The Alto Flute has become an almost common sight nowadays. Many high schools now possess Altos. The sound of the Alto Flute is well-known from such pieces as The Rite of Spring, Daphnis and Chloe, and The Planets. It is warm and somewhat haunting, especially in the lower register. To my ears, it is a far more pleasing sound than the C Flute. Unlike the C Flute, the Alto never possesses a low B foot. An interesting note to remember, the Alto is the exact pitch as the Violin, while the C Flute can never match the Violin’s depth.
The sound is slightly weaker than that of the C Flute, but not drastically so. A good player should be able to project all the way to the bottom C of the instrument. Some smaller players may find the instrument tiring, so longer breaks for this (and all lower flutes) are advised. Also, smaller players may prefer a curved head joint as opposed to a straight one. The choice of head joints should be of no concern to the bandestrator.
Creative uses of the Alto Flute can range from simply playing the 3rd or 4th voice in the traditional flute ensemble to more elaborate uses. Strong instruments (e.g. Trumpet) are probably ill suited for mixing with the Alto. High range Bassoon is quite effective, as is Soprano Saxophone, all clarinet voices, and Horn.
Usually, only one Alto Flute will be available for a band, but if multiple Altos are to be had, then more creative approaches can be found. A duet between two Alto Flutes at piano and accompanied lightly, is a beautiful sound not to be forgotten.
A movement of a Bach Cello Suite on Alto Flute.
Debussy’s “Syrinx” on Alto Flute
Three Philosophies, concerto for low flutes