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Piccolo Facts

10 Interesting Facts About The Piccolo

A quick look at the Piccolo makes you think of certain things. It’s tiny, often unassuming, but still quite fascinating at the same time. This cousin to the flute might look like it can’t pull off any music you’d enjoy, but there’s a lot of musical magic in that small body!

Here are several facts about this relatively small instrument with an otherwise remarkable history. Read on to find out things about the Piccolo that you never thought of before! 

Piccolo Facts
Piccolo Facts

1. In the hands of a skilled player the piccolo can sound very identical to a bird call

Piccolo Facts

The Piccolo is the higher-pitched cousin of the Flute. In fact, it’s the highest-pitched instrument in the entire orchestra.

Since it plays one octave higher than a typical Flute, the Piccolo can accurately imitate the sound of a bird call.

2. The name “Piccolo” refers to a lot of things, but mostly to something high-pitched or small

In the Italian language, the word is used as an adjective to describe something that is very small and high-pitched. This is why we also have instruments such as the Piccolo clarinet, whose name literally means “high-pitched clarinet”.

Piccolo Facts

3. Along with the concert flute, the Piccolo evolved from its military origins

Piccolo Facts

Back in the Middle Ages, armies would not only march with soldiers, but also with musicians! And most of these musicians played the transverse (horizontal) flute. The mid 17th Century saw this evolution take place due to technological advancements, and thus, the Piccolo was born.

4. The Piccolo’s really high pitch is a product of simple science

A Piccolo sounds very high-pitched because of its size. What that means is that the vibration doesn’t have a very big space to move around in, thus producing high notes. And as the player presses keys, the “size” of that chamber gets even smaller, which makes the highest notes the Piccolo can produce. 

5. Classical composers used the Piccolo’s shrill sound to produce special effects in operas

One excellent example is Mozart’s The Magic Flute, where he used the Piccolo to facilitate a rather humorous portrayal of eunuchs. In other cases, the Piccolo was used to heighten the tension and terror, such as in supposedly scary scenes.

6. Some even used the Piccolo to symbolise the sounds of nature

Remember the first fact which states that a Piccolo’s sound can sound like a bird call? Well, Beethoven had roughly the same idea. In his Pastoral Symphony, he used the Piccolo to simulate the whistling of a stormy wind. 

7. In military bands, flute parts were barely being heard, so Piccolos came to save the day

Imagine trying to listen to a Flautist who’s basically playing music that controls your squad’s battle formation, or during a typical military parade. It’s almost impossible, right? That’s why the Piccolo’s piercing, shrill tones were added, so the soldiers can hear the Flute parts better. 

8. It can be hard to determine whether old composers actually wrote for the Piccolo or not

Back in those days, it had a lot of names: petite flute, flautino, flageolet, and even the very astute small recorder. This is why when examining works by classical masters, it can be hard to see whether they were referring to an actual Piccolo or not.

Piccolo Facts

9. In its earliest iterations the Piccolo had no keys

Piccolo Facts

Try to imagine playing something that’s half the size of the Flute that has no keys. That’s what the Piccolo looked like in its earliest versions. It wasn’t only until the early 18th Century when the Piccolo started being made with one to four keys. 

10. A so-called myth about the Piccolo still remains unproven

This isn’t a creepy myth, but a myth nonetheless: many scholars believe that the earliest written work to use the Piccolo was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, which premiered in 1808. But nobody can come forth with enough evidence to support this, so it remains a mystery to this day.

That's the end of our Piccolo Facts... So what now?

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