The flageolet – a woodwind instrument closely akin to the recorder – achieved considerably popularity in nineteenth-century England. It was predominantly an instrument of the amateur musician, and its story becomes a mirror of the musical society in which the instrument flourished.
An account of the organology of the flageolet in both its English and French forms, and of its evolution into double, triple and transverse versions, precedes a study of pedagogical material and repertoire. The work of William Bainbridge, who modified the flageolet to simplify its technique and hence enhance its suitability for amateur players, is emphasized, along with his skill as an innovator of complex flageolets. The flageolet attracted a small number of professional exponents who tended to favour the French form of the instrument.
The principal focus of the article is an examination of the role of the flageolet within the context of musical praxis in England and its societal implications during the long nineteenth century. After consideration of matters of finance, social class and gender, the article examines the use of the flageolet by amateur and professional musicians, particularly highlighting the importance of the instrument in domestic music-making as well as in amateur public performance. Professional use of the instrument within the context of the concert hall, the theatre, the ballroom and the music hall is explored and examples given of prominent players and ensembles, some of which were composed entirely of female musicians. Final paragraphs note the playing of the flageolet by itinerant and street musicians.