The flugelhorn is a trumpet-like brass instrument that was likely invented by Adolph Saxe, a 19th century Belgian musician. The design is based, according to some, on Michael Saule’s keyed bugle, which was invented slightly before Saxe’s design. Music historians quibble a little about who invented the instrument, but it can be said that the flugelhorn was commonly in use by the late 19th century.
Unlike trumpets and cornets, the flugelhorn sound is less bright and more mellow. It is most commonly used in jazz and brass band compositions, but occasionally its mellow sound fills out lovely moments in orchestral pieces of the 20th century. The sound produced is due to the larger bell or opening of the instrument, and its overall larger size.
The flugelhorn can have three to four piston valves and its fingering system corresponds to the trumpet. When a fourth valve is included, it lowers the possible notes produced by the instrument. With the extra valve, it easily carries melodies in brass band arranged music. Since the fingering is similar to trumpets and cornets, expert trumpet players can often switch with ease, though they may have to slightly adjust the way they mouth, since the instrument has a slightly larger mouthpiece.
In jazz, the flugelhorn was first used to best effect on Miles Davis’ 1957 album Miles Ahead. Davis played the instrument on the album. Perhaps the most recognized flugelhorn piece in jazz was the 1978 song “Feels So Good,” composed and performed by Chuck Mangione. The piece crossed into popular music, receiving airplay on most top 40 stations, and became one of the most recognized pieces in the world. Mangione is a virtuoso player, but has never quite recaptured the fame he won with “Feels So Good.”
In price, a top class flugelhorn can be highly expensive. If you’re considering buying one for a new student, you might consider a trumpet instead, since it is relatively easy to switch from trumpeting. If price is no object, a higher-grade instrument usually is priced over $1,500 US dollars (USD). One in the $500 to $700 USD range is generally considered student grade.
If you prefer symphonic renderings with the flugelhorn, look for CDs featuring Rachel Woolham or Frank Fezishin. Both artists are considered to have modernized the way that classically composed music evaluates the instrument. They are excellent examples of the way the flugelhorn beautifully explores and reinvents solo performances in traditional orchestral music, and in modern classically styled pieces.