It’s World Ballet Day! So yes, maybe we’re not dancers, we’re flautists, but we can still take part and celebrate this exciting day, as we get to play some of the best and well known ballet themes.
Here is a rundown on what we think are the top 6 best ballet flute solos.
1. Tchaikovsky – Sleeping Beauty
The flute is often used in orchestral music to represent a bird, here being no different. The entire bluebird suite is full of beautiful fluttering flute solos and motifs, although the below solo is a wonderful display of that!
This short one-minute solo is Princess Florine’s solo and the opening is a flute duet, although the sound seems to be single flute: the two flutes playing together, accompanied by the strings. Flute one plays the hopping acciaccatura idea whilst the second flute accompanies with quick downwards glissandi, which repeats before the music accelerates into a difficult double-tonguing passage. The pitch of the chords and their staccato nature create the image of the fluttering bird with its trilling song.
Another beautiful flute solo (also from the bluebird suite) from Sleeping Beauty can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hq3-tnLfrA and deserves a worthy mention.
2. Prokofiev – Cinderella
Prokofiev’s Cinderella contains the beautiful Fairy Godmother Theme. This is much less dramatic then many of Prokofiev’s melodies with far less distinct harmonies. However, this slow and beautiful solo contains a hauntingly beautiful melodic line. The flute line has a relatively sparse range during this solo, long notes dispersed with quick runs. This is a beautiful solo that shows two different aspects of flute playing, the slow and controlled legato, with the fast connecting runs. (The flute solo is clearest from 1.22 onwards)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDxjYwrom5o. The long, slow trills near the end create a sense of magic and mystery.
3. Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker
Tchaikovsky wrote plenty of beautiful flute solos in The Nutcracker. Two of which we’ve included in this list. The Chinese Dance https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiyx1m44nMM and Dance of the Reed Pipes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dfxg8Qh3bBQ
The Chinese Dance has some beautiful solos but it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t focus on The Dance of the Reed Pipes which although is a dance all about reed instruments, contains one of the most well-known flute solos of all time. (Especially if you like Cadburys Fruit and Nut Chocolate!.) The flute melody here is extremely delicate and floats on top of the orchestra, contrasting to how Tchaikovsky used his flutes in the Bluebird suite in Sleeping Beauty. The motif is repeated often throughout the piece, hence why we all know it so well. As any flautist will tell you, it seems in this ballet that no one taught dancers how to play the flute – a backwards (left handed) flute is a rather rare!
4. Debussy – Prelude a l‘ Après-midi d’un Faune
One of the most famous flute solos in orchestral music is also a ballet score! Debussy’s Prelude a l‘ Après-midi d’un Faune was composed for the legendary Ballets Russes and starts with a long un-conducted flute solo, as the flute sets the scene for the rest of the piece. This haunting, sinuous, almost sexual melody is a dramatic contrast to the works of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky. The main flute motif is played in the flutes lower register, not as common for solos in orchestral music as it doesn’t stand out quite as much amongst the rest of the orchestra. The motif is slow steady and chromatic, haunting. This solo relies heavily on the flautist’s diaphragm control and the opening is aimed to be completed entirely in one breath, making learning it a bit of a competition amongst flautists.
5. Khachaturian – Gayane
All the pieces on this list really showcase what the flute and a flautist can do. However, Lezginka from Gayne shows a very different side to the flute then the others. This fast-paced flute solo is firey and dramatic. The flute line is extremely virtuosic with constant fast double tonguing. This piece shows that flutes can play more than just birds and soft melodies in orchestral music. The flute can also play drama and attack!
6. Gluck – Dance of the Blessed Spirits
A piece currently in CAFÉ Flutes repertoire is Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from the Opera Orphée et Eurydice. The reason this piece is last on the list is because it’s not from a ballet, it’s from an Opera. However, this is a dance and is treated as one within the opera. The flute is the only instrument carrying the melody in this piece, making it crucially important. The flute plays slowly and drawn out, evoking the longing which Orphée feels at this point during the opera. It is a worthy contender for this list.
What do you think? Did we list all the ones you’d list? Please feel free to comment on any more you’d like to add to our list. Happy World Ballet Day!