Harmonic Flute English
Flûte Harmonique French
Flauta Armónica Spanish
Flûte Octaviante French
Harmonieflöte German

The principle of the harmonic pipe — making the pipe twice its normal length and then overblowing it to speak the octave — has been known at least since the early 17th century. It was used infrequently until Cavaillé-Coll invented the Flûte Harmonique, an open metal harmonic flute stop first used in 1841 in the Church of Saint-Denis near Paris, France. Cavailleé-Coll placed seven harmnic flute stops in that instrument, using the names Flûte Traversiére Harmonique, Flûte Octaviante Harmonique and Flûte Octavin Harmonique, as well as Flûte Harmonique. It soon became popular in both France and England. While Audsley claims that Cavailleé-Coll was the first to use harmonic metal pipes, they were well known to Praetorius.

The tone of this stop varies a good deal across different examples: it may be loud or soft, dull or bright. Unlike its close relative the Orchestral Flute, it is not necessarily imitative. While Hopkins & Rimbault, Skinner and Maclean speak of its good blending qualities, Wedgwood states that it can muddy the tone of the Diapasons, and Sumner warns that "care must be taken to prevent it from disturbing the purity of the diapason chorus".

Harmonic flutes are constructed from open pipes which are twice the normal speaking length. The pipes are overblown to speak their first harmonic (the octave). A hole is pierced in each pipe to prevent the formation of an acoustical node at the center of the pipe. Authorities differ as to the exact placement of this hole: 2/5 the length of the pipe from the languid, 7/16 of that distance (Bonavia-Hunt), in the center (Grove), or "anywhere in the middle portion" (Wedgwood). This harmonic construction is used only in the treble portion of the stop, with the lowest pipe being anywhere from tenor G to C above middle C for an 8' stop. Below that, large-scale open pipes of normal length are used. The 8' octave is often comprised of stopped pipes. A common scale for the harmonic pipes is 3" in diameter at middle C. Bonavia-Hunt specifies wind pressures from 8" to an extreme of 15". Wedgwood states that the upper and lower lips are sometimes leathered, and that the pipes are sometimes given long ears for the purpose of tuning.

Audsley provides the following description and accompanying illustration of a metal Harmonic Flute:

In selecting a stop for illustration and description we cannot do better than take the Flûte Harmonique, 8 ft., in the Great division of the Concert-room Organ erected by Cavaillé-Coll in the Town Hall of Manchester [England]. The lowest harmonic pipe of this stop is g1, shown in correct proportions in the accompanying illustration. The pipe is 2.37 inches indiameter and 29 1/2 inches in length from its mouth-line. At the distance of 13 inches from that line a hole 1/8 inch in diameter is drilled, as shown in the illustration. The mouth of the pipe is 1 3/4 inches in width and 11/16 inch in height, having a straight upper lip. The bass of the [stop] is formed of open wood pipes, the CC one of which has the scale of 5.00 inches by 6.50 inches. The open metal, non-harmonic pipe — middle c1 — has a diameter of 2.75 inches and a speaking length of 22 inches, belonging to a very large scale.

Certain organ builders prefer to construct the Harmonic Flute entirely of metal. MM. Casavant Frères, of St. Hyacinthe, P.Q., Canada, have furnished the following particulars. The pipes of the Harmonic Flute, 8 ft., are open and non-harmonic from CC to e1 = 29 notes; and the larger of these, when circumstances permit, are advantageously employed as displayed pipes. The CC pipe is 5.37 inches in diameter internally, having a mouth one-fourth the circumference of the pipe, and slightly more than one-fourth its width in height, having a straight upper lip. The tenor C pipe is 3.26 inches in diameter, having a mouth of the proportions just given. The diameters are approximately in the ratio 1:2.66. The harmonic pipes commence on f1. This pipe is 2.03 inches in diamater and, of course, about twice the ordinary speaking length. It is pierce with a hole about 1/16 inch in diameter. The general rule for determining the position of this hole in harmonic pipes is as follows: Divide the body of the pipe — the full length of which is calculated to yield the note an octave below that which it is destined to yield when rendered harmonic — into nine equal parts, and make the performation at the height of four of these parts above the languid. The size of the hole should be carefully graduated; and their size varies in different stops according to the strength and quality of the tone desired. As MM. Casavant correctly state, a larger hole than that above named changes the tone somewhat and permits its strength to be increased. The mouths of the harmonic pipes are one-fourth the circumference of their respective pipes, and one-third of their respective widths in height. The nicking of their languids and lower lips is preferably made deep, about eighteen nicks being made in the c2 pipe, and in the others in proportion.

Regarding the wooden form of the stop, Audsley writes:

In the unison stop, the bass octave is generally of Lieblichgedeckt pipes; the seventeen pipes from C to e1, inclusive, are of open unison lengths; and from f1 to c4, inclusive, the pipes are harmonic, and, accordingly, of double lengths. In the octave stop, from c#3 to c4 the pipes are harmonic and made of metal. The scale of the lowest open non-harmonic pipe is 2 1/4 inches in width by 2 3/4 inches in depth; and that of the highest non-harmonic pipe is 1 3/16 inches in width by 1 7/16 inches in depth. The lowest harmonic pipe, made double length, is 1 1/4 inches in width by 1 1/2 inches in depth; and the highest harmonic pipe of wood is 3/8 inch in width by 15/32 inch in depth. The mouths of all the pipes are inverted, are of the full widths of the scale, and are one-third of their width in height. Their caps are of the ordinary hollowed-out form and are depressed slightly below the lower lips of the mouths.

On the theatre organ, Strony tells us that the Harmonic Flute is an orchestral flute found only in larger instruments, usually at 4' and 2' pitch. Wurlitzer's examples have little in common with the French Flûte Harmonique, being more like an Orchestral Flute.

There are alternate meanings for the names Flûte Octaviante and Harmonieflöte. See also Harmonic Diapason.


Flageolet Harmonique - a 2' Flute Harmonique
Flute Octaviante Harmonique - a 4' or 2' Flute Harmonique
Flute Octavin Harmonique
Flute Traversiere Harmonique
Harmonic Claribel
Harmonic Cornet
Harmonic Piccolo
Nasard Harmonique
Principal Flute
Solo Harmonic Flute


Osiris contains over 300 examples of Flûte Harmonique at 8' and 4' pitch, around 200 examples of Harmonic Flute at 8' and 4' pitch, 43 examples of Flauto Armonica at 8' pitch, and three examples of Harmonieflöte at 8' pitch. The earliest examples are given below.

Harmonic Flute 8', Swell; Town Hall, Leeds, England; Gray & Davison 1859.

Harmonic Flute 4', Solo; St. Michael's College, Tenbury, England; Harrison 1869.

Harmonic Flute 4', Swell; St. John's Lutheran Church, Chehalis, Washington, USA; Köhnken & Grimm c1870.

Flûte Harmonique 8', Grand Orgue; St. Sulpice, Paris, France; Cliquot 1781.

Flûte Harmonique 8', Positif; St. Denis, Paris, France; Cavaillé-Coll 1841.

Flauta Armónica 8', manual; San Mateo, Tarifa, Cádiz, Spain; unknown 1762.

Flauta Armónica 8', manual; Santo Domingo, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain; Oliva c1880.

Flauta Armónica 8', manual right; Virgen de los Milagros, Agreda, Soria, Spain; Roqués 1882.

Harmonieflöte 8', Hauptwerk; Propsteikirche, Beckum, Germany; Klais 1913.

Harmonieflöte 8', Hauptwerk; Liebfrauenkirche, Koblenz, Germany; Simon 1980's.

Harmonieflöte 8', Manual I; Cathedral, Passau, Bavaria, Germany; Steinmeyer 1924.

Sound Clips

Flûte Harmonique 8', Grand Orgue St. Bernhard, Mainz, Germany Cavaillé-Coll, 1872-1892 arpeggio St. Anne
Harmonic Flute 4', Great Culver Academies, Indiana, USA Möller 1951 arpeggio St. Anne St. Anne (solo)


Audsley[1]: Flûte Harmonique; Harmonic Flute. Audsley[2]: I.XII Flûte Harmonique; Harmonic Flute; II.XXXIV Harmonic Flute; II.XXXVI Harmonic Flute. Bonavia-Hunt[1]: Harmonic Flute. Grove[1]: Flute Harmonique. Hopkins & Rimbault[1]: § 385, 439, 578. Irwin[1]: Harmonic Flute. Locher[1]: Harmonic Flute. Maclean[1]: Harmonic Flute. Skinner[1]: 26-27, 53; XII Flûte Harmonique. Strony[1]: Harmonic Flute. Sumner[1]: Flûte Harmonique. Wedgwood[1]: Harmonic Flute.
Copyright © 2008 Edward L. Stauff, all rights reserved.
HarmonicFlute.html - Last updated 13 February 2009.
Full Index