass bands the flugel horn has been one
of the late developers. Because the early instruments had many problems
with tuning and leaks, it was the cornet, which was favoured as
the soprano brass of the early bands. The flugel was therefore found
only in the back row of the cornets, three of them usually, playing
off the same parts as repiano, second and third cornets. This arrangement
is found in the contesting line-up drawn up under the influence
of John Gladney in the 1870s.
A little later the three flugels were cut down to one, playing
alongside the repiano, solo or tutti as required. In recent times
some conductors have moved the flugel so that it is alongside the
horn section because of the ever increasing use of the instrument
as a musical and sonic link between the cornet and horn sections.
Contesting probably provides the main incentive for the development
of all instrumental skills in the brass band and the flugel horn
is no exception, but we had to wait until the British Open of 1932
and Thomas Keighly’s test piece “The Crusaders”
for our fist real individual test. In the section of the work called
‘Blondel Sings’ there is a flugel solo which pushed
the range up to what was then regarded as the dreaded top C natural.
Never before had the flugel been asked to play a solo passage of
such stature and magnitude.
In fact, players and conductors who were around at the time tell
me that some players fainted over that top C natural. One, Albert
Holding, bet that he would be the only player on the day to manage
the solo. During the performance he left is place on the back row
and sat by the conductor to play this passage.
George Thompson recalled, during live Grimethorpe broadcast, that,
during another performance of The Crusaders, flugel player Jimmy
North held his hand out during the solo to collect half-crowns from
members of the band who had bet him he would not get the top C natural.
“The Crusaders” put the flugel horn well and truly
on the map with brass bands, and since then more and more composers
and arrangers have used the flugel horn very positively toenhance
their music. Frank Wright, Eric Ball and Sir Arthur Bliss, among
others, in compositions and arrangements for the Nationals and the
Open, gave us many solo passages. From 1958 to 1963 at the Nationals,
the flugel had a really purple patch.
Accept no substitutes
Many other contest pieces have been written with notorious flugel
parts, and how disturbing it is to exponents of the instrument when
some conductors try to imitate the sound of a flugelhorn by using
a cornet with a hat, a mute or a handkerchief to muffle the sound
and produce a feeble copy of the real thing.
The obvious solution is for bands and conductors, instead of putting
any old flugel player onto flugel horn to realise that it is now
a specialist instrument requiring a player who is prepared to work
on the tone colour and range required.
Brave step forward
Before leaving the subject of test pieces, I would like to applaud
composers such as Edward Gregson. In a short section of “Dance
and Arias” he uses two flugel horns, requiring the repiano
cornet player to switch instruments and play in duet with his specialist
colleague. I saw this as brave step forward. In fact I would like
us to go the whole hog and use two flugels all the time.
This would add another dimension to the band, contribute the spice
of one player pushing another, and cause more people to want to
play this increasingly glamorous instrument. Any takers?
The Top 10's
Finally, 4BR approached me to give a list of the 10 best flugel
horn players, in my view. After serious consideration I decided
I wanted two lists: past and present. I think we have had various
exponents of the instrument over the years which have taken the
flugel horn from somewhat of a “Cinderella” instrument
to a solo instrument in its own right, as we know it today.
In addition to my two lists I am also naming several players who
have given fine performances on the flugel horn. The lists are in
alphabetical order and I have made no attempt to put them in any
order of merit. I also acknowledge there are probably other players
that I have not had the experience of hearing that are well capable
in one of my lists.
Cecil Annets – GUS Footwear
John Clay – Black Dyke Mills
Roy Garlic – Fairey Engineering
Malcom Holmes – CWS Manchester and Grimethorpe Colliery
Stan Lippeatt – Grimethorpe Colliery
Claire Sabin – Rockingham Band
Robert (Bob) Smith – Ransome and Marles
Sam Smith – Black Dyke Mills
Jeff Thomas – Cory
Kirsty Thomas – Fodens
Present (or thereabouts)
Matthew Challendar – Thoresby Colliery
James Chamberlain – Whitburn
Helen Fox – Fodens Richardson
Neil Hewson – Fairey’s
Lucy Murphy – Marple
Rob Nesbitt – Tredegar
Ian Shires – Grimethorpe Colliery
Mark Walters – Grimethorpe Colliery
Iwan Williams – YBS
Brian Winter – Desford / Brighouse and Rastrick
Ray Farr – BBC Big Band
David Horsfield – JSVB
Philip Jones – Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
Chuck Manjonie – USA
With many thanks to Stan Lippeatt