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A flute quartet is a musical term for a type of chamber music group. They are normally found in two forms: those consisting of a flute, a violin, a viola and a cello; and those consisting of four flutes. This last combination can come in multiple different but distinct arrangements:
- a group of four C flutes; or
- a group of three C flutes and Alto flute; or
- a group consisting of two C flutes, Alto and Bass flute (this grouping is the closest comparable equivalent of a string quartet for four flutes).
- a group consisting of piccolo, C flute, Alto and Bass
Works for flute, violin, viola and cello
This form is closely related to the string quartet, but with a flute in place of the first violin. It is generally believed that this type of chamber music reached its pinnacle around the middle of the second half of the 18th century. Notable works for flute quartets consisting of a flute, violin, viola and cello include those by the following composers:
The interest of the enthusiasts in arrangements of flute with string trio, which at times rivaled the popularity of the string quartet, is shown by contemporary transcriptions of string quartets by publishers, for instance, the quartets of Haydn. Gioachino Rossini also transcribed six of his Sonate a quattro (originally for strings).
In the first decades of the 19th century, the string quartet became far more important than the flute quartet; as a result, very few new works were composed until the 20th century. Until the works of Volkmar Andreae (quartet Op. 43) and Gottfried von Einem (quartet Op. 85), the 20th century was also somewhat lacking in compositions of this type. Works from the 21st century have included the Air and Adorable Blues by Blaž Pucihar and In blauen Linien (2012) by Graham Waterhouse.
You will find a complete catalogue of the flute quartet with the title 'Catalogus van het Fluitkwartet' available for free as an iBook, by the autor Axel De Schrijver, who also is the publisher. This book is for the moment only available in dutch, because of the biographies that are included, but it will also be of great interest for those who don't read dutch, because of the incipits, and hyperlinks to the original sources in European libraries. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/catalogue-of-the-flute-quartet-fluitkwart/id1218815180?ls=1&mt=13
Works for four flutes
Works for four flutes were particularly popular at the turn of the 19th century. Some of the most well-known from this time might include the compositions of Friedrich Kuhlau (quartet in E minor) and Anton Reicha (quartets Op. 12, Op. 19). Further quartets came from, for example, Friedrich Hartmann Graf, Anton Bernhard Fürstenau and Luigi Gianella.
Early 20th century
In the 20th century, quartets with four flutes experienced a renaissance. This type of arrangement, with its specific, light tone color, especially appealed to the French wind tradition. Examples of some works from the early 20th century include those of Florent Schmitt (quartet Op. 106), Josef Lauber (vision de Corse, Op. 54), Marc Berthomieu (Arcadie), Joseph Jongen (Elégie, Op. 114.3), Alexander Tcherepnin (Quatuor pour flûtes Op. 60 - 1939), and Colonial Sketches (1940) by Sol B. Cohen.
Late 20th century
The late 20th Century saw a new revival for the flute quartet, including these works:
- Richard Arnest: Jacob's Ladder (2007)
- Sarah Bassingthwaighte: Echoes of the Ancients (2006)
- Elizabeth Brown: The Baths of Caracalla (2007)
- Howard J. Buss: Prelude and Intrada (2009) Brixton Publications, Levi's Dream (2014) Brixton Publications
- Charles Knox: Music for the Outer Edge (2012)
- Sophie Lacaze: Cinq voyelles pour quatre flûtes (2005)
- Sophie Lacaze: Het Lam Gods III for four flutes and narrator (2009)
- Sophie Lacaze: Estampes for flute quartet (2012)
- Catherine McMichael: Falconer (2008)
- Anze Rozman: Creatures of the Enchanted Forest (2010)
- Anze Rozman: Aqua et Ventus (2011)
- Joseph Schwantner: Silver Halo (2007)
- William Susman: Seven Scenes for Four Flutes (2011)