The piccolo is the highest-pitched woodwind instrument, playing an octave above the flute. It is made of wood or metal or a combination of these. Of the flute's larger and smaller siblings, the piccolo is the most frequently used. It is fingered in the same way as its larger relative, except that it had no foot joint, which means that its lowest note is d".
There are also larger flutes such as the alto flute – whose range is a perfect fourth below the standard flute, and the bass flute – which sounds an octave below a standard flute. There are even sub-bass flutes, sounding a twelfth lower, and double-bass flutes, sounding two octaves lower.
Of these instruments, only the alto flute and piccolo are in regular concert use. Since Beethoven's time, the piccolo has been an integral part of the orchestral woodwind section. The alto flute, created by Boehm around 1854, has been particularly attractive to modern composers: Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) used it to great effect in the Rite of Spring and Toru Takemitsu (1930–96) was a particular fan.
History and music of the piccolo
Highly-pitched flutes existed in prehistoric times, but, as an instrument with close family ties with the flute, the piccolo was not developed until the early 18th century, and then probably only because flute makers, in order to compete with the recorder family, needed a flute to parallel the range of the sopranino recorder.
Handel appears to have been the first to specify flauto piccolo (in his Water Music, 1717). Vivaldi's three concerti, RV 443–445, usually played today on piccolo, were in fact written for flautino, the Italian term for flageolet, or soprano recorder, and other 18th-century examples (for sixth-flute, octave-flute, etc.) were doubtless all written for types of recorder. However, piccolo players in search of a true piccolo concerto are satisfied by Valentino Bucchi's work of 1973. Arcady Dubensky, the Russian violinist, wrote a Capriccio for solo piccolo in 1948, and there is a sonata for piccolo ad piano (1956) by the Dutchman Ton Bruynèl.
Beethoven was the first to call for the instrument in a symphony: in the finale of the Fifth it is joined by double bassoon and trombones in a thrilling expansion and enrichment of symphonic resources.