Giulio Briccialdi

Giulio Briccialdi. It’s not exactly a household name. In fact I’d be willing to bet that most young flute players have never heard of him. Yet in his day he was considered the Paganini of the flute. He was a virtuoso player, a great composer and a renowned teacher. But undoubtedly his greatest contribution to the modern flute world came from his work as an instrument maker. I’m not sure how we would be able to manage without his greatest contribution, the Briccialdi key.

The Early Years

Giulio Briccialdi was born March 2, 1818 in the Italian city and province of Terni just north of Rome. At the time Terni was a member of the Papal States, territories under the direct sovereign rule of the papacy. Giulio began his flute studies at his home in Terni with his father as his first instructor. But life changed at the age of 14 when Giulio’s father and teacher passed away.

Soon afterward young Giulio left home. Many accounts suggest that he left to avoid the pressure he was feeling from his family to join the priesthood. Whatever his reasons, he found his way to Rome where he supported himself by playing flute in the theater orchestra while studying composition at Santa Cecilia Acadamy. By 1835 he had completed his studies and took a position teaching at his alma mater.

Over the next few years he moved around Europe living in Naples, Milan and Vienna and continuing to take students including the brother of the King of Naples. He also performed extensively earning a reputation as a flute virtuoso. This period culminated in a tour of Europe and America in 1941. The following year he settled in London where he became involved with one of the most renowned flute makers of the day, Rudall & Rose.

Rudall & Rose

In 1822, when Briccialdi was still a boy, flute makers George Rudall and John Mitchell Rose joined forces to create one of the most successful flute making businesses ­­of the era, Rudall & Rose. They initially specialized in simple system flutes, wooden instruments with eight keys. These flutes were an advancement from the single keyed instruments of Mozart’s era, but they lacked the power to hold their own in the growing orchestras of the romantic era. And an eight key flute was still burdened with the complex, forked fingerings necessary to produce the full chromatic range.

In 1847, Theobald Boehm, a Bavarian goldsmith and accomplished flutist invented a new system for building flutes which consisted of larger tone holes and a system of keys and levers large enough to cover the augmented holes. The larger holes allowed for a much more powerful sound than typical flutes of that era and the keying system allowed for a faster technique. Rudall & Rose began production of the Boehm system flute shortly afterwards, offering instruments with a keying system very much like the one we use today.  

The Briccialdi Key

Briccialdi was director of instrument making at Rudall and Rose during this era of great change in the design and construction of the flute. He met Boehm in 1848 and had a chance to try out Boehm’s revolutionary flute for the first time. He must have embraced the new system because a year later, in 1849 he commissioned Rudall & Rose to build a Boehm system flute with an enhancement of his own. His addition was the thumb B-flat key, henceforth known as the Briccialdi key.

In a few short years the flute had been transformed from an eight keyed wooden pipe which could no longer hold its own in the growing romantic era orchestra to a powerful instrument that very closely resembles the instruments we play today. Although wooden flutes would survive well into the twentieth century, metal flutes had made their debut and were here to stay. The genius of Boehm and the wisdom of Briccialdi to embrace the changes set the stage for the renewal of the flute as a serious orchestral and solo instrument.

In 1870 Briccialdi accepted the position of flute professor at the Florence Conservatory where he taught for the remainder of his life. 

The Composer

Giulio Briccialdi died on December 17, 1881 at the age of 63. But his story doesn’t end there. Just a few short kilometers from his place of birth in Terni, Italy you’ll find the Santa Lucia Stroncone Astronomical Observatory. Santa Lucia Stroncone is an active center for the discovery of asteroids including a very special rock discovered in 1996. Somewhere out there, floating around between Mars and Jupiter is asteroid 7714 dubbed by the astronomers that discovered her as the Briccialdi asteroid. A stellar tribute to the man who gave us the thumb B flat.

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Andantino con variations (Prima registrazione mordiale) after Paganini, for flute & guitar

Ballabile di Concerto, for flute & orchestra

Canzonetta with variations for flute & piano in C major

Capriccio on themes from "Ernani", Op. 28

Capriccio on themes from "I Lombardi", Op. 30

Carnival of Venice for flute & orchestra Op. 77 Character Piece 1865

Duo Concertant for 2 flutes in F major, Op. 100/2

Elegie di Ernst, for flute & piano, Op. 26

Fantasia Dramatica on themes from "Aida" for flute & piano, Op. 134

Fantasia for flute & piano on themes from Lucrezia Borgia

Fantasia for flute & piano sull'opera Macbeth

Fantasia for flute & piano, Op. 108

Fantasia for flute & piano, Op. 57

Fantasia on themes from "Il Trovatore"

Fantasie for flute & piano after Giuseppe Verdi's la Traviata

Fantasy on La traviata (after Verdi), for flute & orchestra

Fantasy on themes from "Macbeth", Op. 47

Flute Concerto in A major, Op. 130

Le Streghe, for flute & piano, Op. 138

Pot pourri fantastique on themes from il barbiere di Sivliglia by Rossini for wind quintet, Series 10, No 4

Pot-pouri Fantastico, for flute & piano, Op. 46 ("Lucrezia e Lucia")

Quintet for winds in B flat major, Series 10, No 2

Quintet for winds in B flat major, Series 10, No.3

Quintet for winds in D major, Op 124

Rigoletto-Fantasy for flute & piano, Op. 106

Solo Romantico, Op. 72

Theme and variations for flute & piano "Il carnevale di Venezia"

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