Saturday, 17 August 2019

Benade and the Embouchure

Despite the number of "flute design calculators" available on-line, and which have led many a rookie maker into despair, (there is a special level of hell reserved for the creators of such software...I believe Dante mentioned it.) any maker of reasonable experience will assure you that all advances or significant variation in musical instrument design, come about by trial and error.
In my early years as a maker, I did attempt to gain some understanding of the basic acoustic principles behind instrument design though, and like many others was directed to "The Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics" by Arthur Benade, a work which remains a sound introduction to the topic. I should point out here, before you all rush out and buy a copy, that a fairly good grounding in physics and mathematics is required to make the book in any way useful. I had physics up to 1st year college, and still found large tracts of it difficult. It did give me a good understanding though, of the basic principles of bore design, regarding length/diameter, taper, the effects of tone hole size changes etc.
I communicated ( by letter, it being pre-internet times ) with him about various practical issues that I was facing as a maker, and he responded promptly and generously with help and suggestions. I had arranged to meet him on a visit that I had planned to the US in 1985(6?), but just before I left has a letter from him telling me that a cancer that he had suffered from had returned, and the prognosis was not good. He died in 1987, and I never got to meet him.
You can read more about himself and his work here, and what is noteworthy is how he used his practical experience with the clarinet and flute to inform his acoustical studies.
He was not simply an empirical acoustician.

The following is an extract from a letter that he wrote, ( published in the journal of  the Fellowship of Makers and Restorers of Historical Instruments ) explaining his take on the flute embouchure, and what's fascinating about it from a makers point of view is that he was obviously basing his opinions on his practical experience with]making working embouchures. Again, I found that it required re-reading carefully numerous times before I really understood what he was saying. Having done that, I put into practice what he preached, and found everything that he said could be verified in practice.
I make much better embouchures as a result.

FoMRHI Comm. 2070 Arthur Benade Cutting the flute’s embouchure

The following notes are part of a letter that physicist Arthur Benade (1925-1987) sent to a young maker of early flute replicas. The maker was requesting some help in shaping the flute’s mouth hole. In fact, when measuring flutes in museums we gather plenty of information on the outside turning, a lot on the bore, but little when it comes to the mouth hole, because a permission is almost never given to take a cast of it. Neither would it be of much help, since the mouth hole is often ruined by too much tampering by earlier users. So, observation by eye and personal convictions must only be relied upon when we work back in the workshop.
At least we had a decent theory of the relevant parameters...but literature on the subject is very scanty, if it ever existed. This letter was lost in a mess of sheets, notes, scraps of information, and re-surfaced only by chance now, after almost 40 years.
Benade died in 1987 and it is not known if he ever published the following observations, but in the same letter he had made clear that he would like to do so.
So it is better to make sure now, at least to start a discussion on the subject. Only paragraph titles are added to the original text. The drawings are from Benade's letter, in his hand – Filadelfio Puglisi
(Page 4 to Page 8 of the letter)

Mouth hole orientation
We begin by noticing that most players do not blow directly at right angles to the axis of the flute; some face a little northward, whereas some face a little southward. If one builds an elliptical or rectangular hole of the sort used in modern flutes, it makes sense to orient the major axis of this embouchure hole so that ε is slightly less than 90° for the first player and slightly more than 90° the second. Mostly it is not worth the very considerable trouble required to do this. Very often as a matter of fact, if ε = 90°± 5°, any civilized player on a good instrument will automatically find a way of flowing that best adapts the structure of his lips and teeth to those of the flute. Other things are so much more important that that I tend to let this orientation find itself.
The ratio D/W matters really very little in either of two cases: (a) if D/W 1, as in your renaissance flutes, 5% from round makes more of a difference to the appearance then to the playing provided the area is kept constant and (much more important) the undercuttings are properly proportioned, as outlined below. (b) if D/W0.8 as in the 19th century and later instruments again there is more constraint against a 5% change via appearance than via playing.
The two tribes (a) and (b) play differently from one another however, mainly because (with ε= 90°) D is fairly constrained by steered—flow air-jet physics, whereas W is controlled more by the player's preferences or ability to manage a narrow or a wide air jet (see wt in my Fig. 22.10 page 490, Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics).
Once again I must emphasize that the freedom claimed depends on one's ability to "get everything else right" in a manner consistent with changes we are discussing.
Longitudinal Undercutting
The choice of whether the undercut angles γ and δ on the north and south sides of the hole are equal or not is almost random, again subject to the general "rightness" proviso.
As long as (
γ + δ) is roughly constant it doesn't much matter (so far in our discussion) what the sum is, provided the hole impedance reduction associated with the undercutting is taken
care of some place.
It is traditional to choose the inequality to favor players who face left or right, but one finds schools of thought that are directly contradictory when you look at what is recommended!
You will see a little better what is involved by the time you have read about the rest of the undercutting business. For many years good flutes have been made in which these two angles are zero. However, one really does get better results if the inner corners are rounded, or undercut part way and then rounded.

Transverse Undercutting
The question of suitable angles α and β has been much vexed.
Look at Figs. 9, l0 and 11 of Miller's translation of Boehm's The_Flute and Flute-Playing (Dover 1964) plus the accompanying text ... Boehm's and_Miller's.
For today's flutes one often finds that
β = -α, (!!) and γ = δ = 0 because a
straight-sided cutter has been used to form the hole, with the center of the hole being offset from the tube axis.

It is however in this case good practice to undercut to produce a larger (including positive) value for β for at least the inner half of the chimney height.
Analogous part-way undercutting on the forward side (two-valued alfa in this region) is NOT A GOOD IDEA. In fact it can sometimes lead to disaster.
Setting aside the newer flutes where the lip-plate angle gets into the act, let me say that for embochure holes of the sort one sees on renaissance and baroque flutes, the angle α needs to be around 7 degrees.
The modern maker is often confused by what he sees and makes the angle on his old instrument copies considerably bigger than this. Worse yet, he may try generating the whole embouchure hole profile by pulling a rotating conical cutter (fraise) outwards from the inside, so that α = β = γ = δ . The next paragraph suggests a reason why today's maker is plausibly led to make this mistake
The larger embouchure holes used on classical and modern flutes need less undercutting, mainly because a larger hole drilled into the same head diameter automatically gives the effect of larger α . This is true to an exaggerated extent on the Boehm flute where the bore diameter at the embouchure hole is only l7 mm instead of the l9 mm typical of the conical flute that immediately preceded it. The fact that Boehm's own first design was conical may help us understand the discrepancy between what he said and what his matured experience led him to do.
It may also explain why people tend today to make α too big when trying to make a baroque or renaissance flute -- it looks drastically undercut to someone used to today's instrument. Also they may be thinking of the α = 90° of a recorder!
All this talk, and I have not said what is the symptom of a overlarge α : The stupid thing will not speak well. The tone is gutless, no dynamics, no power, wobbly pitchs, poor attack. You cannot pounce on a note, even when the headjoint alone is tested.
The fact that uncovering a lot of the hole will make it play less badly is often a clue to too big an α since rolling the flute away will reduce the angle between the wind and the edge against which you blow. Notice that this angle α is the only thing that I have discussed that has relatively close tolerances, and is not negotiable via trade-offs with other parameters.
I will not take time here to say why it is on the other hand that much can be gained by increasing beta (as mentioned earlier), even to an extent that at first looks absurd.
Transitions beetwen Undercut Angles
We are now in a position to describe something that is crucial to the proper working of an embouchure hole, regardless of its basic style or vintage: the way in which one arranges the transitions between the undercut angles specified so far (front and back, north and south).
If we define an azimuth angle θ measured counterclockwise from a blowing direction normal to the flute axis, then your angle α defines the undercut at the azimuth θ = 0, γ defines it at θ = 90°, β
at 180°, and δ at 270°.
Our problem is to specify the transition behavior between these 90°azimuths.

First and foremost we consider azimuths lying in the region one blows against, running counterclockwise from about θ = 300° (= —60°) and θ = +60°.
In this region the embouchure wall must have a profile such that at every angle θ the intersection of the hole surface with a plane containing the hole's own axis is a straight line.
An attempt to generate this part of the profile with a file is doomed to failure since any convexity of the intersection leads to fluffy tone and slow response. The tool to use is a stubby, straight edged scraper with a large round handle.
The diagram below shows how I use the word "convex" and "concave" .
It also shows a perfectly acceptable undercutting profile in the azimuth region that lies outside the 
magic 60°. 

To give you an idea of the touchiness of a flute regarding convexity (especially in the regions centered at about θ = 45°) let me give an example from a few years ago.
Scraping out patches of convexity the size of the capital O of this typewriter, located about
3 mm down into the hole, one at
θ =+45° and one near -45° made one otherwise good flute "wake up" enough that my son who is not a wind player but has good ears come downstairs to see what had happened. He asked what I'd done to make such an abrupt change in what he heard of my music ... "it sounded as though the flute was let out of jail"...! I will grant that you sometimes see flutes that play ok with a little convexity in the region I'm talking about, and that sometimes removing it does not make a dramatic change. In every case however, closer examination shows that (a) if the flute is otherwise good it can be made to play better, (b) if it is not good the change of profile has its effects masked by other things (c) the player doesn't know how to really exploit the instrument and so fails either to notice or to display the change.
Important! The foregoing is not intended to suggest that you take a knife to a famous old flute to correct the hackings of some idiot who thinks a little scraping around the rim will improve things. There are many such vandals, and the results of their destructions should be left to their shame, unless you propose to make a proper restoration. This requires inlaying an entirely new piece within which a hole will be cut.
To do less is merely to saddle the museum curator or collector with yet another flute with an oversize embouchure hole for which its other proportions were not designed. Such instruments are unfortunately not rare, in part because some ignorant souls have tried by such mayhem to raise the pitch of A-435 instruments to A-440 (etc., etc.).
Rounding of Edges
The question of suitable rounding (or not rounding) of the inner and outer ends of the embouchure hole is in part easy and in part hard to answer.
At the inner end of the hole, all the rounding your courage permits will lead to freer and stronger blowing at the loud end of the dynamic range, without loss of control at the pianissimo end.
As usual the caveat holds that one must be sure that the overall acoustical structure of the instrument is consistent with the slightly reduced impedance of a well rounded hole as compared with an unrounded one.
At the outer end of the hole things are more complicated: The region outside the central region defined by θ ± 6O° can be rounded almost as vigorously as the inner end, although it tends to look sloppy if carried as far as I would otherwise prefer.
Within the magic region one works a fairly sharp edge, finishing it with many trials very slowly

using only an ink eraser to get a smooth edge that flows continuously and neatly into the more rounded north and south ends of the hole.
Be careful not to more than just barely let the rounding increase for angles less than about θ = ± 50° lest the response get fluffy.
The player's taste has a lot to do with what you try for in this central region, but be careful to leave him wishing it is more rounded rather than less rounded than his present taste. One reason for this is that wear and later adjustments can still move things in the direction he wants.
Another reason is that as he gets used to the profile his ability to get a clean unwiry sound increases greatly, so that he tends to shift his preferences with experience.

11 December 1978
Prof. Arthur H. Benade
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland Ohio


Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Continuing Ivory Saga

The story of ivory ( and other CITES listed materials used in flute making) continues to be confusing.
Even the CITES authorities seem to be unclear about how the legislation applies, and in what circumstances.
I've come across two things that I thought might interest my readers, the first is an account of a couple of cases brought under the CITES legislation in the UK.
See here.
The second might be of practical use for those who choose to get around the CITES legislation by using mammoth ivory...but how do you tell the difference?
See here

Also included below is an exchange of E-Mails with the Irish authorities.
What I gather from this is that they themselves are unsure of what evidence to accept as to whether a particular item is pre-convention or not. In this case they seem to be saying that trade directories, or in this case such things as the Langwill index listings, are not sufficient evidence of pre-convention manufacture.
Where do we go from here? There seems to be no room for easily available expert opinion...

Hi xxxxxxx,
Here’s a thing. As someone who both collects and restores old flutes as well as making new ones, I have several instruments that are either entirely made of ivory or have ivory as a component.
I know that ivory is on Schedule 1 of CITES, but if I understand it correctly the restriction only applies to ivory which was acquired after a certain date, and not to that which can be proven to be antique or of historical importance.
What I wanted to ask is,  what would be the procedure or restrictions applying to an export permit for an item consisting of, or containing ivory that could demonstrably dated to the 18th century?

All the Best
Hammy Hamilton

Hi Colin,
 In response to your query on ivory flutes and flute components – because of the decline in elephant populations ivory trade continues to be a very controversial topic and there is a high level of proof required to prove that the ivory in question is genuine and is antique.
 The CITES Regulations, namely Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97, control commercial activities associated with Annex A specimens within the European Union. Most commercial activities, including the sale and offering for sale of any Annex A specimen are prohibited unless an appropriate CITES Certificate has been issued by the relevant CITES Management Authority exempting the prohibition in question.
The CITES Management Authority may grant such CITES Certificates on a case by case basis in certain situations as described in Article 8(3) of Council Regulation 338/97.
However, under Article 62(3) of Commission Regulation (EC) No 865/2006 there is a general exemption from the need to acquire such a CITES Certificate for “worked specimens” that were acquired before 03 March 1947.

To qualify for this general exemption the specimen in question must comply with the definition of “worked specimen” which states that the specimen must be significantly altered from their natural raw state for jewellery, adornment, art, utility or musical instruments and require no further carving, crafting or manufacture to effect their purpose. Only specimens which have been acquired in such conditions to the satisfaction of the relevant CITES Management Authority shall qualify for such a general exemption. This exemption does not apply to other specimens e.g.: non worked specimens such as full ivory tusks.

This general exemption is often referred to as the “antiques exemption” and only applies for trade within the EU. For trade outside the EU there is no general antiques exemption and thus CITES Export Permits would be required.

However, in order for us to grant an export permit for a piece containing ivory, you would need to prove to our satisfaction that the piece is genuinely pre-convention i.e. 1947. In addition, a piece is no longer considered “antique” if it has been re-worked at some point in time – even if antique ivory is used to repair an instrument. The re-working effectively makes it a modern piece and cannot be considered as antique. The following link gives advice on what can be considered worked or unworked.

If you can prove the origin and provenance of the ivory – then we can issue a permit to export it outside of the EU, however some countries like the U.S. have much stricter customs requirements when it comes to ivory and they have been known to seize pieces on entry into the country. If you were planning on exporting a piece to the U.S. – the customer may have to apply for a CITES import permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as an export permit from the seller.

Kind regards,


Hi xxxxxxxx,
  Thank you for that very comprehensive reply, which clarifies quite a few points about which I was unclear.
On the point of proving to your satisfaction that a flute is genuinely pre-convention, could you elaborate on proof you’d need?
The flutes that I’m concerned about are, in almost all cases stamped with the maker’s name and address, which then allows them to be dated via the trade directories of the period.
Would that be considered sufficent proof?

Could you also clarify the commercial transaction aspect. Does that imply that if money does not change hands, i.e. if the item was a gift, that the legislation would not apply…or does it apply in a different way?

Thanks again and All the Best

Colin Hamilton


With regards to proof if the item is genuinely pre-convention, the trade directory you mention seems to refer to when the item was first traded and not when the CITES listed specimen was acquired. I will consult with my colleague on this matter.

Commercial purposes includes the purchase, offer to purchase, acquisition for commercial purposes, display to the public for commercial purposes, use for commercial gain, sale, keeping for sale, offering for sale, and transport for sale. Please note that the prohibitions relating to Annex A listed specimens also apply to specimens of species listed in Annex B. (Article 8(1) Regulation(EC) No 338/97)

Sunday, 23 September 2018

David Shorey, and a very special flute.

All of us involved in the world of the antique flute were deeply saddened to hear, in February 2015 of the death of David Shorey. As someone who knew him and his wife Nina, I wanted to share one of many great experiences I had with them in his memory.

In 1986 I made a visit to the US on flute related business. At that stage I had only been making flutes for 6 years or so and I was hoping to make some contacts that might prove useful.
I had two main contacts to follow up. The first was an introduction to Brannen Bros. in Boston, which I seem to remember that Eugene Lambe organised.
The second was a contact for someone called David Shorey that Sam Murray had told me about, and about whom I knew very little except that he had been curator of the Dayton C. Miller collection in the Library of Congress, and that was good enough for me, particularly as one the major aims of the trip was to visit the DCM and do some hands-on research.
At that stage David and his wife Nina were living in a small place in northern Maine called Bowdoinham, where apart from his flute that stage he was dealing in antique flutes... he was also trying to start a business making house boats, which were one of his life long passions.
I hired a car in Boston and drove up, through mile after mile of woods which were just beginning to show their autumn glory.
I spent a wonderful few days there, immersed in flute lore with David and Nina, and over the years had intermittent contact with them.
Then, in or around 2009, when I was curating a private flute collection in Ireland, we began a more constant correspondence, since I was at that stage buying quite a few flutes at auction, and he was, as usual, extremely generous in sharing his knowledge and expertise.
Then, in 2009, a large collection of flutes came up for auction in Bath, and the auctioneers invited me to preview the collection before it was catalogued, since I had bought quite a few instruments from them in the past. This collection, although large, was disappointing in that many of the flutes were in very poor, unrestored condition. There were some interesting items though, including some flutes that I'd read about but had never seen, such as a Pask cone bore 8 keyed flute made entirely in silver, with raised finger holes...similar to this one in the Yale collection.

Although I was primarily interested in the 8 key flutes, there was a Boehm system flute by Louis Lot which caught my attention, more due the fact that the head of the flute was cased separately from the body and foot, than any thing else.
Knowing that David was one of the go-to experts on Lot, I began to talk to him about this flute, and he excitedly began to research it.
Eventually, I did bid on the flute ( the two items were the one lot, if not the one Lot ) and managed to get it... for considerably more than I had ever paid for a flute before, but not as much as it might have been expected to go for, given that it was one of the very earliest flutes from the Lot workshop.
I think, (and this was confirmed to me later) that some other interested parties shied away from it on the basis of it's "two part" provenance. The flute was #186 and the head #136, and it was mooted that perhaps the engraver who numbered the head, misread the no. on the body as interesting conjecture, but probably only that.
Almost immediately I got calls from people offering me a small profit on what I had paid for it, but to cut a long story short, I quickly decided to let David handle the sale, as this was an area of which I knew very little.
I sent the flute to David in May 2009, and in October of that year got word that he had a buyer for the flute, and the sale was completed shortly afterwards. Like many collectors, I bought this flute in the hope that its sale would help finance my other purchases. In this case it financed all the flutes that I've bought, before or since. Sometimes luck smiles on you...
As part of his work, David compiled an extremely detailed account of the flute, it's history, and it's restoration which, with Nina's permission you'll find here.
I hope you'll find it interesting.

Friday, 17 February 2017

William Card

I first came across the name Card more than thirty years ago now in connection with a flute which belonged to that doyen of Clare flute players, P. J. Crotty.
Always with an eye out for the unusual, I first noticed the Card trademark, the little silver plate with his name engraved, inlaid into the head. I remember little else about the flute, but that P.J. made it sing.
Fast forward to my flute buying phase of a few years ago, and I managed to acquire a Card, as part of a lot of flutes I was bidding on, and of which the Card was not the target of my bid.
Unfortunately, it's still in the drawer marked "to be restored".
But here's a few photos:

I know it doesn't look like much in this state, but in the hand it is a really elegant instrument, slim, with precise workmanship, and delicate keywork. I'm looking forward to restoring it, and getting rid of the crude nickel silver sleeve that has been used to repair the right hand joint.

Card appears as a maker, according to the Langwill index, from 1825-1876, but in fact little is known about him except that he made exceptional flutes, and was responsible for several patents.
The flute in the photos above could be presumed to have been made before the Boehm revolution, possibly as early as the late 1820s, but the extremely neat post mounted keys perhaps belie such an early dating.

Then in 2011 I got word of a flute for sale in an auction in Lichfield, which looked so interesting from the photos, that I hopped on a 'plane and bid on it personally. I was the only bidder bar someone on-line who cost me a few hundred, but I got it in the end. Spent the rest of the day, the auction being over by lunchtime, in exploring the town, birthplace of Samuel Johnson, and also Charles Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus. Well worth a look, not only for those of a literary bent.

The flute itself proved to be a bit of a mystery. One of the first things I noticed about it was that the keywork system had been changed at some time, as evidenced by the holes which had been closed with end grain plugs. These included post holes.

Once I had the flute in the workshop and was able to examine it in detail, the first thing that struck me was that this is not a Card system flute. As it turned out in the end, it is and it isn't...

It is not easy to come across details of Card's flute. Rockstro mentions it but gives no description of the actual mechanism. Card's system is perhaps best illustrated by the photos in Robert Bigio's "Rudall, Rose & Carte The Art of the Flute in Britain" which allows us to see that essentially the left hand follows the old system of fingering:- three open holes, with closed keys for  C, Bb and G#. The right hand basically follows the Boehm system where two ring keys for R 1 and 2 control the F#. There would be three ring keys on the 1832 Boehm system.
There is a Card system flute in the DCM, but the illustrations that they provide are frustrating to the researcher, as they only show the flute from the finger hole side, so it's impossible to see a lot of the keywork.  Here's an image of the same flute, this time courtesy of Robert Bigio, and taken from his book. ( see refs below )

Bigio ( this taken from his "Readings in the History of the Flute" ) gives us some insight into Card, and his motivation.
It appears that Card was, save Boehm himself, the first player to use the Boehm flute in England, and that he made several flutes to the Boehm pattern on which he himself played.
( This would be the Boehm 1832 flute )
Objections from his pupils to the changes in fingering necessitated by the new key system, and encouragement from the famous French flutist Camus led Card to develop a system which had as much as possible of the old fingering, but with as many advantages of the new mechanism as possible. In his own words:

" Still finding the changes in the fingering an objection with my pupils, by the recommendation of my friend M. Camus, who at this time paid me a visit in London, as well as by that of his and my subsequent pupil, E. Edwards, Esq., of Framingham, Suffolk, to adopt as many of the improvements of the Boehm flute as I could, altering as little of the old system of fingering as possible, I did so, and I am gratified to be able confidently to state, that I have succeeded in this beyond my most sanguine hopes or expectations, the full extent of my alterations being confined to two notes only, in the natural scale of the flute."

Information on Card is hard to come by, and it's not even certain when he began to produce this model of flute. Powell (see refs below) says c1860, but this seems rather late to me for a flute of this kind, and besides if we take the letter quoted above as factual it would seem that he was already producing these flutes by 1845.
Despite his hopes that his flutes would be "universally all professors...and by every amateur" it appears that, if the number of surviving instruments is anything to go by, that his hopes remained unfulfilled.

But to get back to the flute itself. There seems to be quite a bit of variation in the surviving flutes, but they all seem to have had at least the following features.

1/ The foot joint keys are in the same style as those found on the 1832 Boehm system flutes
2/ The right hand controls two ring keys which account for one of the few fingering changes from the old system, in that F# is played 123040, and F 123400.
3/ There is the normal G# key for the left pinky
4/ There is the normal Bb key for the right thumb, which can also be operated by L3
5/ There is a C key for the right thumb, also operated by L1
6/ There is a key for R1, which may be a trill key but gives a good C#.

It took me a long time to figure out what was going on with this flute, but eventually I think I have it.

 I believe that this flute started off as what we might call the "standard" Card system, essentially as described above. This conclusion is supported by the positions of the blocked key holes and post holes.

In the photo below, you can see three blocked holes which starting from the left on the picture would be the C#/trill key, the C natural, and finally the thumb key for Bb. The post holes also seem to match this original configuration.

Here's an image ( to the right) of the flute taken from above, which you can contrast with the image above to the left.
Note the silver rings inset around the holes for L1, 2, and 3.
These are not ring keys, and seem to serve no obvious function except perhaps an aesthetic one, in making the upper and lower holes look alike.
Perhaps not so obvious from the photo is the fact that these rings are not flush with the surface of the flute, i.e. they don't follow the curvature.
In presenting a flat surface to the finger, this may serve in improving the "sealability" of the three upper holes, which are large ( from the top 9.4mm, 11.3mm(!) 8.25mm )

The first modification is the extension of the two ring keys for the right hand to three ring keys as per the 1832 Boehm System. This is probably the commonest modification you'll see to the Card system.
You can see this in the image just to the right here.

The G# on my example is a Dorus G# meaning that the G# is basically an open key until L3 is down, which closes it by means of a ring key. A clever system of springing then allows the left hand pinky to open it as a normal G#.

On my flute the rod which carries the G# is an extension of the right hand ring key rod. On most card systems ( perhaps all, but I can't say since I can't claim to have seen all surviving examples) the two are on separate rods as per the Bigio photo above. Additional to this, the G# has a strange addition to the mechanism, which also opens the G# when it's closed via the ring key for L3, acting on the same clutch as the pinky finger for the Dorus key. It's operated by a key on top of the flute for R1.
This had me completely fooled, but after a good deal of research, it seems the only real equivalent is to be found on the two flutes illustrated by Rockstro, one by Gordon and one by Ward

Rockstro, being a great champion of Gordon, goes into considerable detail about the mechanism and fingering,  and despite the extremely crude illustrations on which he bases his opinion, concludes that this key is a shake key for g-aflat or f#-g#. The image above shows where the key interacts with the Dorus G#, but the image below gives a clear idea of what's in question.

                                                            Now to the keys on the long rods on the players side of the flute.
These aren't too hard to read. What is going on here, is that the three keys which were on the players side of the flute (vid. the three blocked holes in the image above) have been moved to the top of the flute. The really odd thing is, that though the thumb keys for the C and Bb are in the same relative positions, the touches for the right hand have been moved to the other side of the rod, and are no longer between the holes at the lower end of the flute. This is of course necessitated by moving the key cups to the top of the flute. The old positions of those touches are standard on many systems and lying as they do between the holes on the top of the flute, are very convenient. As they are now they appear to me to be placed so as to almost impossible to play, and the position the touches has been changed.

The final unusual keywork, is a key for the left thumb, which links to the low C#. Again, this is a key which while not unknown on other systems is rare. The only example widely known would be the key on Ward's flute, where he gives the low C and C# to the left thumb. In this case it's only the C# that's in question. Gordon was the only other designer to propose moving the low C and C# to another finger than the usual right pinky, and he gives them to the left pinky. In fact, the thumb touch for this key is in the same position as the little finger touch on Gordon's flute, and if you consider that other keys on this flute have been moved from one side of the rods to the other, perhaps this begins to make sense.

So taking all the above into account, I think we can now make a stab at trying to place this flute within the plethora of different systems which began to proliferate around the middle of the 19th century.

I think there is little doubt that the flute began its life as  Card's Improved Patent flute, and that various modifications were made to it at a later stage. Some of these are quite normal and were adapted from other instruments from the same period.  The Dorus G# falls into this category. Others are perhaps more obscure, but not entirely original either, and the modification to the Dorus G#, and the thumb key for low C# fit this description.

The strangest modification is the transfer of the C, Bb, and the upper C#/trill key to the upper surface of the flute from the side. This seems to make no sense, as it now places the touches for the right hand in a much less convenient position. I can only put this down to a personal preference, and could it be that perhaps, that the original owner's (of whom more later) right hand was in some way compromised by injury or deformity?

From a flute maker's point of view, one name runs through this whole story.
What first alerted me to this was the allusion in Robert Bigio's book of a letter from Geoffrey Rendall to Dayton C. Miller, in which he states, referring to Card's flutes,

"I believe from the general appearance that Cornelius Ward made them"

(Rendall was a woodwind instrument collector and scholar whose collection became the nucleus of the Edinburgh University instrument collection.)

Ward is widely considered to be the finest flute craftsman of the 19th century, and flutes by him are extremely rare.
Bigio himself says

 "Cornelius Ward's flutes were perhaps the most beautifully-made of his or indeed of any period, but their eccentricity was bound to affect their acceptability to the market."

I'm fairly convinced at this stage that the flute before you, although obviously a Card was in fact made by Ward. It is not only Rendall's assertion that leads me to believe this. The unusual aspects of the keywork, outlined above also point in this direction. It is generally thought that Ward made Gordon's flutes, but as none have survived, it's difficult to decide the truth of this. That the key described above is only otherwise found in the prospectus of Ward's flute and in Rockstro's illustration that is the only surviving evidence of Gordon's seems to me to be further evidence of Ward's manufacture.
Finally, the thumb low C#, being only found, albeit in a slightly different version, on Ward's flute, I believe again points to Ward as the maker.

The workmanship of the flute, as can be seen from the images here itself is further evidence. The silverware on many examples of both Card's and Ward's instruments is very finely engraved, and no less so on this instrument, where just about every surface large enough to bear engraving is covered.
The head cap in particular, bears some of the finest engraving I have ever seen on a flute.

I should add that the similarity in the engraving, and also the general workmanship of the "reversed"
keys leads me to conclude that these modifications are the work of the same maker as the original flute, i.e. Ward.

Followers of this blog will note that I have already posted about this flute ( on the 14/05/12, 31/05/12, and 17/06/12 ), and at that time I said:

"I'm in the process of restoring it, and in that process I hope to document the flute and how it was put together, because it seems to be the work of more than one maker, or, as I suspect a collaboration between a professional flautist and more than one maker".

So as it turns out that was both right and wrong. My initial instinct was that the flute had belonged to either a professional or keen (and rich!) amateur who had worked with a flute maker, not necessarily the original maker, to modify the flute to their own preferences.
The flute itself has obviously been heavily used, but also well maintained. ( The crack in the head, was the only major repair work needed ) The mechanism, though worn is still fully functional, and dare I suggest that this is now the only playable example of a Card System extant?
The flute plays well, with a full, bright, even tone over three octaves. The tuning, despite the claims of Card of it's superiority over that of the old flute, is only marginally better, although I need to do a bit more work on this, especially since I know I'm blowing it like an "ordinary" flute as Card would have had it. What is remarkable though is the pitch. With the slide at an 8mm extension, which seems reasonable to me, it plays at a = 470, which is by far the sharpest I have encountered in the flutes of this era, and certainly bears further inquiry. There is no evidence that the pitch has been modified at any stage.

As to the owner, we can only presume that the initials embossed on the case, are those of the original owner.

I'm reading this as E.P.H. or possibly as E.L.H., and I'm currently trying to find a player from the period that matches this. At the time of the purchase, I did attempt, via the auction house, to establish contact with the seller, but unfortunately, this came to nothing. If any reader can shed any light on this, I'd be most appreciative.

So that's about it.  I intend to do some more work on the pitch and tuning aspects of the flute, and also see if I can make any sense of the following...

One of the first things I noticed about the flute, I think even at the time of the auction viewing, was a strange expansion of the bore at the end of the foot. This at first appeared to have been crudely done, but on cleaning it up a bit, it looked like this...

...and clearly it has been done deliberately, and probably professionally.
I didn't think much more about it until I was photographing the other Card flute for this post, and I looked at its foot, and spotted this...

So it seems this must be a Card thing, but what's it for?
At this stage the only thing that I've come up with is that it's a socket for a small extension to the foot which would allow one to play B or Bb instead of C when the low C keys were used. Of course then the low C itself would be unavailable?
I wonder if the other surviving examples of Card's flutes, ( or Ward's for that matter ) have this feature?

One last point. I had almost overlooked this but it turns out that the elusive Ward has a connection to the banks of my own lovely Lee. Bigio notes in his "Readings in the History of the Flute" that the basis for Ward's booklet, "The Flute Explained" was a paper which he read to the Mechanical Sciences section of The British Association meeting in Cork.

I am most grateful to Robert Bigio for his generous permission to reproduce his images, and for his always freely given help and advice in general.

References ( all essential reading for the flute aficionado )

Bigio, Robert. Reading s in the History of the Flute. Monographs, essays, reviews, letters and advertisements from nineteenth century London. Tony Bingham, London. 2006

Bigio, Robert. Rudall, Rose & Carte The Art of the Flute in Britain. Tony Bingham, London. 2011

Powell, Ardal. The Flute. Yale University Press, New Haven & London. 2002

Rockstro, Richard Shepherd. A Treatise on the Construction the History and the Practice of the Flute.
2nd ed. 1928. Musica Rara, London. 1967 ( 1st. ed. 1890 )

Thursday, 26 January 2017

John Hudson Add. Pics

Forgot to mention, and show, the original case that the Hudson Pratten was in. Unusual in itself, never seen one quite like it.

Original wax box too, with a dinky little finial on it....

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

John Hudson

In my last post, I mentioned briefly, in the discussion about the post Boehm improvements to the simple system flute, John Hudson, the English flute maker, who many believe to have been the éminence grise behind such flute designs as those of Siccama, and later Pratten.
For a period, a few years ago, I was buying quite a few flutes at auction, and I managed to accumulate a few nice bits and pieces. Having considerable experience in the restoration of simple system flutes, I was able to buy flutes which other collectors would pass over as being too damaged or even unrestorable, and bring them back to life, as it were.
I've often remarked that a flute with almost no visible damage can in reality be beyond repair, whereas another, literally in bits, can be restored to almost mint condition. ( by someone who knows what they're doing )
The only problem with this was that any time I had to restore the flutes was taken up doing work for other people, so I was accumulating drawers full of flutes which I was really dying to work on, but couldn't find the time.
So, sometimes at Xmas, or to be more accurate in the period between Xmas and New Year,  I try to set time aside to do things for myself. This year it was supposed to be some book binding ( another project on the long finger is the rebinding of a 1st edition set of "Holtzapffel's Turning and Mechanical Manipulation") but in the end I managed to restore two of the flutes on the waiting list, and the first one to be finished is the subject of this post.

I've always tried to buy instruments that are unusual in some way, or in some way illustrate the wonderful imaginative diversity of the English 19th century makers, and this flute ticks all the boxes.

But back to John Hudson. Hudson was initially a maker on his own account, making standard 8 key flutes like many of his contemporaries. He appears in Langwill's Index as a flute maker,  only from 1853-1857. It appears that after this he worked for Siccama, and later for Boosey.
There is a useful account of Hudson and some of his flutes on Terry McGee's website.

A few years ago I did some work on one of Hudson's standard 8 key flutes, confirming that it was absolutely unremarkable, and identical to many other good quality London flute of the time. The flute under consideration here was different, but differed in a different way than either the standard Siccama or Pratten"s Perfected did from the standard 8 key.
We'll come back to Hudson the man, how his work came about, and its significance, later, but lets look at the flute itself...

The flute is stamped:


It is stamped on the head and body
And on the foot and barrel 


It is basically a standard 8 keyed flute, but with the addition of a brille mechanism to correct the c and c# between the first and second octaves, and a similar device to correct the tuning of the F#, while also allowing for a smaller more accessibly placed hole for this note.
What makes it unusual however is that in the style and nature of the keywork, and the size of the finger holes, it is a very atypical of what we generally associate with Pratten.

The finger hole sizes from the head down are as follows:
7.5mm 9.5mm 8.0mm 9.0mm 7.6mm 6.5m
and the keyed notes:
Long C 7.25mm, Bb 6.3mm, G# 6.25mm, the Fs 8.5mm, Eb 12.25mm, C 12.25mm, C# 9.9mm

Here's the same dimensions for a Boosey Pratten's Perfected.
8.0mm, 10.0mm, 8.5mm, 10.2mm, 11.3mm, 7.0mm.
Long C 10.2mm, Bb 9.5mm, G# 10.0mm, The Fs 9.9mm, Eb 12.5mm, C 11.5mm, C#11.5mm

As you can see, these are radically different. The Boosey Pratten's is essentially a large holed flute
with the keyed notes being particularly large. Hudson  no. 185 is essentially a medium holed flute similar to flutes of several decades before.
It's interesting to note at this point that even after Nicholson encouraged the manufacture of flutes with very large open finger holes, that the keyed notes tended to remain much smaller. Siccama seems to have been the first to make flutes that had larger holes overall ( I'm open to correction on this, it's just my personal experience)

The extra keywork on this flute is designed to correct two of the most notoriously out of tune notes on the simple system flute, the C/C# between the first and second octaves, and the F#.

The issue with the C/C# is that of trying to use one hole to produce two notes. The upper hole on the flute, that closest to the embouchure, is the major control of the pitch when the flute is sounded with all fingers off, i.e. all six holes open and all keys still closed - C#.
In the absence of keys, C natural is produced by cross fingering, flattening this C# to C natural. This is usually done by closing the second and third holes while leaving the first open. The problem with this arrangement is that using this system, the C# is too flat, and the C natural too sharp. Thus correcting one of the notes by adjusting the size or position of the first hole, makes the other worse. The brille key ( or the spectacles, as it was sometimes known in English ) solves this conundrum by having a small hole in-between the first two upper holes which is controlled by two ring keys on the first two holes. Thus as long as a finger remains on either of the upper two holes, this small hole remains closed, but lifting both of them at the same time opens it, giving a sharper, in tune, C#, while fingering the normal 1 x x 4 5 6 C natural keeps it closed flattening the C natural into tune.
The device on the F# works in a similar fashion. The F# is in the odd position of being the largest hole on the flute beside the smallest ( the 6th ). In the scale of the old flutes, the F# is way too flat. The maker's dilemma is that to sharpen the note you must either make the hole bigger, or move it towards the embouchure. Since it's already rather large, particularly on "large holed" flutes, the maker tries to avoid that, since it's harder to control and also comes into a tonal and volumetric contrast with the E below it. Moving it towards the embouchure makes the stretch between fingers 3 and 4 of the right hand worse. In this case the ring key on the F# controls a small hole above it. Thus the third finger of the right hand controls a small hole but because of the ring key, allows it to be sharp enough to be in tune when opened.
Otherwise the keys are standard for the period, which is in itself unusual. Beginning with the flutes that Hudson made for Siccama, he used a characteristic style of key that has become associated with his name...much easier to illustrate than describe.

This particular flute was made by ( or perhaps for ),  S. A Chappelle of 52 New Bond St. sometime between 1871 and 1901, and it's unlikely (but not impossible ) that the keys were made by Hudson, but they illustrate exactly the style, with a very large flat cup, with a central  male threaded stud which was screwed into a female thread in the shaft. This flute was also stamped Siccama Patent, and you can see the typical Siccama key for L3.

The early Pratten's Perfected, made by Hudson himself have similar keys, but later Pratten's, like this Boosey and Co. example...

have more or less standard keys where the cup is soldered or cast integral with the shaft. The cups are still large and flat to cover the large key holes noted above. ( sorry about the pic )

So here's a few pics of the keywork of this particular flute, which as you'll note, combines block mounted and post mounted keys.
First of all, the brille key

and above, a general view of the long C and Bb keys, showing the style of cup and shaft. Below then, is the F# correction key.

It might be tempting to think that the post mounted keys which are in fact the two pitch modifying keys, were an afterthought, but in fact give the sizes and positions of the six open finger holes they must have been part of the original design.

So back to Hudson, the maker. Early accounts give little attention to the maker, but rather the patentee, so we know much more about Siccama and Pratten, who took out the patents for these designs ( or at least put their imprimatur on them) than about Hudson.
I'm inclined to think though, that Hudson's role in the development of these flutes might be crucial.
Look at the sequence of events:-
We know that it was Hudson who made the Siccama Diatonic Flute which was patented in 1845.
We know that R.S. Pratten was one of the professional players who adopted this flute, and that his Pratten's Perfected flute, in its initial form as essentially a large holed simple system instrument, was in effect a Siccama flute without the " Siccama keys for  L3 and R3. The early ones, made by Hudson and sporting the Hudson style keywork are unashamedly similar to the Siccama flutes ( in bore design as well), and in fact are stamped as this one is, "Hudson from Siccama".
Hudson then becomes the foreman for Boosey and Co., who were the major manufacturers of the Pratten's Perfected flutes.
 So if we look at the Pratten's Perfected (and I mean in the form that Irish players think of it...a simple system cone bore large holed instrument ) we can see that in essence its origin is with Siccama and his Diatonic Flute, but I think a lot of flute scholars, those who are also makers in particular, think that it may have had more to do with Hudson than Siccama.

Abel Siccama was an amateur flute player, who made his living as a language teacher in London. Was he a man capable of coming up with new flute design? I quote Rockstro, who was not noted for hiding his true feelings about makers or performers with whom he didn't see eye to eye. ( but who is not always an entirely reliable source)

"Abel Siccama was a teacher of languages in London, and an amateur flute-player of very moderate capabilities. About the year 1842 he conceived the unfortunate idea that he was destined to be the inventor of a new flute that should eclipse everything that had been made or imagined...He had little knowledge of the flute, and less inventive genius, but he determined to bring out a flute associated with his name, and he did so."

Mind you he did convince many people, among them Pratten as noted above, and another major player of the day, Richardson, to adopt his flute. It appears to have been a commercial success, because Hudson's work was exemplary, and many of the instruments survive in good condition.
Hudson himself gets no mention from Rockstro, but he does say this speaking of Pratten and his development of his patent flute...

" he associated himself with a clever man who had once been Siccama's constructor, and the musician and the mechanic worked together with some success"

and then later...

"Pratten's able coadjutor became foreman to Messrs. Boosey and Co., who then undertook the manufacture of the 'perfected flute'"

So I think it's safe to assume that the clever man was Hudson.

Who really came up with the ideas that began as the Siccama flute and ended as the Pratten's, and had such an influence on the new simple system Irish flutes of today? Of course we'll never know, but the maker in me says Hudson all the way.
He's one of my favourite makers and I'm proud to have this fine example of his work.

As an afterthought, I thought I'd check the pitch of this flute, with the slide extended about 10mm.
I know these old flutes are in sharp pitch, but this extension gives A=462!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Abject Apologies!

I've just realised that it's February since I last posted here, so apologies to my readers. I could make the excuse that I've just been too busy, but since that applies all the time, it wouldn't really be a valid one.
At the end of this month I'm going to Portugal to the 5th Congresso Organologia to give a paper on:
The Irish Flute - A Recent Development in the Evolution of the Simple System Flute.

 You might question the "recent", but consider that the last attempts to improve the wooden 8 keyed flute were the attempts made in response to the Boehm flute by the likes of Siccama, Pratten and their ilk, around the middle of the 19th century.
As part of this I'm attempting to explain how modern makers began to adjust the pitch and internal tuning of their flutes in comparison to the exact copies that were made initially, and decided that the best way to do this was to use the RTTA tuning app to allow people to make a visual comparison between the 19th century instruments and modern ones.
I thought the results were quite striking, so I'm sharing it here.

First up, is the RTTA result for Rudall Rose & Carte 6318, which was tuned to a440, using the A in the lower octave as the reference point


For those not familiar with this app, see my previous post on this topic. It's a fantastic resource, and just to recap, notes in green are within 10 cents of pitch, those in yellow from 10-20, and those in red, more than 20.
Now we all know that the tuning of the cone bore flute is far from perfect, and that in practical terms anything within 10 cents is workable, but as you can see this is horrific.
Remember that musically this sort of tuning was considered quite acceptable, and that the above record comes from an experienced player who has been playing this flute for almost 40 years ( me...)

Now here's the same thing played on the same occasion on a flute that I made a few years ago.

A good improvement, you'll have to admit, and the flute was tuned to a440 using the G in the lower octave as the tonal centre. The C# is still out, but that's cone bore flutes for you, and would be correct if I bothered to use the long C.

And so to finish.
Good flute makers never stop trying to improve their instruments. That's the challenge. That's what makes it interesting. I made a few tweaks to my design in the last year or so, and did so mainly with regard to tone and response, but here's the tuning result for it.

not happy yet though....