Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Ta Da! The Monzani at Last

In the face of massive technological opposition, I've finally managed to both finish the work on the Monzani, and persuade my camera to take the photos.
Lets look at Monzani himself first, and what better source than The New Langwill Index ( still available  from Tony Bingham, indispensable for the flute aficionado)

MONZANI & Co. Mark, a crown
Workshop founded by Tebaldo Monzani ( born Verona 1762, died Margate, Kent 14 June 1839 )
Flautist, composer of flute music, later publisher, maker, initially he learnt both flute and oboe; from 1785 in London as a flute player, in which year he unsuccessfully applied to join the royal society of Musicians; until c1803 active as professional flute player, from 1787 also as a music publisher; 1800 as the music publishers 'Monzani & Cimador' in partnership with the composer Giambattista Cimadoro of Venezia; c1805 partnership dissolved; by 1803 also 'Music Seller and Musical Instrument Maker to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales', according to the label in a reported guitar (d 1803); 1805-1808 as 'Monzani & Co'; 1807 freedom of Musician's Company, when described as 'son of Anthonio Monzani late of Verona, Italy, merchant deceased'. Naturalised by act 47 Geo III'; 1807 advertised as 'Patentees and Manufacturers of the New Improved German Flute in Three Pieces without Thread';
from 1808 in partnership with H. Hill, in 1815 appointment as 'Music Sellers to the Prince Regent', by 1819 'as music sellers in Ordinary to His Majesty'; 1808 established as flute makers initially as 'Monzani & Co.' although the business was also listed as 'Monzani & Hill'; 1808 entered as 'small' workers their hallmark 'HH & TM' at Goldsmith's Hall; 1829 Monzani retired, being succeeded by Hill, as 'Hill, late Monzani'; in an advertisement of c1830 offering patent flute, Bb tenor flute, 'third or F flute', oboe, 'durable clarinet' with patent keys.
'Messrs. M. & H. beg to caution the Public against being imposed upon as a number of spurious imitations of their Instruments are now exposed for Sale, some having the name Manzani, others Monzani & Co stamped on them; but, on examination it will be found that neither Material nor Workmanship possess the least value whatever.'
1839 died aged 77.
Important activity as a music publisher, encompassing both vocal and instrumental music; the earliest wood wind instrument maker to number his instruments, commencing c1809 to do so; his instruments were 'celebrated for their elegant workmanship' (James); 'silver keys and mounts are almost invariably hallmarked...the shanks of Monzani's keys were commonly marked with a crown (Bate)

So to begin, here's what it looks like...

Monzani's flutes are often dismissed simply as forerunners to the much better known Rudall  & Rose, but I have to say that he's one of my favourite makers, and his instruments just exude class and sophistication. 
As you can see, there are several very characteristic features. The first of these is the reverse tenon in the head, something which Rudall & Rose also adopted for their early flutes, whether under Monzani's influence or not is unknown. ( Monzani would have been the most important London maker before the  advent of Rudall & Rose) This feature leads to the seemingly odd position of the embouchure in the head, which initially appears to be too close to the slide, until one realises that the head is being considered as barrel plus head, and then the proportion becomes correct. 
The "Greek column" grooves in the head are also characteristic of the better class of Monzani flutes.
Two other things would mark out this instrument as a Monzani. The oblique G# key which was a constant feature of Monzani's flutes, and the combined lower middle joint and foot, which is, I think, unique among English flutes. ( it is, of course almost universal in the late 19thc "German" flutes)

The flute is stamped as in the pic below

The stamp reads:

According to Langwill, this address was in use between 1822-33, and the number puts it either late 1824 or 25. 
The hallmark, in this case only on two of the mounts and not the keys, should also help us to date the flute, since hallmarks are year specific, and although there doesn't appear to be a city mark in this case, it would be hard to envisage that the mounts were made anywhere else but London, and accepting that, the date letter, i, would indicate a date of 1824, which matches nicely with the address and number evidence. It does pay to be careful here...just because a mount or key can be dated to a specific year, doesn't necessarily mean that the flute itself was completed in that year. Keys and mounts made earlier could have been used on a flute some years later, so the best we can say for certain is that it does not pre-date the year of the hallmark. Since writing the above I tried to check out the hallmark more fully, so thanks to Peter van Oel from the Silverresearch website, who confirmed that it is a London mark from 1824, and that city marks were omitted on occasion, even though this is a late date for the practice.
Other features which are of interest are:

The head liner is solid silver. Although it's all too commonly assumed that this was standard with high class flutes, in fact in over 30 years of collecting and restoration I've only seen it a handful of times, and this is the first time on a Monzani.

The flute has the flat circular pad flaps, rather than cups, which were common on Monzani's instruments, and are a more sophisticated development of the flat flap keys common in the 18thC. The circular flaps are attached by means of a threaded stud, with a square base, to match the square hole in the flap. The pad, which is a thin piece of leather, not a stuffed pad, is held in place by a threaded disc which threads over the stud. Two small holes or depressions in this disc make it easier to thread it on and off. The whole assembly does not tighten fully, which allows the flap to align itself with the seating. The photo should explain better than I can.
Here's the key assembled, from underneath...

Note that the spring is attached by a screw and not a rivet, something which again indicates a flute above the ordinary.  Also note two other details about the key which are remarkable...the "pin headed" axle pin, a feature which I've normally seen on flutes which are a bit earlier than this, and the little spigot between the flap and the axle. This is just at the point where the key passes through the guide blocks, and there is an equivalent section of wood cut out of the body between the guide blocks. After some thought I've decided the function of this feature, which considerably complicates the process of mounting the key, is to allow the guide blocks to be very small and neat, which indeed they are (see later photos) What it means in essence is that when the key is elevated, there is still a large surface of the key in contact with the guides, and little or no chance of the key being deflected sideways over the guide, since the spigot is still well within the guides even when the key is fully elevated.

One other minor but notable feature is the seating for the Long F key, where the surface of the flute has been left as a flat surface parallel with the key flap.

This is achieved at the same time as the short F block is carved, and it's clearly seen above that the two blocks are part of the same upstanding ring which is then carved away.
But what is its function? It's not a standard feature on Monzani's flutes, and even speaking from my experience, there's nothing obvious that springs to mind. If anyone has any ideas, I'm open to suggestions.

The one piece lower middle and foot has already been noted as a standard Monzani feature, but this flute again departs from the norm by having a B foot, with absolutely stunning execution of the keywork. 

Here's another view...which shows a couple of interesting things. Firstly, look at the incredibly narrow and long dividers between the long foot joint keys. They are slightly less than 1.5mm wide and 33 mm long, and both are still uncracked and fully attached.
 Secondly when the lower middle and foot are in one piece, there is no possibility of turning the foot to reposition the foot joint keys to individual preference, as when, as normal, the foot joint is separate. Thus, the angle which separates the line of the finger holes from the C,C#, and B keys is approximately 13 degrees. 

This position appears to have been carefully selected to allow the player access to the Eb, C, C#, and B keys.

Finally, here's another shot of the lower joint, which serves to emphasize the quality of the workmanship which is typical of the whole flute.
Monzani was the maker of choice for professional flautists in his day, until superceded in the 1820s, mainly by Rudall & Rose.

What makes this instrument of particular significance is not just the exceptional standard of workmanship, but its quality as a playing instrument. Like many instruments of the period, and unlike later mid 19th century English flutes, it plays easily at modern pitch, and the very short barrel tube extension indicates that it was not intended that it play over a large pitch range.

The other great bugbear of the English classical flute...the flat foot... is also not present on this instrument, again something unusual, since many similar Monzani flutes do suffer from this.
Currently, I've only had it playing with blocked key holes, but I fully intend to pad it as soon as I can.
As you might notice on the penultimate photo, I have tried padding with closed cell foam, but this has proved unsuccessful, due to the necessity of it's being precisely the correct thickness. Back to leather, I think.
I will try, when the flute is padded and playing, to post a sound file, but till then I hope I've managed to inspire your interest in a maker who is these days all too often lost in the shadow of Rudall and Rose.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

For those who missed my classes this summer....the main points

Back in the saddle again after the summer teaching trips, which inspired me to say something about the whole teaching experience.
From my point of view, as a teacher, I'm fascinated by how I learn so much about the music through teaching it, some of which I can then pass on to those I'm teaching.
It's well known that if you really want to understand a tune, then teach it to someone else. This doesn't necessarily mean in a formal teaching situation, but just passing on a tune to a friend means that you'll find out if you really understand what the "heart" of the tune is. Very often you'll find (I certainly often have this experience) that some things that you might take for granted about a particular tune take on a totally different aspect when you start to pick it apart for teaching purposes.
Here's a few of the points that I found myself making again and again to players at all levels this summer.

1/ Learning melody, i.e. the sequence of notes, is only the beginning of the process. Too many people attending workshops do so with the intention of coming away with more tunes in their repertoire, without realising that the problems they have with basic technique prevents them from playing any of the tunes they "know" in any meaningful way.
Who's the better musician...someone who can play ten tunes, well phrased, and with a good sense of rhythm, albeit with limited but appropriate decoration...or  someone who has possibly several hundred tunes, which are all played with dubious phrasing, and lacking any coherent sense of rhythm, and very often, tuning?

2/ In terms of acquiring melody, it's so important to remember that the gaps between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves. These gaps are what allow you to phrase the piece, and also give you the opportunity to breath. Experience has taught me that with tunes that I find difficult to master, it's more often than not the phrasing that's throwing me rather than the fingering.
It often pays to sit down and pick a tune apart with this in mind, or again concentrate on this aspect when listening to a good recording of it. Approach phrasing and breathing patterns in the same way as fingering.

3/ Don't practice mistakes! All too often I've seen someone trying to learn a tune, making the same mistake in the same place again and again. They attempt to get past the sticking point by, as it were, taking a run at it, only to end up playing the same wrong note in the same place. What's happening here is that instead of correcting the error, it's actually being reinforced.
So realise what the mistake is, figure out what the right sequence of notes, phrasing, decoration etc. is, and make sure you play this the next time, no matter how slowly.
Although I insist that learning by ear is one of the cornerstones of traditional music, it is also useful to be able to sight read in order to figure out what's going on in a particular tune. Just don't get pre-ocuppied with it.
Practice what's right, not what's wrong.

4/ Be careful where you play. The whole point of learning to play is, for most people, to play with others. For the vast majority, this means playing in a session. However, if the playing in the session is not strictly in time or tune, as can often be the case, I'd argue that playing in such situations does nothing for one's development as a musician. At this crucial stage of a musician's development I'd think that it's better to play along with a good recording, which will reinforce your tuning, timing and phrasing.

5/ Record yourself. I think a lot of developing musicians are unaware of what they actually sound like.
If you don't know what you're doing wrong, then how can you correct it?
Listening to one's own playing is a difficult thing to do, even for most "advanced" players, but it can be a very useful technique. It can help to keep old recordings for comparison. Are you making progress?

Here's what I look like when I'm making similar points to the above...

Teaching/drinking coffee/pointing at Boxwood this July ( photo: Anne Bergstrom)

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Marsh Fritillaries and a little bit about Monzani...

Well, I did say at the outset that I would post occasionally about some of my other interests, which all basically fall under the umbrella of natural history ( well, most of them, anyway) so here goes.

I do some volunteer work for the Irish National Biodiversity Data Centre, which basically involves monitoring the numbers of butterflies in my area.
The idea is that volunteers all over the country count the numbers of butterflies which they observe on a predetermined walk, or transect, which ideally is done once a week from the beginning of April to the end of September. Data is sent to the INBDC and it allows scientists there to get some idea of which species are thriving, dying out and arriving (we have several new species in the last few years, most probably due to global warming)
Mostly it's a lonely pursuit, but occasionally we get together for outings, and a few Saturdays ago a group visited Barley Cove to observe the colony of Marsh Fritillaries there. This is one of Ireland's rarer butterflies, and the only one protected by law.
Here's a couple of pics that I took on the day, which happened to be in the middle of one the best spells of weather we've had in several years.

This is a female, which is larger and more brightly coloured than the male.

I liked this shot, the way the light is coming through the wings.

As you can see the camera is up and working again. The problem, if it should ever happen to any of my readers, was an inappropriate focus selection, which was preventing the automatic focus and hence the shutter wouldn't work.

Now that I seem to have that sorted, for indoor close up work as well ( see the flute pics on the last post) I'll hopefully get around to posting about the Monzani flutes that I promised so long ago.
The restoration of the second one, which was delayed for so long by the lack of suitable axle pins, I have almost ready. The pins, which were typical of the period, have heads like sewing pins on them, rather than the wire simply being turned back on itself to form a head as was standard throughout most of the 19thc. The originals appear to have had the little domed head made separately and attached in some way, but I've been working on a method of making the head integral with the shaft. 
All will be revealed.
BTW find out more about Irish biodiversity here, and see more about the particular scheme that I volunteer for on their facebook page.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Heaviest Flute Ever Made?

Thought I'd post about this very unusual flute that Mark Redmond very kindly lent me. We tend to think of the flute as being a northern European instrument, with all the major makers being English, or if not that French or German. There is a particular school of flute making though, in southern Europe, which I believe originiated in Vienna, but the Italian instruments that I've seen are of this type only more so!
It's by E. Forni of Milan, and according to Langwill:

Forni WWI fl Quarna second quarter 19c-third quarter 19c.
Workshop established by Giacinto ( b 1790; d 1873) and his two sons Primo Egidio ( b 1812; d 1866) and Secondo Egidio (b1815); the first WI makers in this locality; they were later taken over by RAMPONE

The names of the sons makes you think, there was a certain lack of imagination there, but it certainly doesn't come across in the flute. Rampone, btw, is by far the commonest Italian maker that one comes across.

Although still basically a simple system flute it's taken almost to the extreme in terms of add-ons. There are 14 keys, and the foot goes down to A. There are double touches for Bb and Eb, and two keys for G#. The flute is blackwood and the keys silver, but unusually the block liners are nickel silver, which accounts for the verdigris that you see in the pics.
The device on the head, is a tuning slide adjuster, which may, or may not be a later addition:-

As is usual with this type of the flute, the lower body and foot are combined, but with the foot descending to A this makes for massive piece of wood and silver.
Playing the low A requires the little finger of the right hand to close three keys, and that of the left two.

Some of the double touches are unusual. The one for the Bb is very standard, but why go to such bother to do this one for the Eb

It's operated by the left thumb, by the way.

Finally, there are several unusual aspects to the case. 

The "frame" is apparently a music stand of sorts, which must attach to the case. When folded away, it fits into the slot at the lower right of the case where it can be seen in the first photo.
The silver tube, I have to say, remains a mystery, despite running it past several top experts in this area. As it came to me, it was empty, with one end missing. (you can see it in the top compartment in the photo above. It was designed to pull apart at the join, but this is also currently jammed.
The only suggestion which makes any sense is that it was to hold rolled up music manuscript, or paper of some sort....or as has just occurred to me, an oily brush for the bore? The little brushes and bobbin are bone and pig bristle.
As for the spring type mechanism on the right hand edge of the case, your guess is as good as mine.
Finally the whole thing weighs in at a huge 1664 gms, or for any Americans out there 3lbs 11 oz!

Monday, 20 May 2013

New Keys

So finally, camera sorted out and photos of the new keys that I promised such a long time ago (February last year ) In some ways they're still a work in progress, but in general I'm happy with the overall appearance and performance. Here's the long C and Bb.

and a closer look at the same...

and the long F and G#

It's amazing how the camera shows up all the little details that one doesn't particularly want to be seen, such as the micro scratches on the silver, the little flakes of shellac on the key cups and the polish mark around the R1 finger hole, because I was playing the flute with polishy fingers in the workshop.

For those who might be interested the technical details, photos taken with a Nikon 5000D at 1/1.6 sec, F16, ISO 100, 5000 K white balance...and a little bit of very basic tweaking in iPhoto ( it really is very basic)

Thursday, 16 May 2013

What's going on here.

Amazing how time passes! It's now almost six weeks since the Cruinniú...
The Cork Fleadh Cheoil was held here in the village last weekend, so I went along to some of the flute competitions, since a good few of the competitors were playing my instruments, to see how they'd get on.
I must admit to having reservations about the whole competition thing, since for me at any rate music is not about competition. On the other hand, for lots of kids that are learning traditional music, these competitions are the only outlet they have for performance, so I suppose they have a role in that sense.
Fleadhanna Cheoil have changed quite a lot over the years. When I was young  a county Fleadh was a great opportunity to meet and play with all the major musicians from that county and even province, and the major events for most people were the sessions that happened on the sidelines. In recent years, the number of sessions happening at county and regional Fleadhanna has really decreased, as has the presence of adult musicians, not just in the sessions but also in the competitions. Thirty years ago, the senior ( over 18 ) competitons would attract many of the accomplished adult musicians in an area, but for a long time now the vast majority of the competitors are just 18, or less than 20 at any rate.
This Cork Fleadh was no exception to the above, but there were some very good players in the 15-18 age group and the over 18.
It's customary for the adjudicators in competitions to comment on the overall standard of playing, and other aspects of the music other than simply who won, and I have to say that the comments that I heard were excellent in the sense that they encouraged the kids to think about how they interpreted the tunes, and the versions of them that they played, and were also encouraging to all the competitors, not just the winners, and those recommended to go forward to the Munster Fleadh.
Disappointingly, there were few sessions, as I had suspected would be the case.
One other point that came up, in talking to some of the parents, was the difference between playing and performance. There are many musicians who are good players but poor performers, and I suppose that having to sit down and play your set of tunes in front of a formal adjudicating panel is a good way to develop your performing skills...something that sessions (or at least the majority of them) often fail to do. Food for thought....

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Read the Blurb!!

Just about to into Cruinniú mode here, so this will be the last post until at least next week.
Just noticed a thread on Chiff and Fipple, about which type of "Pratten" flute someone should choose.
Several listers commented on which was the most Prattenish flute, and decided that mine definitely was.
I leave you with this from the home page of my website...

The terminology of the 19th century flute, in the sense of the association between certain makers and their designs, and the perceived results of those designs for the player, remain with us today in the insistence that players have of designating almost all new flutes as either being of the Rudall & Rose or Pratten’s Perfected type. Although this is useful to some degree in helping people understand what to expect from different flutes, in terms of my own instruments, it is not so relevant. 
Although, like all other modern makers I began by copying old flutes, at this stage I feel that the flutes that I now make, and have made since about 1990, are as different from 19th century designs as they are like them. All the basic design elements such as bore, embouchure cut, and tone hole size and spacing, are based on my own observations and experience of over thirty years deeply immersed in traditional flute playing.
I think at this stage I don’t need to reference 19th century makers when talking about my own flutes.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Builders In!

Sincere apologies for not posting for so long. I can sum up the reason in two words...Builders In
So to keep you amused, and to settle the fact that I did indeed once have hair here's a link to two YouTube clips that prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I did have some at least.
The first one is from the intro of a  "Come West Along the Road" programme, and about 25 secs in you'll see myself and Seamus Creagh playing.
I only found the second one by accident, and I'm delighted to have come across it, as it illustrates the folly of playing certain tunes with a combination of flutes and box. The first tune has a very prominent C#, beginning in the first bar, and as you can hear this clashes badly with the C# of the box.
This issue concerning the C and C# on the simple system cone bore flute has bugged makers and players for hundreds of years.
Basically what is going on is the the top hole on the flute, that closest to the embouchure, is the one that controls the pitch of the C#, the note achieved by opening all the holes. On a keyless flute or on any flute made before the introduction of the long C key at the end of the 18th C, the C is played as a cross fingered note normally by leaving the top hole open and closing the second and third. The problem is that this is a compromise. The C# is too flat, and the C is too sharp when played with this fingering, an unfortunate consequence which means that correcting one makes the other worse.
The introduction of the long C key ( see Bate for a good account of this) meant that the C note at least had its own hole, but for traditional Irish players, trying to use it in fast paced dance music can be next to impossible, and I'd think the majority of players still use the old cross fingering.
It should also be noted that, and as Michael Caine would say, not many people know this, that the long C when opened also corrects the flat C#.
Looking hard at the video, I can't make out what flute I was playing. I remember that we were playing in Eb, and from the look of it, it looks like a patched together job for the occasion....note large lumps of plasticene replacing some missing keys. The last tunes aren't bad though...
That was all a very long time ago. Vince is still playing amazing fiddle in his own inimitable way.
Eibhlín died two years ago. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Something for the weekend...

So...camera is back, and so hopefully I'll be able to start posting some photos re classic old makers. I'm restoring a wonderful flute by Monzani which I'm going to use as the first example.
But for the moment, until I get my self organised, here's link to a YouTube video which Conor Byrne sent me a few weeks ago. He's playing an eight keyed mopane flute that I made for him a couple of years ago.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Happy New Year....

A Happy New Year to all my readers, or as we'd say in this part of the world...
Ath bliain faoi mhaise díbh go leir.
Mind you as far as I'm concerned the new year began on the 22nd of December when the days started to get longer....
Also apologies for those expecting a post about classic old flute makers, as suggested by Moritz, and agreed to by me....I'm afraid my camera is refusing to work, so it'll have to go off to the Nikon repair shop. God knows how long that will take....
In the meantime, I'll try and think of another topic that doesn't require photos....or at least ones I can do on my phone..
I'll also take the opportunity to comment on something that I said I would in my profile...the natural world...which is my other main passion.
The raven, that wonderful bird which features so much in folklore around the world, particularly in Scandinavian and Pacific Northwest Native American lore, has always been a feature of the Irish landscape as well, but in the twentieth century became much rarer, and whereas in times past it was a bird found all over the island, in my boyhood it was restricted to high mountains, and one only glimpsed it when walking in those areas.
Now I'm happy to say, it has been making a comeback, and even where I live, at the modest elevation of  185 metres is now a reasonably common bird.
At this time of year they're beginning to start their wonderfully acrobatic aerial displays where, especially in high winds they cavort and roll, fly upside down, and do this amazing thing where they fold their wings and drop from the sky, almost like the way notes on an iPhone disappear when you delete them.
Wonderful and uplifting.