From the mid 1830’s into the 1860’s the Count de Pontécoulant was a regular commentator on musical matters in France and, on occasion, elsewhere.  He also wrote at least one book, called Organographie.  Of interest to us is that he visited the 1862 World Exhibition in London, and reported on the state of musical instruments on display there.  Naturally, he wrote in French, and as far as we know this document is not elsewhere available in English.  Adrian Duncan has kindly translated it for us.  I've interposed a few notes and headings [in square brackets].











 Dispersa coegi.












[About the place where the Exhibition was held]

London, July 14, 1862.     

I left the Exhibition and made haste to rejoin my traveling companions as quickly as possible, while partaking of the free distribution, which a Society makes near the exit door, of small religious books in all the languages of the world: there is even a version in Chinese.  

All the remaining access points are abundantly furnished with leaflet distributors.  The English have an admirable understanding of all kinds of publicity, from those affixing the posters which line the public highway, through the more or less tempting advertisements in the newspapers, and finally, an innovation which was new to me, the leaflet aristocratically contained in a sealed envelope that someone gives you at the corner of the streets.   

If I did not speak to you yet about the Public gardens, it is because I can only laugh at these sites which are closed for everyone except for the dogs from the surrounding properties which, each morning, lounge and enjoy themselves there.  The English gave us the model for these places, but we have made far better use of it.  In London, the “public” gardens are the property of a few rich individuals who do not go there themselves and let nobody else go there either.  One sees them only from outside through a sheltering rampart of bulky shrubs, to guard the owners, when by chance they go there, against the glances of outsiders.  Compare that with the activity, the life, the chatter, the gaiety which animates our public gardens of Paris, Heaven on earth for the children and the good people.

To go to London without seeing Sydenham is undoubtedly to lose part of the interest of the journey.  I accompanied Mr. C ....... to the Crystal Palace.  A visit to Sydenham is not an excursion through the suburbs, it is a voyage through the world and the centuries.  Sydenham, its Crystal Palace, its summer and winter gardens, its gathering of the most curious and most unimaginable works of nature and art, where many dreams become palpable; where many pages from your readings, many engravings of the most remarkable monuments, take form and reality and appear in front of you, tangible, accessible.  You can believe yourself transported at one stroke to Pompeï or Khosabad, to Thébes or to Granada, and before a host of other interesting locations in the old and new world and, even more, the prehistoric world.

When the Exhibition of 1851 ended, and the Crystal Palace, then standing in London in Hyde Park, had become useless, the English did not have the heart to destroy this building, so imposing and of such an extraordinary kind.  And yet the borrowed site on which it was located was required to be vacant once more.  A subscription of thirteen million francs was proposed, derived from a hundred thousand donations, and in less than fifteen days these hundred thousand donations, based on national self-esteem, note, and not on financial interests, had been received.   

Then they got on with it.  They brought the Crystal Palace to Sydenham; they placed it on an eminence dominating a vast horizon; it was modified, they raised it, they enlarged it by the addition of two transepts and side galleries; they gave it a splendid and picturesque garden with water fountains, and finally they sent specialists to the five parts of the world to draw, to measure, to mould, to collect all that could form a basis for a museum worthy of the building. 

The building is 500 meters in length (over a quarter of a mile), and 400 meters in width; I already told you the height.  As it stands today, it cost more than forty million francs. 

Now choose the region of the globe that you would like to visit.  If you wish to cross the  threshold of the elegant residence of a middle-class man of the time of Vespasian, note the hospitable threshold on which one reads the inscription in mosaic: “Salve” (the Latin for “Greeting”), or this warning: “Cave Canem” (Beware of the dog!). You will find there the feeling of being in a home extremely different to ours, but which was appropriate for a time when window glass was not in use, and with a climate under which life went on as much as possible in the open air.  In the place of our fragile wallpapers, the walls were covered with paintings, preserved rather well under the rain of ashes of Vesuvius, so that one could restore them and copy them with a rigorous exactitude.

From the residence of a private individual, do you wish to pass to a palace?   Here is the celebrated Court of the Lions, of the Alhambra, with its elegant columns; then the mysterious Hall of Rest, so-called by the Infidels, with its profusion of bright ornaments resembling stalactites.  Some steps lead you from these gracious delicacies of Arab art to the robust colonnades of Philæ and bring you before the gigantic statues of Rhamsés.

Are you a fanatic of the monuments of the Middle Ages?  The most curious fragments of Romanesque and Gothic architecture abound before you.  Then comes the Renaissance, then the art of Italy: you will have before your eyes, without going to Florence, the famous bronze doors of the Baptistry, whose reputation is not exaggerated.  It has also been ensured that the Christian temples of Italy, the castles and the churches of Germany, the town halls and the manors of Belgium and France, have contributed to these reproductions.  And, everywhere before your eyes, copies of the most beautiful statues and the most beautiful groups in existence.   

If you want to return from the field of art to that of nature, you will be able to see, in groves of foreign trees, the meticulous representation of the most eccentric human races, of which some in truth seem closer to the gorilla than to man.

A transept, separated by a glass partition, forms an immense greenhouse where tropical plants grow and where some animals and especially beautiful exotic birds are raised.  It is there that they erected part of the trunk of a Californian tree which stands 120 meters high: there are 60 of them in little meadows in the greenhouse. 

The Palace contains an immense orchestra, dominated by a cathedral organ, which can hold 4,000 musicians; a theatre which can hold 5000 people, who, at the time of our passing by, were listening to the two Marchesio sisters and chorus; a reading room where 150 newspapers are to be found; a library containing, among other works, all those which have some relationship to the subjects of study offered by the Palace; a collection of autographs, a permanent exhibition of pictures and watercolours which are on sale; a genuine bazaar where one can buy the most curious products of English industry; a telegraph office, and finally the inseparable accompaniment to any gathering, the dining rooms and the largest dining hall in England.

The terrace which skirts the frontage of the Palace, a very-extended landscape, was illuminated this day by hazy sunbeams, giving it a particular and indefinable charm. The shapes did not have the sharp contours that the more definitive light of the southernmost climates gives them, but this vagueness seemed closer to the ideal than the reality would be.  The light fell gently upon so many beautiful, strange, odd and admirable things, created from imagination.

As for the gardens which extend over a gentle slope, at midday they appear vast and extremely beautiful, but we have some of comparable beauty in France.  Nonetheless, I admired the orange trees which came there from the castle of Neuilly which, after 400 years of existence on French soil, were displaced as a result of the Revolution, to die, like their last owners, on foreign ground.  What we do not have yet are the geological fossil basins, occupying a space of more than three hectares, that were formed with hundreds of cubic meters of soil and rocks of various formations, brought from all sides. There the extraordinary prehistoric animals are scattered, vanished races which do not exist any more except in a fossil state and which are reproduced with complete scientific rigor: a bat the size of a man with a long neck, a lizard the size of an ox, and other fearsome monsters that we are happy not to have not to contend with, and that one would believe to be the products of a fantastic imagination, if the ground had not preserved their petrified remains for us

But it is necessary to leave the fairy-like gardens and to return with me to the actual location  of the Exhibition;  just a little patience, Sir, our walks draw to their close.

[About the makers]

The makers of instruments without strings have stood still since 1855: they effectively reached the final limits of design excellence, and everything may be summarized today as improvements in terms of construction. Since the application of the system of keys and rings of Boehm to the conical bore, nothing extraordinary has been tried. The woodwind instruments can be divided into two categories: instruments of choice and cheap second-rate instruments, the latter appearing in very small numbers at the Exhibition.

[The English makers]   

In the area reserved for England,  Mr. Card (No 3,376) displays many varieties of flutes, but the only one worth mentioning is a very resonant piccolo having good intonation.

Here again we find Mr. Chappell (No 3,378); you are sure to encounter him everywhere, he stands alone, he makes everything and knows it all; the instruments on display prove that Mr. Chappell can make very good choices.

A genuine instrument maker is Mr. Clinton, (No 3,382) who, since the year 1848, brought about modifications to the construction of the flute, consisting of a new hole arrangement (the holes becoming larger from the high notes to the low register), and he then adopted a new arrangement of keys.  But since then Mr. Clinton gave up this arrangement for the system of Böhm.

Mr. Boosey (No 3,369) has constructed an admirable flute with an arrangement of keys that its inventor, Mr. Pratten, patented in France in 1847. The instruments of Mr. Boosey are well established and deserve the approval of amateurs.

Messrs. Potter (No 3,432) and Simpson (No 3,440) produce only well-made instruments, which however offend by producing a poor sonority, which is undoubtedly due to the bore not being made to correct and rigorous proportions.

The omnitonic flute of Mr. Wilson (No 3,449), which one can play in any key, is sufficiently remarkable, but, if the principle is good, the actual instrument does not have the same qualities.

Mr. Rudall (No 3,435), presents a clarinet on which the maker has established an arrangement of keys facilitating the fingering of the instrument. This instrument is well made, and the keys seem to close in a satisfactory manner. This instrument maker conceives new designs unceasingly: as of the year 1832 he took out a patent for an improvement of the flute, and, in 1847, he developed an almost round body for flutes, with a parabolic head and having a small hole equipped with a key to make C natural.

[An Australian Maker!]

I will also draw your attention, Sir, to a flute built in Victoria, Australia, by Mr. Witton (No 311).  It is very well constructed and  of a beautiful tone.

[Belgian makers]

Mr. Albert (No 365), a Belgian maker, presents beautiful and very good woodwind instruments.  His Boehm system flutes are of a perfect tonality; there is in particular an extremely remarkable oboe created by the happy application of a new system of keys to the old bore.  The clarinets of Mr. Albert are perfect and extremely remarkable instruments due to the improvements brought to the key mechanism.

Mr. Mahillon (No 372), another Belgian instrument maker, showed us an excellent metal clarinet with two tubes.  I also noticed in his window other similar instruments, and among these others a very beautiful bass clarinet.

[French makers]

It is France which is still the queen of instrument makers, and among the makers we are spoiled for choice, because all are praise-worthy: at home, everything is beautiful and good.

Mr. Lot (No 1,693) displays excellent cylinder-bored flutes whose sounds have a great equality  of tone and considerable charm.

The window of Mr. Godfroy (No 1,694) is splendid; there one can admire flutes with conical bore and flutes with cylindrical bore mingled with ordinary flutes.  Mr. Godfroy has for a long time occupied one of the first places in the musical instrument trade in Paris. To say that he provides instruments to Mr. Dorus, the king of the flute, is to say it all.  One could not find any more distinction, equality or more accuracy of sound than the flutes of Mr. Godfroy, and if I had had to make a choice, I would take any of them not to lead me astray.  

But now we come to the master of the oboe, Mr. Triébert (No 1,696).   This instrument seems to be his by right of conquest.  The instrument owes all its improvements to Mr. Triébert; and by his system of keys, he has rendered simple much which was formerly impracticable.

Mr. Triébert has undertaken the reformation of the bassoon; but that of Ad. Sax appears preferable to me in terms of the accuracy of certain notes.  All woodwind  instruments seem to enter the field of Mr. Triébert; his cor anglais does not leave anything to be desired in terms of regulation and tone, and his baritone is an extremely remarkable instrument and highly distinguished by the purity of its intonation.  Courage, Mr. Triébert, do not stop, there is still much to make to fill all the gaps which exist among  the woodwind instruments.

Mr. Breton (No 1,698) is a conscientious instrument maker who constructs good well-made instruments; his clarinets are excellent and of a perfect accuracy.

Mr. Buffet jeune (No 1,695) follows in the footsteps of Mr. Triébert and also focuses very much on the oboe.  He maintains the old system for the bore and keys; the displayed instrument, though of a beautiful sonority, is not of unimpeachable accuracy, some notes leaving something to be desired. The flutes of Mr. Buffet are of beautiful and good workmanship, his clarinets are also remarkable, and I will draw your attention  especially to a metal clarinet having a double tube which, by a very easy action, changes the key of  the instrument.

The instruments of Mr. Buffet-Crampon (No 1,697) are very good and very well made.  The clarinets are especially remarkable for their beauty and their fine qualities; Mr. Buffet-Crampon occupies with great distinction one of the first places in the French musical instrument trade.

Mr. Thibouville (No 1,699) is a good maker whose instruments are generally well established.

[French makers still - a lot about Gautrot]

We now come to an extremely important house, that of Mr. Gautrot (No 1,702) founded in 1827 by Mr. Guichard.  His associate, Mr. Gautrot, became the sole owner of the business in 1845.

During the ten years during which he retained an interest and an association with Mr. Guichard, Mr. Gautrot contributed to the prosperity of the establishment by bringing great improvements to the manufacture; and by his annual journeys to almost all the principal cities of Europe he was able to establish good connections there.  He was also able to implement wise reforms in all aspects of manufacture.

The premises of the establishment were formerly located in the City close to Notre-Dame.  At this time Mr. Gautrot employed approximately three hundred workmen.  In 1849, wanting to achieve more variety and a greater scale to his manufacture, he transported the establishment to Rue Saint-Louis, in the Marais area.

A larger space enabled him to apply steam power to manufacture.  This powerful engine, together with perfected tooling, brought a great economy to him in terms of the cost price, and allowed him to increase the pay of his workmen.  At this point in time, he introduced the division of labor.

Until this time, a workman made an instrument on his own; but it often transpired that while he did certain parts of his work well, he made less of a success of some others, and the resulted was that, most frequently, only instruments of poor quality were produced. By the division of labor, each workman being responsible for one certain aspect of manufacture, the workman made himself skilful in this aspect, and it became, consequently, possible to produce good instruments through individual specialist manufacturing.

In 1855 Mr. Gautrot built a vast workshop in Chateau-Thierry which was laid out like those of Paris.  A second steam engine, of an updated  mechanical design, the local hiring of cheaper labor and the decentralization of an over-large workforce, gave him the most satisfactory results.

Mr. Gautrot thought that to attach his workmen to the factory, he not only needed to keep them occupied during the hours of work, but also to distract them in their leisure time.  He accordingly organized a band; he provided a professor and a rehearsal room; and created an incentive for participation by a modest monthly remuneration.  Soon these musicians numbered thirty-six, and in 1857, after only eight month of existence, they obtained a silver medal for their first entry at the contest of Meaux.  This very year, at the contest of the same city, a gold medal was awarded.  These successes are powerful stimulants for new requests for admission on behalf of the workmen.

By forming a band, Mr. Gautrot not only sought to attach his workmen to his establishment, but he wanted especially to improve their morality by occupying their leisure time with the study of music which, while providing a peaceful distraction, also educates and elevates the soul.  It was in addition a means of ending or at least discouraging the habitual attendance at cabarets where the workmen could spend in one day the fruits of the work of a whole week.

When a workman requests permission to participate in Mr. Gautrot’s music, he is subjected to a three month test period to learn the basics of solfége; it is thus recognized if he has some aptitude for music.  These lessons take place four times per week and last two hours.

If the pupil is then considered to be capable, an instrument is given to him at once.  Then he goes only once per week to the solfége, and twice a week to the instrument class.  A general rehearsal takes place every Sunday morning.

These musicians, always selected from among the workmen whose conduct is most regular, enjoy a certain consideration.  In all ceremonies or at the festivals of the factory, they have the best place.  When an agricultural show takes place and they are asked to participate, they are compensated for this displacement.  During the winter they give two concerts for the benefit of the welfare office.  In summer, they leave two or three times to go to perform a musical mass on the employers' feast day at some nearby village, where they are always warmly welcomed.  Once a month, on Sunday evening, they make music in the city square, such as military music.  

At the last contest of Chateau-Thierry, although the music of Mr. Gautrot was not entered in the competition, the Jury unanimously voted him a gold medal for the band’s perfect execution of the opening overture.

Such are the moral advantages which one could achieve in any factory where one is prepared to organize music with the workmen.  In a musical instrument factory, this institution has more importance than anywhere else, because the workman becomes more ready to appreciate both the manual and intellectual aspects of his work.

Mr. Gautrot seldom sought to innovate; he realized, and I believe extremely fortunately for him, that the trade of inventor is not very productive; accordingly one can admire in his display a mass of gleaming instruments which are marvellously constructed but not distinguished by their innovation.  Mr. Gautrot makes very beautiful and very good instruments.  Among other things, this maker displays a bassoon equipped with twenty-three keys; which has a good tone but which still leaves something to be desired in the closing of the holes.  The other instruments displayed, such as clarinets, cor anglais, flutes and oboes, are all well finished and do not leave anything to be desired.

Based on an idea which was communicated to him by Mr. Sarrus, band master to the 13th Regiment of the Line, Mr. Gautrot built a family of instruments to which he gave the name of sarrusophone, composed of three members: the Tenor in B flat, the Baritone in E flat, the Bass in B flat.  It is unfortunate that this instrument is so imbued with ideas derived from the saxophone of Mr. Adolphe Sax, that confusion can be established in the eyes of the public, although not to the ears of musicians, because there is too great a difference of timbre and tonality between the two instruments for them to be confused.  I am still not completely convinced of the utility of the sarrusophone in orchestras, which should be increased not by the number of the instruments but by the diversity of the timbres; and the sarrusophone does not offer anything new for me.  I applaud the numerous works of Mr. Gautrot, and take a constant interest in the fine execution of his products.  I am not biased; I recognize talent anywhere that I meet it, and I say that his perfected bassoon possesses great accuracy, that his flutes, clarinets and his piccolo are very good instruments, that their sonority is both soft and penetrating at the same time.  As for the luxury instruments presented by Mr. Gautrot, they are of a beauty and finished that is admirable.  In their construction, Mr. Gautrot employs all materials; aluminium, silver, ivory, mother-of-pearl.

[French makers still - a lot about Adolphe Sax]

Mr. Adolphe Sax (No 1710) is the last on the list of French makers of wind instruments with whom I will have to concern myself.  You know, Sir, the history  of Mr. Adolphe Sax.  His life was traced by all the lawyers who entered pleas in his innumerable lawsuits; my friend Commettant recounted his history in a charming work, “Histoire d’un inventeur”, and I myself, in my “Organographie”, recalled the life and the tribulations of this maker; hence I refer you to these publications, if by chance you are unaware of the various phases of this disrupted existence.

When one speaks about musical instruments, it is impossible not to meet under this heading the name of Sax père and that of his son Adolphe, because their genius was applied to all types of instruments.  Thus, in 1839, Mr. Ad. Sax conceived, in Brussels, a process by means of which, with only one turn of a key, one could put a piano in tune with an orchestra or an instrument.  In 1841, his imagination went further, and he drew up the plan for a gigantic organ driven by steam. At about this time he also conceived a double bass with a keyboard, an instrument which was dignified by the appreciation of Mr. Berlioz in the “Journal des Débats”  of 1842.

To Mr. Adolphe Sax we owe several systems of soprano clarinets, a new flute and new panpipes.

In 1838, Mr. AD. Sax implemented a change in the bore of the bass clarinet, according to the requirements of the air column, and by opening a small pin-sized hole at a certain location, which he managed to find, he made the top and bottom registers of the instrument blend admirably.  He then tackled the double bass clarinet in E flat, of which he made a perfect instrument, and the family of the clarinets improved by this feature is composed today of:

  • High clarinet in A or A flat,       

  • High clarinet in F, E flat or D,       

  • Soprano clarinet in C, B flat or A,      

  • Alto clarinet in F and E flat,       

  • Bass clarinet in C or B flat,

  • Contra bass clarinet in F or E flat.  

 In 1843, Mr. Adolphe Sax invented a process to achieve the elimination of the cavities resulting from the boring of the holes in the sound tubes, the wall of which is then smooth and of the same qualities as the other parts; an excellent invention which however did not receive general application, probably because of the necessary addition of tools, a new method of working and a more considerable labor requirement.

Mr. Ad. Sax returned in 1851 to the task which he had already commenced in 1842 on the bassoon; it was a total reconstruction of the instrument, as well as a change in the proportions; to this bassoon he applied his system of keys, already put to use on his bass clarinet, consisting of closing with keys the holes which are usually closed by the fingers, which makes it possible to place them at their correct distances; and since Mr. Ad. Sax had for a long time recognized that the material of which the instrument is built does not have any influence on the character of the sound and creates an almost imperceptible difference in sonority, he built the tube of his bassoon of brass.  This instrument created such a sensation in London, in 1851, that after that Exhibition Mr. Böhm, while passing through Paris, came to the  Rue Saint-George to see it and examine it, and in the presence of Messrs. Chavé and Demœurs, expressed a thousand compliments to the maker.

But up to now we have only seen the work of Mr. Ad. Sax in connection with the improvements that he has brought to the construction of older reed instruments.  In 1846, Mr. Ad. Sax unveiled the Saxophone, one of the most beautiful inventions of this maker, and one of the most invaluable acquisitions of modern instrumentation.

You undoubtedly know, Sir, that the Saxophone is a brass instrument; its form is that of a parabolic cone equipped with nineteen keys.  It is not played with a mouthpiece like the other brass instruments, but with a mouthpiece à bec similar to that of the bass clarinet.  The saxophone comprises a particular family of eight members which one could, so to speak, designate as brass instruments with reeds:

  • High saxophone in E flat.

  • Soprano saxophone in C, or B flat.

  • Alto saxophone in F, or E flat.

  • Tenor saxophone in C, or B flat.

  • Baritone saxophone in F, or E flat.

  • Bass saxophone in C, or B flat.

  • Contra bass saxophone in F, or E flat.

  • Contra bass saxophone in C, or B flat.   

The form of this instrument, its sonority, the means of sound production and the style are absolutely new, and, despite every conceivable research being made by its adversaries in all foreign countries, they developed nothing similar or even comparable.  And Mr. Fétis says, when speaking about this instrument, that when the hostile interests have disappeared and only the memory of the artist and his work remains, his name will be registered among the most famous.

In the beautiful pavilion containing the instruments of Mr. Gautrot and Mr. Ad. Sax side by side, one could admire many beautiful specimens of the instruments of which I am here to inform you. We will have occasion to reconsider these two makers when examining the family of brass wind instruments without reeds.

[Austrian makers]

The Austrians do not present anything remarkably good in terms of woodwind instruments; they are well behind the French standard.  Their instruments may be good, but they do not have the elegance of form, the delicacy of the keys and the perfect adjustments which appear so admirable on the French instruments.

Mr. Kohlert (No. 710) has some beautiful instruments, but the keys close poorly, and the bore lacks precision.

The clarinets of Mr. Lausmann (No. 711) are good instruments which however lack elegance; the timbre is sweet and delicate in the middle register, but it is not the same in the higher notes.

Mr. Ziegler (No 698) exhibited several beautiful flutes, one particularly distinguished from the rest by its beautiful sound quality and its great accuracy.

The wind instruments displayed by Mr. Bohland (No. 698) are good, though of an unremarkable style and not very neatly constructed.

[German and Italian makers]

The contra bass clarinet of Mr. Skorra, of Prussia (No. 1,470), is a good instrument when one does not hear that of Mr. Ad. Sax.  Messrs. Schuster, of Saxony (No. 2,349), Böhm, of Bavaria (No 191) and Seidel, of Hesse (No. 526), together with Messrs. Forni (No 1,262) and Vinatieri (No 1,274) of Italy, are about the only other instrument makers who offered woodwind instruments. They are generally not very remarkable and attracted little notice; all these instruments fail in terms of accuracy and are not finished to a sufficient standard; each instrument has some obvious defect which proves that with a little care and attention, these makers would make instruments just as well as the majority of those who obtained honorable mentions.

You will find it good, Sir, that I here finish my letter, which would become too much long if I continued today to inform you of all the wind instruments; tomorrow we will resume our visit, and I sincerely believe that it will be the last, because I delayed my departure from next Wednesday to the following Thursday.



[It seems pretty clear that Pontécoulant was only talking about medals to French makers here, and is using generic terms to describe them.]

At the World Fair of London, in 1851, the only great Medal of Honor granted to the makers of wind instruments was given to Ad. Sax.  There were no Medals of First Class.  The second-class medals were distributed to Messrs. Besson and Buffet.  At the World Fair of Paris, in 1855, the great Medal of Honor went to Mr. Ad. Sax; the Medal of Honor was not awarded, First Class Medals went to Messrs. Besson, Buffet, Courtois, Hallary, Michaud and Raoux; Second Class Medals  to Messrs. Couturier, Gautrot, Martyr, Muller and Roth.

Since this time, what have the French makers, and even more the foreign makers, achieved?  They have for the most part “invented”  the inventions of others, that is to say, their efforts were mainly occupied only in finding the means of imitating or of counterfeiting, by more or less coarse processes, the instruments of Sax, and the proof of this is palpable today at the Exhibition, because if the patent of Ad. Sax fell into the public domain, there is imitation: in the contrary case there is counterfeit, and instruments having the form of Ad. Sax appear in all the displays.



Thanks to Vancouver flute player and researcher, Adrian Duncan, for bringing us this review of instruments at the 1862 World Exhibition, London.



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