350 Years of Flute. By Elizabeth Walker

It was my absolute joy and privilege to be invited to Orlando this summer. I knew what to expect having performed for the NFA in Chicago - enormous venues, overwhelmingly friendly and enthusiastic flautists and full on days of variety and brilliance; and Orlando did not disappoint! The NFA chairman, Kyle Dzapo expresses her thanks to Francesca Arnone and her assistant, Kristen Stoner for creating a ‘very special four-day festival’ and very special it was!

This year, the convention celebrated, among others, the Life Achievement of Eva Kingma who has created the Kingma System flutes. In concerts I went to, I heard Eva’s flutes played in new compositions with the new techniques her flute is enabling, in Orlando.

The flute has been evolving throughout the centuries and I was delighted to be involved in a concert dedicated to 350 Years of Historical Flutes. I bookended this concert – beginning with a performance on a Renaissance flute, made by theItalian flute maker Filadelfio Puglisi, a copy of an original flute in the Biblioteca Capitolare of Verona.The flute is made of maple wood, in just one joint. It has a light and delicate tone. I played one of the most beautiful Caccini songs, ‘Amarilli mia Bella’ found in Jacob van Eyck’s book, ‘Der Fluyten Lustof’ from 1644 – 1649. Whilst this flute is unable to play chromatically, the harmonic mode of this theme and variations, suits the flute well and it is able to resonate and express all the emotions needed.

The next flutes in the concert were reproductions of Palanca and Grenser flutes c.1765 & 1796 respectively.  A remarkable development had taken place during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The flute now had a foot joint with a key, a tapered bore and several sections, instead of one piece. These developments allowed the flautist to become more virtuosic in a wider variety of chromatic keys. Leela Breithaupt, Barbara Hoskins and Nancy Schneeloch-Bingham performed Suites by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689 – 1755) and Michel de la Barre (1675 – 1745). Not only were these flutes developing fast, but music for the flute was also being published for the first time. Ardal Powell devotes a whole chapter to this era in his book ‘The Flute,' calling it “The early eighteenth century: the baroque flute’s golden age."

All the flutes in the next stage of this concert were originals not reproductions. How exciting not only see these flutes, but to hear them too!

The first - a boxwood flute with four lever keys made by Asa Hopkins (1779 – 1838) in Litchfiled, CT, c.1830, was played by Barbara Hopkins, a direct descendant of the historic flute maker. Barbara played two fabulous pieces, a ‘Hancock Light Infantry Quick Step’, arranged by Pollack and published in the Boston Weekly in 1841, and ‘Gallop’ and ‘Waltz’ by John L. Downe. This flute had a clear and strong tone and coped easily with the virtuosic repertoire, even though the additional four keys on this flute were not designed to help you to play faster, rather allow you to produce a more even sound on the ‘veiled’ forked fingered notes.

Following this, Kelly Nivison performing on a 13-keyed “Meyer system’ Romantic flute by Heinrich Friedrich Meyer (1814 – 97) Hamburg c. 1880. The keys extend the range down to include C, C sharp and B, and have levers for the chromatic notes – G sharp, B flat, C and F natural, F sharp, E flat. I found the following cartoon on Rick Wilson’s Historical Flutes page…

Kelly’s flute has an ivory head which produced a particularly rich, warm and expressive tone and she played the solo Divertissement no 4 by the German composer and virtuosi flautist, Charles (Carl or Karl) Keller (1784 – 1855).

If hearing this remarkable Meyer flute wasn’t enough, Wendell Dobbs then treated us to a Rossini song arranged by Tulou and Carulli for flute and guitar, on an original guitar from 1849 by Aubrey at Maire played by Júlio Ribeiro Alves, matched with a Tolou system ‘flûte perfectionnée’ by Jacques Nonon, ca. 1855. I was SO excited to hear this flute!

For many years the question of why Tulou rejected the ring-keyed Boehm system flute and continued to teach the lever keyed flutes in the Paris conservatoire has fascinated me, and here we are in Orlando, hearing both flutes - side by side!!

Tulou devised his flute in the mid 1830’s, adding rod-axles and needle springs and formed a partnership with the flute maker Nonon in 1834. Together they supplied flutes to the Paris Conservatoire until Tulou’s retirement in 1859.

Thanks to Rick Wilson’s website www.oldflutes.com, you can see how the additional keys work on this flute.

And finally, I ended the concert with Johannes Donjon’s Elégie- Etude played on my Louis Lot flute no. 435, made in 1859 with a new design by the German flautist, Theobald Böhm (1794-1881). Böhm gave the exclusive patent for this flute, to Godfroy and Lot in 1847.

Böhm’s invention allowed multiple keys to be controlled simultaneously thus increasing the holes from the maximum six (one per finger) to fourteen. “At last, I obtained a tube with fourteen holes, which was very much superior in acoustical proportions to the common flute tube, as all notes from the fundamental C up to the highest B could be produced upon it, equal, free, certain, powerful, and in good tune…”Böhm Essay on the Construction of Flutes (written in 1847; published in London, 1882)

The flute is made from grenadilla wood and has a conical bore.

The G# key was invented by Louis Dorus (1813 – 1896). Contrary to Böhm’s open G# design, the G# key stays closed, allowing the 4thfinger, or pinkie, to be used only when required for that one note.

The Böhm system flute was not instantly accepted back in the mid nineteenth century. However, a visit to the Exhibit Hall at the NFA today, demonstrates how widely accepted the Böhm system has become. We are all indebted to Böhm for his wonderful flute keyed system and as we celebrate the exciting innovative addition of the Eva Kingma system.

Where are we heading in the next 350 years?

Elizabeth Walker is author of two Best Flute Method winner books, Baroque Flute Studies (2015) and Baroque Studies for Modern Flute (2017), both published by and available at www.wonderfulwinds.com.

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