Thursday, 8 October 2020

The Cornelius Cabinet of Curioisties #1

 This is the first of a short series of posts dealing with some of the more unusual things that I've come across in forty years of flute restoration. 

This first example arrived in a group of flutes that I bought at auction in 2007. It was described as "a rosewood flute, unstamped with nine keys on wooden blocks".      So far so normal. (except, of course, it was cocus...a very common auction house error)

A nine keyed flute is really nothing unusual. Very many keyed flutes have an extra touch to one key...very commonly a key for R1 ( first finger, which opens the Bb key from below.) Also common is another key for R1 which operates a trill key, often seen on German "nach Meyer" type flutes.

But when this flute arrived, this what I saw...


It took a moment or two to realise what I was looking at. The flute as you see it in the picture above is after restoration, but as soon as it was playable it didn't take long to figure out that the extra key didn't produce a note that existed in any known system of music, somewhere between F# and G. Otherwise it was a well made mid-19th century English flute, in fact a good bit better than average quality. It was a fine player, and I sold it sometime later, recouping costs to cover some of the other flutes bought at the same auction.
I puzzled over this key for some time, and the only function I can possibly see for it is to correct the notoriously flat F# that we find on many 8-keyed flutes.
Several other systems had been devised to do this.

This is a Tulou Système Perfectionné...



This might look a bit confusing at first. Hole number 6 is in this case covered with a plateau key, ( which is absent on most if not every other Tulou SP ). The touch under that opens the little key on the top of the flute just above the F# hole and is opened with R3 to correct the F#. This could be done on these small holed flutes by enlarging the F#, but the French ( and German ) predilection for small evenly sized holes ruled this out.
In fact this, although operating on exactly the same principle, is different to the more common set up...



This illustration is from Tulou's Methode, and you can see that the key is a long one on a cross tube mount, like a reversed long F but is still operated by R3.

Various other flutes have used a similar device.
To finish here's a neat example from a Hudson Pratten #185




You'll note that with this system, the ring key controls the key which sharpens the F# automatically, and with the Tulou, the same key is operated by a finger, R3 which is available without compromising other fingerings.
From this point of view, the 9th key on the first flute seems very counter-intuitive.
Was it meant to correct the F#, ( which it didn't, or at least very 
badly ) or is there a possibility that it was to vent some other note?
I'd welcome input from anyone who might be able to shed light on this. 

  




 




  


Monday, 27 April 2020

The Irish Flute - Part 1

Look anywhere on the internet these days, and you'll find the term "Irish Flute" being thrown about like snuff at a wake. If you enter it as a search term on eBay, for example, it will produce very many results varying from flutes made from the late 18th c., to those made last week, all over the world.
How did this come about? How did what are in effect a very disparate group of instruments become categorised under the same sobriquet?
To cut a long story very short, and most of you probably know the basic story, the type of flute that Irish traditional players always preferred was the pre-Boehm eight-keyed flute that was widely played all over Europe from the early 19th c., until the late19th/ early 20th c. In terms of players in Ireland, this continued to be the case up to the mid 1970s, when due to a combination of a great expansion of interest in Irish traditional music, and a severe lack of old flutes to meet that need, new instruments based on the old 19th century ones began to be produced, initially in Ireland, but soon in other countries where the Irish diaspora had led to a core interest in Irish traditional music.
The early flutes of this type were copies, of varying degrees of exactness, of the 19th century originals, but by the mid to late 1980s, the makers of these instruments were beginning to change the design to better suit the music being played. I believe, although it's hard to be sure about these things, that I proposed in the 1st ed. of my book " The Irish Flute Players' Handbook", published in 1990, that these instruments should be called Irish flutes, in what was the first use of the term in that sense.
However...
What about flutes from the earlier period, classical, pre-Boehm flutes that actually happened to be made in Ireland?
Such indeed do exist,  but it's important to remember that these flutes had, almost in their entirety, no connection with traditional music in Ireland as we know it, especially at the time they were made.
Or had they?
Let's go back to something I hinted at in my last post...the acquisition of yet another flute.
When I was beginning to make flutes in the mid 1970s, one of my first reference points was uilleann pipe making. Here were a group of people using basically the same techniques that I wanted to learn, and what's more had a history which coincided with the type of old flute that I was trying to replicate. And so I began to become familiar with the history of the uilleann pipes and their makers.
For many years, I was unaware that there was any relationship between flute and pipe making, but at some stage, possibly in the 90s I saw an F flute for sale, on the website of the American traditional music business Lark in the Morning, which was stamped "Coyne Dublin". If true, this could only have been the work of the celebrated uilleann pipe making Coyne family.
Then around 2005, when I was readying the second edition of the Handbook, I became aware of, and was able to include a photograph of, a second Coyne flute, this time a fife.
Then recently another flute by Coyne this time a concert pitch instrument came on the market, which I was able to acquire, and which became the inspiration for this post.
I had been aware, that outside the apparently extremely few flutes made by pipemakers ( and at this stage only those by Coyne were known) there were flutes made in Ireland which were obviously intended for the mainstream classical market, and although some of them, particularly those by Butler, were in the hands of traditional players, they were obviously not made with that intent.
Although I had been aware of some of the Irish makers, (Dollard merited a cameo in the Handbook)  my initial involvement with old flutes was not really conscious collecting, but as I was restoring a lot of them, particularly in the early days before the "Irish flute" took off, I gradually accumulated quite a few, and among those was a flute by Ellard, which was the first Irish-made flute that I actually possessed. I didn't think much about it except to note it's similarity to some of the London flutes that I was familiar with. This is it...












Then last year,  a flute by Dollard came up on eBay, and I managed to get hold of it. This one really put the cat among the pigeons, and via a discussion on The Flute History Channel the essential question that I'm trying to address here was raised; Were these flutes which are stamped Dublin after the makers name, really made in Dublin, or were they, in common with many London made flutes, bought in from the actual makers, and for maker read dealer.

The reason this Dollard flute brought this question to the fore, is that it has an unusual system of keys on the foot joint...







That stirred something in my memory of having seen something like that before, and several colleagues on FHC quickly identified the flute as identical to those stamped "Drouet London". In an interesting twist to the story, it turns out that here we have another example of the dealer/maker conundrum, in that it's agreed that these Drouet flutes were made by Ward, and so it's highly probable that my Dollard was as well.
Then the Coyne flute became available, and when it did, led to an interesting discussion on FHC, with Simon Waters raising the possibility that this flute, even though, clearly stamped Coyne Dublin, apparently with the same stamp that he used on his pipes, looked remarkably similar to flutes made by Goulding. (and of course Goulding had a Dublin connection, of which more later.)
It's a very different instrument to the two previous flutes...although ostensibly from the same period.



Here's the maker's stamp, faint I'm afraid as they seem to be on a lot of his instruments.



And here's the same stamp on drones from a set of Coyne pipes...





This led me then, to try and make some sense of the whole Dublin-made flute story, and given that at the moment I can't go to Dublin to further this research, I've found the Dublin Music Trade website to be extremely useful, certainly at this basic stage of the research.
Trying to find a pattern in all of this is difficult. There seems to be no consistency between the different flutes that we know of that purport to come from Dublin makers...there is no Dublin style of flute.

But one thing that is emerging is that there were two groups making  flutes in Dublin; I think we have, at this stage to accept the term maker to include dealer/retailer...as has often been pointed out, George Rudall never made a flute.
 Both groups are roughly contemporaneous, beginning in the latter part of the 18th c. and running through to the late 19th.
The first group are general wind instrument makers, who include flutes in their repertoire of instruments.
The second are essentially makers of what we now see as traditional instruments, i.e. uilleann pipes, who also offered flutes as part of their repertoire.
What was the relationship, if any between these two groups, and what is in essence a third group in the background...the London makers. This what I hope to tease out in the course of my next few posts.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Things are changing at Hamilton flutes. As many of you probably know I closed my order book in May 2018, as a preliminary step towards retirement. Due to a rather tongue in cheek announcement on the website, the rumour soon went around that I was giving up making flutes to go fishing, but keen angler though I am, this, I must tell you, is not strictly true.
For someone who has spent a large part of their life making and selling flutes, I have to say that I'm finding it hard to get used to turning away people who phone up or E-Mail looking for a flute. It's so counter-intuitive.

However real the necessity for some form of retirement, I thought I'd take the opportunity to perhaps attempt a fuller explanation of what will happen, what I'm hoping will happen, or what might possibly happen.

The plan was originally to close the order book, work off what was there, and then see, spending the time in trying to figure out what to do when that work was finished, at the same time as finishing it.
As with everything else in my experience, of course it's not as simple as that.
Even the apparent cut-off point of closing the book was fraught. Realising that I couldn't do this suddenly, I decided to give a few weeks of pre-warning, and accumulated another six months at least on the waiting list as a result.
Then there were those I simply couldn't turn away, old friends, professionals whose instruments I had looked after for years, those whose flutes I had promised to upgrade. Cue a further extension to that list.

Of course, the intention was never to stop flute work entirely, just to do less of it, and more of the type that any maker would find attractive.
Retirement of course raises financial questions, and I think one of the issues that craftspeople of all hues face is the difficulty in passing on or selling a business which is so intimately connected with one person.
In reality one-person-based crafts businesses are unsaleable. I could sell my tools, my designs, my stock of materials to someone, but unless they have the skills that I've developed over 40 years of working, there would be no point, and if they have similar skills they're probably working in the area on their own account, and have no need for tools, materials or designs. They have their own.
Other possibilities? Sell to a young maker who's just getting started...and there are some really good ones around...they haven't got the money. Sub-contract other makers to do basic manufacture, hence spending less time making myself?
Has possibilities, but again, people who have the skills to do this are usually working on their own account.
So what it comes down to in essence is that Hamilton Flutes is essentially me... and I'm not for sale.

So for those wondering if I'll re-open the order book at some point, at this stage it seems very unlikely. Will my flutes be available in the future? Yes, but not on the old waiting list basis. In terms of communication about what's going on, I was planning a Hamilton Flutes Facebook page, as that seemed to be the best way to do these things currently, but I find Facebook to be such a pain in the bum that I think I'm now going to use Instagram instead.

One of the things that I hope to spend more time at in this rosy future is restoring some of the flutes that I've accumulated over the years, and in fact am still accumulating.
This post has been sitting in drafts for a long time, and in fact now I'm much closer to the end of the waiting list and closer to...whatever.
The still accumulating tally of restoration/collection flutes has inspired the next post which I hope will follow shortly on this.
Of course the other thing that has inserted itself into all our lives is Covid-19,, but as perhaps you'll understand my life here in West Cork hasn't really changed that much. I've been working from home for the last 40 years, and I live, and have always lived a lifestyle that a lot of people are now either having forced on them, or delighted to find out about. Luckily, Ireland ( the Republic at any rate) isn't doing too badly in that regard, and especially in rural Ireland we've luckily had few cases and fewer deaths, and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel is not an approaching train. Everybody is being really good at following the social distancing rules, and really behaving very well.
Anyway the next post is the beginning of a piece of research which I've been sniffing around for years, and which now, due to the acquisition of a unique flute, will hopefully move forward.
Till the next time...