He died a pauper, though Franz Joseph Haydn was one of six choirboys, who performed the mass at his burial. He was prolific, as twenty one of his fifty-six operas survive today. But it is his instrumental composition that made Vivaldi’s enduring mark on music, as he wrote more than 500 concertos. Vivaldi’s flouting was probably a rather high-pitched recorder, since the piccolo did not come into existence until around 1730. But Vivaldi’s concerto fits the piccolo perfectly.
Going back even further, in the Middle Ages, military musicians played a transverse flute with only six finger holes. Instruments were further adapted to mimic the human voice in the 16th century. The flute family also included the treble recorder, and the bass flute, to complete the instrument family.
In 1832 the Munich flutist Theobald Boehm invented a revolutionary mechanism for the flute and by the middle of the 19th century it had already found its way onto the piccolo. Nevertheless, piccolos with older key mechanisms remained in use into the 20th century.
Piccolos were made in the tunings C, Db and Eb (fundamentals C5, Db5 and Eb5 – the latter tuning was favored particularly in military circles). The tubing was made first of wood, later of metal and was slightly conical.
Finally, in the 18th century, the piccolo started to appear in musical scores. One of my all-time favorites, Handel’s Water Music, uses the piccolo extensively.
More Vienna Symphonic Library:
Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the first composers to use the piccolo in his works to imitate sounds of nature, e.g., the whistling of a stormy wind in the fourth movement of his 6th Symphony (“Pastoral Symphony”, 1808). In his “Rigoletto” (1851) Giuseppe Verdi first used a piccolo to symbolize lightning. In addition, the piccolo was used for special effects, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in “The Magic Flute” (1791), for example, for a humorous portrayal of eunuchs. In many works the piercing and shrill fortissimo of the piccolo is used to heighten terror in frightening scenes.
Composers of the Romantic period, particularly Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, integrated the piccolo completely into the orchestra’s woodwind section. Since then it has been used extensively to add color and shading to the sound of the orchestra and occasionally even as a solo instrument.
So, sit back and enjoy the piccolo solos during your next symphony concert (whenever that might be).