The deep, rich voice of the alto and the growing number of performers continues to inspire composers to contribute music to the repertoire. Alto players are ferreting out works from the c flute literature that then find a new voice on the alto. Faced with a wealth of choices, it is a challenge to find the best pieces.
To address this issue, the Low Flutes Committee of the U.S. National Flute Association (NFA) has published a list of outstanding pieces for alto flute and as chair of that committee, I would like to share some of my favorite pieces with you.
The complete listing for alto is available on the NFA website www.nfaonline.org. Look under NFA Programs and then Committee Resources. You do not need to be an NFA member to access this part of their site.
The NFA has established their own system of rating the difficulty levels of pieces. They use a scale of A (easiest) to K (hardest).
Alto and Bass Flute Solos; arr. Potter; alto flute (alfl), piano (pf); publ. Falls House Press. (difficulty levels - B C D E)
This book contains 20 pieces arranged to present a variety of challenges for the player. You will find a balance of flat and sharp key signatures, interesting rhythmic patterns and a chance for the player to work on the tone quality and response of the low and high registers. The collection includes Bach Air in D, Vivaldi Spring Concerto Allegro and Largo, Tchaikovsky Arab Dance from the Nutcracker, Ave Maria by both Gounod and Schubert, the slow movement from the Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp, and the Largo from the Dvorak New World Symphony. The book also includes some Negro spirituals and European folk songs. A printed piano accompaniment is available separately though Falls House Press and a CD of the accompaniment is available through www.altoflute.net
Bethlehem Pastorale; Daniel Rhone; alfl, pf; publ. ALRY
This is a beautiful melody that would be appropriate for church or any occasion when a soothing, peaceful atmosphere is needed. This has been a favorite of mine for years.
Atlantis; Gary Schocker; alfl, pf; publ. Falls House Press
Gary has written a lush piano part with heartfelt, soaring melodies for the alto. The range is a little challenging and goes to top G#.
Stone Suite - Cliff Palace Ghost Dance; Sonny Burnett; alfl, flute ensemble (or pf); publ. Pine Castle
The piece was inspired by the atmosphere of the ancient Indian ruins at Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado. The alto is perfect for the haunting character of the melody and the texture is enhanced through the use of a hand drum and easy vocalizing by the choir members.
Aria; Eugene Bozza; arr. Rothe; alfl,pf; publ ALRY
This well-known melancholy melody is perfectly suited for the alto. This arrangement goes no higher than just above the staff, but the ties, eighth-note triplets and grace notes provide some rhythmic challenges. This is one of Bozza’s few easy pieces for flute.
The Banks of Ayr; Scottish Folk Song; arr. Boland; solo fl; publ. ALRY
This snappy Scottish tune and variations goes no higher than the D above the staff, but it is demanding nonetheless. In the key of D Major, it explores all possible combinations of arpeggios, scale segments and triplet patterns, and has one insistently repeating set of grace notes that works better with the middle F# fingering. This is a Scottish version of French contest music and lots of fun!
Morocco; Ceasar Giovaninni; alfl, pf; publ. RBC
This is a colorful and evocative piece of harem music. Get out your seven veils and finger cymbals! Starts and ends with a luscious cadenza over some intriguing piano chords.
The Pied Piper; Gordon Jacob; solo fl/picc; publ. Oxford
The first movement titled “The Spell” works well for alto. Mysterious and passionate, it stays primarily in or just above the staff with only one G3 to contend with. Ties and 8th and 16th note triplets provide rhythmic challenges.
Voices from the Deep; Alexandra Molnar-Suhajda; 3alfl, 2bfl, contra bass, optional contra alto, bass in F, G contra bass, double contra; publ. www.flute.net
This powerful piece was premiered at the 2010 NFA convention with 45 low flutes players, including nine contras and two double contras. There are many lovely melodies abound in this five-movement neo-romantic piece. The last movement “Valse de Bravoure” is especially fun.
Six Sonatas for Two Flutes, op. 2; G. P. Telemann; arr. Tickton; fl, alfl; Falls House Press
These lovely sonatas are arranged so that the alto flute part is in the original key and the c flute part is lowered a fourth. The lower voicing means a richer sound, but the clarity of articulation presents more of a challenge for the c flute player.
Four Bach Fugues - Sonata in A Major – Allegro; J.S. Bach; arr. Potter; 2 alfl (2fl, or fl,alfl or alfl,bfl); publ. Falls House Press
The lilting fugue from the A Major Sonata flows so well it sounds like it was meant for two altos. It is written in the original key for the alto so this could be used to help someone prepare the solo part.
Blue Flute Funk; Bill Holcombe; alfl, pf; publ. Musicians
The opening marking is “tempo di funk” and it gets even better from there. The pianist can let their hair down, the alto player gets to loosen up and find their inner-saxophone.
Ancient Friend – Baikal Journey; Catherine McMichael; alfl, pf: publ. ALRY
Based on Russian folk songs from the Lake Baikal region of Siberia, the piano and flute take turns with a soaring obbligato over a melancholy melody.
Sonnets; Mike Mower: alfl, pf: publ. Itchy Fingers
The first sonnet reminds me of the movie Casablanca starring Bogart and Hepburn; it has that same smoky, edgy atmosphere with an undercurrent of tension. The second sonnet starts with a cadenza followed by a rich jazzy melody with meter changes from 4/4 to 3/8.
Three Songs from Schwanengesang; Franz Schubert; arr Boehm; alfl, pf; publ. Zimmermann
Three well-know songs by Schubert; Ständchen, Das Fischermädchen and Am Meer, arranged by Theobald Boehm. The piano part is very rich and there are flowing scale and arpeggio patterns in the flute. Boehm was very interested in the alto flute near the end of his life, these are but a few of the pieces he arranged and some of the very few to be published. (G G D)
Lunar Mural I; David Gunn; alto fl, CD; publ. www.davidgunn.org
You will just love all the character changes on the accompanying sound track; space insects, harp, kalimba, gongs, evil robots, floating in zero gravity and singing cellos. The alto writing is challenging, crafty and charming.
Ani Ma’amin (I Believe); Paul Schoenfield; alfl, pf; publ. Migdal www.paulschoenfield.org/id2.html
A composition based on Hassidic melodies that is powerful and deeply passionate with an intricate and challenging piano part. Even the c flute literature has very few pieces in this strum und drang style. If performing with a grand piano, the alto should use some form of amplification.
Music for Mother Bear; Donald Erb; solo alfl; publ. Merion Music
Pitched kisses, singing while playing, key pops and the other effects combine to make a piece that audiences of all ages enjoy. This is an excellent piece for learning some extra musical effects.
Two for Two – What Goes Around; Katherine Hoover; alfl, pf; publ. Papagena
The piece starts with a roller coaster, then the popcorn machine goes haywire. An introspective and haunting melody is followed by questions about the world’s sanity and then, getting back on the roller coaster, we go upside down through a loop!
Sonatina; Alexandra Harwood; alfl, pf; publ. Progress Press
This piece features traditional and improvisatory sounds based on ancient Japanese court music. The use of pitch sliding and Japanese scales and modes are inspired by the shakahachi flute. The dance movements are surprisingly virtuosic and chromatic.
Sonata for a Lost Planet; Gary Schocker; alfl, pf; publ. Theodore Presser
The four movements are titled Above, Below, Burn, and Float. Never one to doubt a flute player’s technique, Gary has written many notes at the top of the third octave: at least he put in “strident” so we have an excuse to sound that way. My favorite movement is Float that was perfect for a performance I gave in a planetarium. The writing is very sensitive to the altos strengths, and challenges one to have as facile a technique on alto as one does on c flute.
The Conversation of Two Parakeets; Jean Francaix; fl,alfl; publ. Schott
The title in French is Le Colloque des deux Perruches. These are two very serious birds with several ruffled feathers each. The piece has six movements filled with awkward chromatic passages, odd grace notes, angry squawking, plaintive melodies, difficult high and low passages and extreme dynamics. One has a great feeling of accomplishment after working on this. Three or four movements are plenty for one performance.
A Night in Greenwich; Mike Mower; solo alfl; publ. Itchy Fingers
A tour de force for alto that uses harmonics, wicked chromatic passages and some bump and grind to take you into the bars and alleys of Greenwich Village.
Obstinato and Scareso; Mike Mower; solo alfl and bfl with flute ensemble; publ. Itchy Fingers.
The Scareso movement is for alto flute and begins with a Bach-like cadenza with a touch of insanity. Fasten your seat belts for this one. The famous “salt peanuts” jazz motive can be heard sneaking around and the fourth page has two of the most devilish passages I have encountered in a long time.
Concerto for Alto Flute and Flute Ensemble; Randall Snyder; solo alfl, flute ensemble (7 fl, 3fl/picc); JP Publications
This piece has some of the most unusual sound combinations you have ever heard. Violent, clashing tones resolve to moody, unsettled mutterings. Hair-raising tone clusters, shooting stars, invading aliens, murmuring voices at a party, fluttering moths, was that a rat?
Lipstick; Jacob ter Veldhuis; fl/alfl, CD; Muziekgroep Nederland
Don’t put on lipstick before playing this piece, you will slide right off the edge of the world. Though the title sounds friendly, if you lose your place in this dynamite soundtrack you will be eaten alive. Only minimal extra musical effects needed by the flutist who doubles on alto, but the energy of this piece is relentless; a real show stopper.
© 2011, Chris Potter