A Quick-Start Guide to Virtuosa Flute Solos

Getting Started with Virtuosa Flute Solos

Why Diversify Your Repertoire?

If you’ve found your way here, you probably don’t need convincing.  But here are a few points to consider if you’re on the fence about breaking out of the “classical” mold:

  1. Think of your audience. 
    • We’re taught to play for other classical musicians in school, but take a look at who’s really gonna be at your venue & what types of music they might relate to most.  The demographics will be totally different at a university concert hall vs a retirement home, farmer’s market, or a summer concert at the park.
  2. Learn new musical skills.  
    • Exploring other perspectives on music-making can give you insights into your playing or unique opportunities to strengthen certain skills.  For example, Romantic era character pieces might not require flashy technique, but they are great for working on tone colors, phrasing, and musicality!
  3. Express yourself! 
    • If the perspective represented in your repertoire doesn’t fit with your personal background, it can feel like putting on a mask that doesn’t fit.  Trying out music by composers from other demographics can help open the door for more comfortable creative expression.  
  4. Avoid direct comparison.  
    • We’ve all been there – getting up on stage to play your solo, only to feel super self conscious upon realizing that ALL your flute friends in the audience know how your piece is “supposed” to sound because they’ve played it too.  An easy way to avoid direct comparison? Surprise them with something they’ve never heard before!

Swaps for Standard Repertoire

Representation of women in historical repertoire is important because many universities still emphasize proficiency in music from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras.  

While I prefer not to recognize women composers by using comparisons with their male counterparts and/or mentors, analogous substitutions for pieces from the “traditional” flute canon can be helpful if you’re trying to accommodate recital requirements that request a piece from every era. 

If you Love…Try…
C.P.E Bach’s Flute SonatasAnna Amalia von Preußen – Sonata in F
Anna Bon di Venezia – Six Sonatas, Op. 1
Flute Music by French ComposersMel Bonis – Sonata, Op. 64
Clémence de Grandval – Suite de Morceaux
Laura Netzel – Suite, Op. 33
Emilie Mayer – Sonata in D Major
Amanda Röntgen-Maier – Sonata in b minor
Francis Poulenc – Flute Sonata, FP 164Elsa Barraine – Elégie et Ronde
Claude Arrieu – Sonatine
Germaine Tailleferre – Deuxième Sonata

Unusual Genres

Accompanied Sonatas

I’ve listed a few of these in the Classical era section even though they’re not technically flute solos.  This compositional form is commonly considered a precursor to piano trios, as the keyboard player is the featured soloist.  If you think of this music in 3 lines, the “solo” line is played in the keyboard right hand, what would otherwise be the right-hand line of the accompaniment is now played by the flutist, and the keyboard left hand plays the bass line or continuo.  

These sonatas can be a great practice opportunity for university students who are required to demonstrate proficiency in accompanying.  Even though those exams are often on piano, this can be a great exercise to help flutists get into an accompanist mindset while playing their primary instrument.  

Accompanied sonatas can also be a great way to introduce intermediate level students who aren’t quite ready for Mozart’s concerti to the musical style of the Classical era.

Character Pieces

Character pieces are great for practicing musicality in the French Romantic style without needing to worry as much about your fingerwork.  These pieces don’t sound as virtuosic as pieces from the French book, but are great for exploring tone colors and experimenting with interpretation.  In the 19th century, conservatory musicians often dismissed character pieces as overly emotional – but the nuance and subtlety required to effectively perform these works takes a lot of skill and control.  

A few character pieces for flute and piano:

  • Cécile Chaminade – Sérénade aux étoiles
  • Mel Bonis – Une flûte soupire
  • Lili Boulanger – Un matin de printemps
  • Clémence de Grandval – Valse mélancolique

Character pieces can make great building blocks for students still working up to the technical level of Flute Music by French Composers. They can also make great recital pieces for intermediate students or shorter alternatives for flutists who play at an advanced level but may not have time to learn a longer composition.  

Sets of character pieces by the same composer can also be performed together as multi-movement works, as in Augusta Holmès’ “Trois Petites Pièces.”

Programming Tips

It’s an unfortunate reality that only 7.7% of works programmed in orchestra concerts worldwide* were written by women composers.  However, not all representation is automatically good representation.  So here are a few things to keep in mind:  

  • “Women’s music” is not a genre!  Treating music written by women as a novelty only perpetuates the stereotype that women composers were exceptions to the rule instead of helping to normalize equal representation.  
  • If you’re not sure how to find a good balance of compositions by women & men, think about your audience demographics.  Who typically shows up to your performances?  Creating a program that reflects the people you’ll be performing for can help them identify with your music.  
  • If you’re in a situation where you need to stick close to the “traditional” flute canon, start by identifying some composers from the same eras as your recommended repertoire.  Check out their bios and see if they studied with the guys who wrote our “standard” repertoire or were heavily influenced by someone in their circle.  If you need to advocate for yourself in order to add or replace something in your program, these connections will help make a stronger basis for your argument. 

Happy exploring! ♡