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date: 19 January 2020

Fife (Fr. fifre; Ger. Querpfeife, Militärflöte; It. fiffaro; Sp. pifano)locked

  • Howard Mayer Brown
  • , revised by Jaap Frank,
  • Raoul F. Camus
  •  and Susan Cifaldi


(Fr. fifre; Ger. Querpfeife, Militärflöte; It. fiffaro; Sp. pifano)

A small cylindrical transverse Flute, but with a narrower bore and hence a louder, shriller sound than the flute proper. Fifes were generally made from a single piece of wood, sometimes with ferrules of wood, cord, leather, brass or other metal at both ends, and had six finger-holes. After the 18th century they were sometimes supplied with a single key. In modern British drum and fife bands, short conical flutes with six keys (and therefore essentially a piccolo), pitched in B♭ (a 6th above the concert flute and a major 3rd below the orchestral piccolo), are called ‘fifes’.

In the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, fifes and side drums regulated the infantry while trumpets and kettle drums were reserved for cavalrymen. By the late 15th century fifes were associated especially with Swiss and south German mercenary foot soldiers (as the names soldatenpfeife and fistula militaria indicate), who evidently introduced the instrument to much of western Europe. In German sources, for example, Martin Agricola (...

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J.-B. de La Borde: Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne D
W. Waterhouse: The New Langwill Index: a Dictionary of Musical Wind-Instrument Makers and Inventors