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The History of the Flugelhorn

In the Beginning

Hunting Horn, Normandy, ca 1650

The early 18th century Fluegel horn was a large hunting horn of semicircular configuration. It’s bearer was referred to as the “Flügelmeister.” The rôle of the Flügelmeister was to direct the phases of the hunt, which like its British counterpart was a formalised affair. During the Seven Years War (1756-1763), a war of near worldwide proportions involving Europe, North America and India (which confirmed Prussia’s new rank as a leading world power and made England the world’s chief colonial power at the expense of France), the Fluegelhorn was adopted as a military instrument.

The name, Flügel, means flank or wing, and probably originally referred to the flanking manoeuvre used to encircle and trap prey in the course of the hunt. This name is not altogether appropriate for the conducting of warfare, because the flanking manoeuvre is but one of many types of signals that would have been given during the course of battle. The signal for full retreat inevitably comes to mind.

A Family and its Related Instruments

Eb soprano Flugelhorn and Bb upright Flugelhorn from The Henry Meredith Historical Trumpet Exhibit

Most of us today, when we hear the word “Fluegelhorn,” think of an instrument that looks like a cornet or trumpet with a very large bell. This notion is fiction for the most part because the instrument in question is most often the Infantry-model Saxhorn. The true flugelhorn is almost exclusively a rotary-valve affair which has a very wide bell with little or no flare.

Where the true fluegelhorn is concerned, in the 18th century it was fashioned of metal and wrapped in trumpet fashion to form the military bugle. Circa 1810 this version of the instrument was given keys, courtesy of the Dublin instrument builder Joseph Halliday. This instrument, named for the Duke of Kent, is today known as the keyed bugle, and the keyed bugle in turn is a keyed flugelhorn. They are one and the same instrument.

It is not currently known who first added valves to the flugelhorn, but various incarnations of this instrument soon followed, and by the mid-1800's had led to the creation of entire families of instruments.

The Fluegel family in its entirety consisted of: an E flat soprano, B flat alto, the B flat tenor (also called the bass) and the E flat bass. Fluegelhorns have also been made in such other various keys as C, F, G and A.

The Various Spellings

The word Fluegelhorn has been variously spelled: Fluegelhorn, Fleugelhorn, Flügelhorn, Fluglehorn, Fluegel horn, Fleugel horn, Flügel horn and Flugle horn. There are other variations, but these seem to be the most common.

In Italy and Spain this instrument is referred to as the fiscorn, fiscorno, flicorn, and flicorno.

Untruths of Indeterminate Origin

This researcher has repeatedly come across “information,” much of it offered as fact by otherwise reputable reference books and Internet resources, stating that: Antoine (Adolphe) Sax invented the Fluegelhorn; that the Fluegelhorn is a member of the Saxhorn family; that the Fluegelhorn was originally Sax’s E flat soprano or B flat alto Saxhorn instrument, and so on.

Sax could not have invented the Fluegelhorn. It’s existence has been noted since the beginning of the 18th century. The Fluegelhorn is not a Saxhorn. The instruments attributed to Sax that appear on his 1840's patent sketches and in his 1850 catalogue are not flugelhorns.

The Reasons for the Confusion

1865 EG Wright E-flat Soprano Flugel

Circa 1846, German bandmasters began referring to the new E flat soprano Saxhorn as a Flügelhorn, while in continental Europe there was an F or E flat soprano instrument referred to as the petite bugle in France, and the pikkolo in Germany. The Eb soprano and Bb alto Saxhorns, however, are not Fluegel instruments, as they have a saxhorn, not a flugle bore-profile. The mouthpiece, bore profile and bell-size of the Saxhorn family of instruments, while derived from the valved bugle, are a departure from the flugle design.

This confusion stems from interchangeable usage of the words Fluegelhorn and bugle. In many cases what is being referred to is actually one and the same instrument. The keyed bugle is considered to be the parent of both cornet and valved Fluegelhorn, and this claim is true. The modern cornet and the fluglehorn share a common ancestor in the keyed bugle.

Design and configuration were anything but standardised in those days, along with the nomenclature. Many people continued using these non-standardised names long after standardised design configurations and names were established, the way a person might refer to a trumpet or cornet as someone’s bugle, or horn, or if we were in 19th century Germanic Europe, Flügelhorn.

1873 Herold 4-valve with keys

This researcher has come across many instruments bearing names that are clearly inappropriate by today’s standards, through regional convention or because of the then non-standardised word-usage. I have seen examples of cornets that are Fluegelhorns, trumpets that are cornets, Fluegelhorns that are cornets, trumpets that are early circular cornet\posthorns (cornet ordinaire), and so on.

So for the sake of clarity and continuity, this researcher will refer to all instruments having the universally accepted Fluegel profile as Fluegelhorns or instruments having Fluegel characteristics that place them squarely in the Fluegel family of instruments. The same goes for instruments belonging to the Horn, Cornet and Trumpet families.

Building Materials

Fluegelhorns in the past have been made from a number of unlikely materials, including wood, clay and ceramic. They have also been made entirely of: brass, bronze, silver and nickel. The modern Fluegelhorn is most often made of brass, and is sometimes electroplated with silver, nickel, gold or copper (rose).

The Modern Instrument That Isn't

E-flat and B-Flat Infantry Saxhorns

The modern instrument everyone calls a fluglehorn is actually not a fluglehorn. It is a saxhorn that was patented by Sax in the 1840's and which first appeared in the 1850 Sax catalogue. It is properly called an Infantry Saxhorn.

If Antoine (Adolphe) Sax ever worked on fluglehorns, there are no surviving instruments to support such an assertion. His instruments people today refer to as “fluglehorns”, the Eb soprano and Bb alto, are actually the two highest sounding members of the saxhorns.

The distinction here is that fluglehorns are a Germanic instrument whilst the saxhorns are a family of Franco-Belgian instrument that are derived from the valved bugle.

The 1830's Dodworth brass, the Saxhorns,
and almost two centuries of confusion

In the 1830's the American Allen Dodworth created an entire family of marching brasswinds he termed ebor cornos, or New York horns. This entire family consisted of valved bugles. Certain of these horns had bells that faced backwards, known as OTS or “over the shoulder” brass (patented in 1838), and were often referred to as “backwards blasters” by their players.

Beginning in 1844, Antoine (Adolphe or Adolph) Sax created a family of instruments that were marketed as Saxhorns, which in design were an adaptation of the valved bugle, and which have down through the years been incorrectly identified to as a family of “valved bugles”, “fluegelhorns” and “tubas”.

Over the years these two families of instruments have been confused with each other, to the point where much of the historical reference material is a muddle consisting of misunderstanding, misinformation, and mis-attribution.

What seems to have happened is this:

The American market originally consisted of Dodworth brass until some time after 1845, when Saxhorns gradually began replacing Dodworth’s ebor cornos. Dodworth himself was said not to have minded as he felt the Saxhorns were better instruments.

1880's Leopold Uhlmann Flugelhorn

During the shift from Dodworth brass to Saxhorns, European makers such as Leopold Uhlmann of Vienna (who made valved bugles) first began filling contracts for Dodworth brass, but over time began filling contracts for Saxhorns instead.

In the minds of people in the US this gradual replacement led to a general confusion between these two distinct groups of instruments, to the point where descendants of Dodworth were forced to defend his inventions against what amounted to a simple misunderstanding, wherein it had become the pervading belief that Saxhorns and Dodworth brasswinds were one and the same thing.

Over the years some have claimed (even at the time, in fact) that these two families of instruments came into existence purely by chance. However, it must be remembered that both Dodworth and Sax knew key people of note like Uhlmann of Vienna, and that Sax knowingly modified the valved bugle in order to create his family of Saxhorns. So the claim of “chance” is a dubious one at best.

The Modern Fluglehorn

Fliscorno in C

In my original piece on the fluglehorn and its history, the best information I had at the time indicated that the fluglehorn had been extinct since circa 1900. However, a number of European readers have since set me straight on the matter, pointing to a number of modern makers.

Two companies with web sites readily accessible to those who wish to see modern versions of the fluglehorn are Lidl and Voigt. Lidl makes a number of models of Bb fluglehorn, and Voigt makes a very find bass fluglehorn.

A good many European companies make the genuine article today, but tracking down their instruments is often a beastly chore for English-speaking people because few of these sites are in English, few English-speaking people know what a real fluglehorn is, and the search is made even more difficult by virtue of the fact that few of these modern makers refer to these instruments as fluglehorns. The terms used, depending on the language of the site, are flicorno, flicorn, flicorni, fiscorn, fiscorno, and fiscorni.

Also, some companies also make a Bb Infantry Saxhorn, sell it as a “fluglehorn”, and sell their fluglehorn as a fiscorno or flicorno.


Recommended Recordings

The Classical Flugelhorn; Soloist: Frank Fezishin.

The collection of horn concertos in “The Classical Flugelhorn” was arranged by Frank Fezishin for flugelhorn, strings and continuo. “The Classical Flugelhorn” was recorded at the Regnum Marianum Church, Budapest, Hungary on May 28, June 2, 5, 7 and 11, 2003 using a custom Benge flugelhorn and a GR custom flugelhorn mouthpiece.

You can find information about Mr. Fezishin, as well as order recordings from Tromba Classics at

This CD is definitely an interesting presentation of some classic works, especially for the French Horn.  It shows that the music can transcend the instrument, making it completely acceptable and plausible on the flugelhorn in a totally classic setting.

1  Mozart Horn Concerto No. 1 in D, K. 412 - 1. Allegro [4:43]
2  2. Andantino* (Symphony No. 23 in D, K. 181, 2nd Movement) [3:55]
3  3. Allegro [3:52]
4  Telemann Horn Concerto in F - 1. Allegro [2:20]
5  2. Largo [2;50]
6  3. Allegro [2:59]
7  Mozart Horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat, K. 447 - 1. Allegro [6:250
8  2. Romanze [4:52]
9  3. Allegro [3:53
10  Johannes Matthias Sperger Horn Concerto in E-Flat - 1. Allegro [6:40]
11  2. Andante [4:46]  
12  3. Allegro [3:32]