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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 reliefs.

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 of game.

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 France.

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 of work.

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 size.

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 instrument.

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.

Fainting flugels

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

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