The Genesis of the Radcliff Model Flute



What's in a name?  When we hear of a flute named after a person, what are we to assume?  Vancouver player and researcher Adrian Duncan teases out this question.


We live in an age where the flute as a concert instrument has become pretty much standardized through the general adoption of the metal cylinder-bored Boehm flute in the form to which it had been brought in the latter part of the nineteenth century, primarily as a result of the efforts of the great French makers such as Louis Lot.  It is true that the old wooden conical-bored 8-key model has made a strong come-back in recent years as a result of the upsurge of interest in Celtic music. However, the fact remains that the flutes in common use today are very much standardized according to the use to which they are put.

This was far from being the case in the mid nineteenth century.  Although the Boehm flute as we know it today had its genesis in 1847, both before and after that date numerous experiments were tried and in some cases marketed with a view towards resolving a range of perceived shortcomings of the flute as it then existed.  The range of competing designs then available was truly daunting, and indeed this very situation appears to have resulted in a sharp decrease in the general popularity of the flute at that time as prospective musicians opted to study instruments which were more standardized and hence less subject to overnight changes which might require the purchase of a new instrument and/or the learning of a completely new system of fingering.

Indeed, one of the chief perceived shortcomings in the Boehm flute at the time of its introduction and for many decades afterwards was the relative complexity of its mechanism and associated fingering.  The mechanism was based on the open-key principle as opposed to the closed keys of the old flute and was thus very different from that to which several generations of flautists had by then become accustomed. The necessary wholesale change of fingering was such as to require a player wishing to make the switch to effectively re-learn the instrument from scratch.

Nonetheless, the new sound and vastly improved intonation and uniformity of tone which resulted from the use of the open keys, rationally-placed holes and metal cylinder bore allied to Boehm’s tapered head joint (often rather loosely and incorrectly called ”parabola”) was attractive to many players who would have gladly adopted the new model but for the fingering.  This built-in sales impediment prevented the new model from achieving the overnight success in sales terms which might be expected given its eventual universal adoption. The process actually took many decades.

In the interim, there was clearly a constituency of players who were quite prepared to adopt the new bore, hole arrangement, open keys and tapered head joint, but not at the expense of abandoning the old fingering. A number of flute designers and manufacturers therefore attempted to devise models which retained the old fingering or an approximation thereof while at the same time capturing some or all of the acoustical advantages of the revised Boehm design.

One such model was patented in 1851 by Richard Carte, who was admitted to the firm of Rudall & Rose as a partner on the strength of his development of this model.  The Carte 1851 Patent model restored many of the fingering options of the old 8-key flute while utilizing Boehm’s revised bore, hole arrangement, open keys and tapered head joint.  The most radical changes from the old 8-key flute were the provision of an “all-fingers-off” open d” (as opposed to the otherwise universal c#), the use of an open key for g# rather than the former closed key, the use of double thumb keys for the left hand to govern c natural and b flat, and the manner in which the “long f” key functioned – both R2 and R3 had to be “off” for it to function, rather than just R3 as in the 8-key flute.   But these changes did not alter the fact that learning to play the Carte 1851 model was far less of a stretch for an 8-key player than the switch to the Boehm model.

Carte also developed an “old fingered” model using the cylinder bore and tapered head joint but retaining the old fingering throughout, thus requiring the retention of the closed keys of the old system.  This flute did enjoy some popularity over a surprisingly long period of time (it was still being sold in the 1920’s, as proved by an example in our possession), but it was far less successful in performance terms than the 1851, mainly due to the inevitable venting difficulties associated with the closed keys. It did at least have relative simplicity to recommend it – the 1851 was notoriously finicky to set up and maintain, being even more mechanically complex than the Boehm model.

Despite this drawback, the Carte 1851 model enjoyed considerable popularity, outselling the standard Boehm model by a considerable margin for many years, in England at least.  Carte further updated the design in 1867, and this model too enjoyed considerable favour, particularly in Britain, although it too suffered from the ill effects of excessive mechanical complexity.  

But demand for an “old-fingered” version of the open-keyed cylinder bored flute continued unabated.  A particularly controversial and widely disliked feature of Carte’s designs was the open d”, which many players avoided like the plague. The open g# also did not sit well with old-system advocates.

This market niche was finally satisfied in 1870 by the release of the Radcliff Model flute which is the subject of this essay.  This model was associated with the celebrated English flautist John Radcliff, who continued to play and endorse this model for many years thereafter, being joined by such other luminaries as John Amadio and John Lemmone.

The Radcliff Model Flute

For the purpose of this discussion, it is not necessary to go into the design of the Radcliff flute in great detail.  We intend to present further information on this instrument elsewhere at the appropriate time.

For now, it is sufficient to say that the Radcliff Model was, to all intents and purposes, a standard Carte 1851 model with the open d” eliminated in favour of a return to the former open c# of the old flute, and a closed g# key substituted for the open key of the 1851. The slightly different functioning of the “long f” key was retained in the Radcliff model, as were the double thumb keys for b flat and c natural.


Body of a Rudall Carte Radcliff Model flute, showing d and eb trill keys, and dual thumb keys. 
Note also the three duplicated keys, c (above Left thumb key), G# (above the real G#
slightly right of centre) and F (above short F key at right).

To offset the loss of the open d”, the standard closed d” trill key as used on the Boehm model was reintroduced.  In order to preserve the open-key system intact despite the use of the closed g# key, a duplicate g# hole was incorporated which remained open for notes higher than g# despite the g# key itself being closed by its spring.  There were also duplicate holes for c and f for similar reasons.  The instrument was thus fully vented.  The bore, hole sizes and head joint were identical to those used by Rudall Carte in their contemporary Carte and Boehm models.

Closeup, showing left-hand F mechanism

The result was a fully-vented cylinder-bored instrument having the tonality and intonation of the Boehm cylinder flute (like the Carte 1851, in fact) but responding almost completely to the old 8-key fingering, particularly in the first two octaves, apart from the slightly different mode of operation of the “long f” key and the double thumb keys for c natural and b flat.  Our own experience shows that a player of the 8-key flute (which we ourselves are for the most part) has little or no difficulty mastering these relatively slight differences.  The familiar back-fingered c natural is the most difficult issue for such a player to grapple with – although the Radcliff model responds to the 8-key fingering of oxo ooo or oxo xxx, the quality of the veiled note produced in this manner is markedly inferior to that of its fully-vented companions, and the difference in quality is far more obvious with the Radcliff model than with the equivalent fingering on a conical-bored 8-key flute. In fact, the back-fingered version of c natural does not appear in Radcliff’s own published fingering chart for this model. Fingered in this manner, the note is more or less restricted to a passing role in rapid passages where there is no requirement to dwell upon it!  

Apart from the deviations noted above, anyone who can play on an 8-key flute can quickly get to grips with the Radcliff.  So this model was exactly what many players had been waiting for; and if the original Boehm model of 1847 had been released with this fingering it might well have taken off very quickly in terms of sales.  As it was, the Radcliff model had to compete with others such as the Carte, Boehm and Rockstro models and was no runaway best seller, although it did enjoy a steady sale for many years, slightly outselling the Rockstro model and only succumbing along with all the others to the all-conquering Boehm model in the 1920’s and thereafter.

Rudall Carte did not stop with the Radcliff model. In 1907 they brought out a further development called the Guards Model. This instrument has historically been presented as a variant of the Carte 1867 Patent model, but it is far more logically seen as a development of the Radcliff model. It was, to all intents and purposes, a Radcliff flute with the right hand of the Carte 1867 model substituted for that of the old 1851 as used in the Radcliff.  This model also enjoyed some success, since it was relatively easy for players of the old-fingered flute (including the Radcliff) to learn and offered some additional facilities in the right hand.  But it too eventually succumbed to the rising Boehm tide.

So who was John Radcliff?   

Good question, and one from which the flautist, teacher and writer Richard S. Rockstro shied away completely.  In Rockstro’s monumental 1890 “Treatise on the Flute”, neither Radcliff nor his flute receive so much as a single mention by name, although others of lesser or at least no greater accomplishment are mentioned freely. However, Radcliff’s profile was such that it has been possible to learn a little about him from other sources. 

He was born in 1842 in Liverpool, England, into a family of flute players – his father and three elder brothers all played the instrument, albeit as amateurs.  Initially self-taught, young John displayed such a precocious talent at an early age that his father soon arranged for him to have formal lessons, which were so effective that he was able to make his public concert debut in Birkenhead at the age of 12 years!  

Obviously a talent like this had to be nurtured, and, in 1857, at the age of 15, Radcliff was sent down to London and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music, where the eminent Benjamin Wells had recently succeeded John Clinton as Professor of Flute.  So rapid was his progress that only a year later he was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy and embarked upon his professional career. He later became associated with Trinity College, London, in addition.  

Up to his arrival in London, Radcliff had apparently been playing an old-fingered wooden 8-key flute.  But once in London, he was reportedly introduced to the Boehm model and quickly mastered the new fingering.  Despite this, he appears to have retained a hankering for the old fingering and indeed for the sound of the old conical bore.  But the advantages of the Boehm model in terms of intonation and uniformity of tone were simply too great to be set aside, at least as far as Radcliff was concerned.  Accordingly, he persevered with the Boehm instrument for the following dozen years or so pending the introduction of the Radcliff Model flute in 1870. More of that matter below.  

From 1858 onwards, Radcliff was widely viewed as the foremost flautist in England, being in constant demand.  By 1868 he had been retained by Michael (later Sir Michael) Costa to replace the recently-deceased Robert Sidney Pratten as principal flute at the Italian Opera at Covent Garden.  Incidentally, the appointment seems to suggest that by this time Radcliff had reverted to a wooden conical-bored instrument of some kind, since Costa was a die-hard opponent of the cylinder-bored Boehm flute and would not allow that instrument in his orchestras for many years. Christopher Welch tells us that Radcliff was still playing a conical-bored version of his own model into the early 1880’s.

Radcliff remained with the Italian Opera for years, and did not miss a single performance there during the fifteen years following his initial appointment.  When he finally did so, it was as a result of a romance with the celebrated singer Pauline Rita.  Radcliff fell passionately in love with her, and the two became engaged. But his lady love was forced to seek a warmer climate for health reasons, and chose Australia as her haven.  After an 18-month hiatus, the apparently love-sick Radcliff tired of waiting for her return and, immediately after fulfilling a final engagement at the Leeds Festival of 1883, he left for Australia himself, arriving in Melbourne in December of 1883.  He and Pauline were married there in the next month.  

The couple eventually returned to England, where Radcliff resumed his interrupted career.  He accumulated an extraordinary collection of wind instruments from all over the world, ranging from the most primitive examples right up to the most modern instruments.  At one point in his career he toured the country giving a reportedly highly entertaining lecture entitled “From Pan to Pinafore” in which he illustrated his remarks upon the origins of various wind instruments by performing on examples from his collection.  Radcliff died in London in 1917 at the age of 75 years.

The genesis of the Radcliff Model flute

It has always been assumed by previous writers that the concept of the Radcliff Model flute was developed by Radcliff himself in the late 1860’s to address his hankering for a return to the old fingering.  But as we shall see, this is by no means certain.  The attachment of the name of a prominent player to any new instrument would always have had value to a manufacturer planning to bring out a new product, and the pages of flute history are replete with examples of famous players who had their names attached to minor design variants, presumably in the hope of attracting customers to the products of the maker in question. Nicholson’s Improved, Richardson’s Improved, Ribas’s Improved, Clinton’s Equisonant, Pratten’s Perfected, Rockstro’s Model, Carte’s Patent, Card’s System, the Briccialdi Model - the list leading up to Radcliff is a long and distinguished one.

Now it is clear that by no means all of the eminent players whose names were attached to specific design variants had much to do with the actual development of those variants. In the case of Radcliff, is there any evidence that he may not in fact have been the inventor of the flute which is known to this day by his name among flute historians?

Oddly enough, there is ……. as we shall now see.

The case against Radcliff having designed the Radcliff Model flute

As is so often the case with respect to matters relating to the development of the flute in the nineteenth century, we are forced to turn to the pages of the 1890 “Treatise on the Flute” (the “Treatise”) by Richard S. Rockstro for enlightenment on this topic. Rockstro has been shown to have been hopelessly prejudiced and unreliable with respect to the work of Theobald Boehm, and it appears that he was equally unreliable on many other matters as well. We have already noted that he failed completely to mention either Radcliff or the flute named for him, and this in a work purporting to represent a comprehensive history of the nineteenth century flute.  However, lacking any evidence to the contrary, we are forced to accept Rockstro’s untested words on other topics as true until such time as new evidence may demonstrate that to do so is unwarranted.

In the present instance, we must turn to Article 663 of Rockstro’s “Treatise”, where we find a generally accurate description of the Carte 1851 Patent flute. The subsequent Article (erroneously numbered 644 instead of the correct 664) includes the following statement, written or at least published in 1890:

 “Mr. Carte [Richard Carte of the firm Rudall, Carte & Co.] informs me that soon after the invention of this flute [the Carte 1851 Patent model, actually invented in 1850], he made for an old customer of the firm, Captain Harry Lee Carter, an instrument similar to it, excepting that the g# key was “closed”, and that the open d” key was omitted, the ordinary closed shake key being added in its place.  Thus altered, the flute of 1851 is still made [in 1890, remember], though it is now sold under a different title and is classed amongst the flutes with the “old system” of fingering

The flute of 1851 [which by Rockstro’s definition includes the described variant which is reportedly still in production] may be considered to have been entirely superseded by a far superior invention of Mr. Carte’s, namely, the “1867 patent” which is described and figured in Article 684”.  

Well, well …….!!  The above description fits the Radcliff to a “tee”!!  Even if it was not called the Radcliff Model at the time (Radcliff was only 8 years old and still living in complete obscurity in Liverpool when Carter’s flute was made!), it is clear that this flute was to all intents and purposes identical to the model which was later to be marketed starting in 1870 as the Radcliff Model.  And it was still being sold in 1890 under a “different title”….. the Radcliff Model, perhaps?!? Despite this, it had been “entirely superseded” by the “far superior” Carte 1867 model, and presumably other designs.

And that’s not all.  When writing in 1891 about the Carte 1851 design in his chapter in the catalogue of musical instruments exhibited at the 1890 Royal Military Exhibition, Rockstro includes the following comment:

In this same year [1850] a well-known amateur suggested a nearer approach to the fingering of the old flute, and to this end he had an instrument made with a “closed g# key” and without the open d” key, in place of which he substituted the ordinary closed shake-key, but in other respects the same as the 1851 flute.  In this form the instrument is still made, but it may be considered to have been superseded by the [Carte’s Patent] flute of 1867, which is vastly superior to it.”    

Well, here’s a turn-up for the books!!  The flute to which Rockstro refers can be none other than the Radcliff Model, since the description fits exactly and the model was certainly in production in the early 1890’s when Rockstro was writing. No other model meets these criteria.  And the “well-known amateur” must then surely be Carter.

Now, here’s Rockstro carefully avoiding any mention of Radcliff by name (recalling perhaps that Radcliff was still very much alive and well and very much in the public eye) but nonetheless very clearly stating that the Radcliff flute was not developed in 1870 by Radcliff at all but rather in 1850 by the elusive Captain Harry Lee Carter!!  And also taking the opportunity to denigrate the Radcliff Model by comparison with other contemporary designs.  

If Rockstro’s statements are correct (and at this point we have no evidence to suggest that they are not), then the inference is quite clear – Radcliff merely lent his name to the new model and had nothing to do with its original inception. Rockstro could have done us all a favour by just coming out and stating the facts as he understood them.  But for some reason, to be considered further below, the mere mention of Radcliff’s name seems to have been anathema to him...

What did Radcliff himself have to say on this score?

Most frustratingly, Radcliff was not a prolific writer on the subject of the flute.  No text of his famous lecture “From Pan to Pinafore” has apparently survived, and the sole example of his writing specifically about the Radcliff flute is the introduction to his updated 1873 edition of Nicholson’s “School for the Flute”. But this text is highly significant in the context of our present inquiry. 

In explaining his decision to update Nicholson’s old tutor, Radcliff speaks of “having adopted a new Flute termed after my name "Radcliff’s Model" “.  Note that he does not say “having invented a new Flute termed, etc.” – he speaks only of adopting this instrument and notes that it is termed after his name, not named for his invention.

Further down the page, Radcliff speaks of the “perfection” to which the “modern flute” has now been brought, and says:”

“I have been encouraged in the task I have undertaken — that of adapting the admirable lessons of Mr. Nicholson to the Modern Flute under the conviction that Mr. Nicholson himself would have been one of the first (had he lived) to have adopted a Flute upon the new principles, and to have adapted his book to it, as I have endeavored to do”.

Once again, there is no hint of the design of a new flute being part of Radcliff’s “task I have undertaken” – that task is confined to the rescue from oblivion of Nicholson’s tutor.

Finally, Radcliff makes the following statement:

“The Flute to which I have devoted this Book, will be found, as I have said, to have a closer connection with the Old Nicholson Flute with eight Keys, than any other of the Modern Flutes, at the same time that the new principles of these as to perfection of tone and intonation are carried out fully”.

Once again, despite the obvious opportunity to do so, Radcliff stops well short of designating the instrument as “the flute of my invention” or ”my flute” – it is simply “the flute to which I have devoted this book”.

Returning to Rockstro’s write-up of the flutes at the 1890 Royal Military Exhibition, we find the following description of a Radcliff Model flute which was included in that Exhibition:

“122 – Concert-flute of cocus-wood, with conoidal bore.  By Rudall, Carte and Co.  “Radcliff Model”.  This flute is thus described by Mr. John Radcliff: - “The fingering is a near approach to the old system (eight keyed) but it carries out the modern method of venting; through the B and C shake being made by a separate lever, the C hole can be opened when the first finger of the right hand is down.  It is contrived that the duplicate G# hole shall be closed in making the top E natural, so as to prevent the breaking of that note.  This flute was first made in 1870”  The woodcut on page 47 shows a silver flute of this model”.

It is not clear where the original quote from Radcliff is to be found – it does not appear anywhere in the text of his revised edition of Nicholson’s tutor, and Rockstro gives no reference.  But if Rockstro is quoting Radcliff correctly (and at present there is no evidence to suggest that he is not doing so), then once again we find that Radcliff does not claim to have invented this instrument.  In particular, he uses the term “it is contrived” rather than the term “I have contrived” which would make far more sense if he was in fact the inventor.  

[Aside - interesting that Rockstro was prepared to name Radcliff in the write-up of the flutes in this military exhibition, whereas he seems to have carefully avoided any mention in his Treatise.] 

If we assume (as we must in the absence of evidence to the contrary) that Radcliff said what he meant to say and was being honest in doing so, then it is quite clear that in all of the above quotations he is intentionally side-stepping any claim to having invented the flute which bore his name.  Instead, he is merely pointing out that he has adopted a model which is named for him and has updated Nicholson’s tutor, which was written for the old-fingered flute and was thus well adapted to the Radcliff model. He is also describing certain features of this flute in an objective manner. There is nothing in this which in any way contradicts our hypothesis that Radcliff may not have actually invented that model. Captain Carter’s claim as advanced by Rockstro remains unchallenged as far as Radcliff is concerned!  

 So who was Captain Harry Lee Carter anyway??

It would seem from Rockstro's mention that Captain Harry Lee Carter was just another well-known (and presumably well-heeled) amateur flautist who had been in the habit of buying flutes from Rudall & Rose from time to time and could afford to indulge in having his own minor design variants actually realized by the firm.  It is certain that Carter was not alone in this – Rockstro refers elsewhere to the many prototype designs which Rudall & Rose made at around this time for various hopeful designers. 

But we know a little more about Captain Carter than this.  During the 1840’s the amateur flautist Abel Siccama invented and patented his “Diatonic” model flute, which applied a variant of Boehm’s rational hole arrangement to the old conical bore using a simple mechanism which preserved the old fingering completely. In order to promote this model, Siccama collected testimonials from a large number of satisfied users of his new model.  These testimonials were published in a promotional pamphlet probably assembled to support Siccama’s display at the 1851 Exhibition in London.

One of the satisfied customers quoted by Siccama is none other that our friend Captain Carter!!  His contribution reads as follows:

 Testimonial of Captain Harry Lee Carter

Sir - you ask my opinion of your Diatonic Flute.  Here it is.  I consider it to be the only perfect instrument in tone or tune that I have yet heard or played upon.  It was most strongly recommended to me by Mr. Richardson [who had adopted it in 1848], and I am quite convinced it is well worthy of his adoption.  Your recent improvement, whereby one can produce as firm and true a C natural as with the C key, has supplied the only want I could discover in your invention.  My friends who have lately heard me play, have talked a good deal more about the Flute than the performer, and as I am quite sure it possesses more merit, I don't trouble myself much on this score.  If you really wish to publish this opinion, I have no objection to your doing so.

(signed) Harry Lee Carter.

This tells us quite a lot!  First, the said Captain Carter was a pupil of, or at least an acquaintance of, the eminent flautist and teacher Joseph Richardson. So he was presumably a relatively enthusiastic and competent player. Not only that, but he was not a died-in-the-wool Rudall & Rose man, as implied by Carte, but was prepared to take his custom elsewhere for the right product.

At this point we begin to see beyond Rockstro’s terse comments.  The probable scenario goes something like this...

Carter is presumably a long-time player of the old flute who has been taking lessons with the likes of Richardson (giving him some credibility), and has been buying his flutes from Rudall & Rose over the years. He has probably tried their 1843 version of the 1832 Boehm (presumably with closed g#) and immediately appreciated the improved regulation and intonation, but is not prepared to deal with the fingering changes.  And neither is he satisfied with the relative lack of power compared to his old large-hole Rudall & Rose 8-key. Nonetheless, his old flute no longer satisfies him either because of its intonation and regulation problems.  Poor old Harry is in a bind – he’s seen the Promised Land through the eyes of Boehm, and there is no longer any particular flute that makes him completely happy!! 

But salvation is at hand!!  Along comes Siccama in 1846, and his Diatonic flute immediately meets Carter’s (and Richardson’s) approval – it retains the old fingering and the powerful sound that he is used to, but also offers much improved intonation and regulation. So he buys one and plays it happily for a while, offering Siccama the above testimonial in a totally sincere spirit. However, Siccama is making no further moves, so Carter stays in touch with his former mates at Rudall & Rose, just in case they come up with anything better.  Their new 1847 Boehm cylinder model fails to impress – his Siccama still has more power and, in any case, the impediment of the Boehm fingering is unaltered.  Perhaps he is even one of those who convinces Richard Carte that if Rudall & Rose want him back as a customer then they have to come up with something new. 

Carter stays in touch and follows Carte’s efforts to come up with something more to his liking. Finally, in 1850, the prototype of the new 1851 Patent flute is ready.  But although it is far closer to the old fingering, there are still things about it that Carter doesn’t like – the open g# and the all-fingers-off d” being the major culprits.  He can live with the double thumb keys and the different management of “long f”, but apart from that he’s simply not prepared to compromise with respect to the old fingering – end of discussion!!  So he tells Carte that if he could make one of his new flutes with the two offending items rectified, then and only then he’ll buy one.  Carte agrees, mainly to reclaim a former regular customer, and the rest goes as per Rockstro’s account.  

(It is worth noting at this point that Rockstro does not say that Carter’s flute was a cylinder-bore model.  The Carte 1851 came in both bores, and Carter may well have stuck with the conical bore.  And we know from the comments made by Rockstro in relation to the 1890 Military Exhibition that Rudall, Carte & Co. made at least a few conical-bored Radcliff Models, since such a flute was exhibited in 1890 and Radcliff himself (according to Christopher Welch) apparently played one up to the early 1880’s. )

So how did the Radcliff Model come about?

Well, none of what follows can be proved, not at this point at least.  But the following scenario hangs together as far as we’re concerned.

It seems probable that, after making the modified 1851 for Carter in 1850 as described above, Carte returned to the promotion of his patented designs and the expansion of the business in which he was now a full partner.  But as we have noted at the outset, a strong demand continued for an old-fingered flute incorporating the updated acoustical ideas of Boehm.  Carte may from time to time have recalled the one-off model made for Carter, and may even have made one or two more for friends and acquaintances of Carter’s.  But the idea of putting the modified design into series production did not take shape until 1870, as mentioned earlier, nor did Radcliff’s name become associated with the design prior to that year.

What could have impelled Carte to decide to add this design to the product line of his company fully 20 years after its inception?  The most probable explanation seems to us to be that, in the late 1860’s, Radcliff had somehow become familiar with the design through an encounter with Carter or his flute.  He may have borrowed it or even purchased it either from Carter or from whoever had bought it from Carter.  Regardless, he must have been impressed and may well have gone off to see Carte and ask him to make another like it so that Radcliff could adopt it thenceforth for his own playing. 

Now, the amateur Harry Carter coming to Carte for a one-off custom flute would have been one thing – but here was England’s no.1 flute poster boy announcing his intention to adopt this variant just as soon as Carte could make one for him! Carte’s well-developed business nerve-endings must have started twitching immediately!!  If the public saw and heard Radcliff playing one of these models, then surely sales would follow?!? And after all, it was for the most part a Carte design anyway…...

So Carte made a deal with Radcliff.  He would manufacture the model with Radcliff’s name attached to it, thus giving it a highly positive sales spin, and Radcliff would use it and publicly endorse it, thus promoting its sale to the public.  In return, Radcliff got his new flute for free and/or perhaps received a small royalty for each flute sold.  The fact that Rudall, Carte & Co. established a quite separate and independent serial numbering system for their Radcliff models seems to support the latter notion since it would make the book-keeping and auditing far easier.

Carte thus got the chance to market a new model for which there was an undoubted market niche, and with the name and active endorsement of England’s current premier flautist attached to it for good measure.  The release by Radcliff of his updated version of Nicholson’s tutor in 1873, a project specifically aimed at assisting aspiring players of the Radcliff model, would have helped to boost sales also. For his part, Radcliff got the prestige of having “his” own flute design on the market as well as having an instrument to play which met his yearnings for a return to the old fingering (and initially, to the conical bore).  He also got to sell a few flute tutors, and maybe score some useful income in return for naming rights.

Not the only such case

A further point of confirmation of the credibility of this scenario is to be found in the genesis of the Guards Model.  As we have previously stated, that model was in effect a Radcliff Model with the right hand of the Carte 1867 Patent flute grafted onto it in place of the right hand of the Carte 1851 Patent model as had been used on the Radcliff. The left hand and the foot joint are identical in both models. The Guards Model was introduced in 1907 as an official product of Rudall, Carte & Co. 

However, we have irrefutable evidence, both from the surviving company ledgers and in the form of at least one surviving instrument, that this model too was made to special order in very small numbers well in advance of its official introduction.  The Duncan collection includes just such a flute, which was made in 1886 at the request of an individual customer. This was 21 years before the formal introduction of the Guards Model as a catalogued product of the company. It would appear that the Guards Model had a similar genesis to that of the Radcliff as a one-off design variant made to special order many years prior to its formal introduction. This seems to confirm the credibility of our case from the standpoint of the business practices of Rudall, Carte & Co.

Rockstro's last word

In closing this section of our study of this issue, we must return once more to Rockstro’s above-quoted description of the Radcliff Model flute exhibited at the 1890 Royal Military Exhibition.  Note that Radcliff himself is quoted by Rockstro as saying that “This flute was first made in 1870”. 

Now at first sight, this might be taken to indicate that the design originated in 1870 and that Radcliff was therefore quite possibly its true originator. If that were the case, then Rockstro’s comments about Carte and Carter in 1850 would have had to be outright lies told for the sole purpose of discrediting Radcliff. But if that were the case, why invent such a convoluted tale, complete with references by name to individuals who undoubtedly existed and enjoyed some prominence in flute-playing circles? And more cogently, why in that case did Rockstro himself publish Radcliff’s comment?? If he had not done so, we would not even know of its existence!  It would be highly uncharacteristic of Rockstro, who in other respects showed himself to be quite willing to suppress evidence which did not support his own opinions, to publish anything which might in any way contradict any of his own writings. Clearly, Rockstro himself saw nothing contradictory in the published comment by Radcliff.

It seems quite clear to the present authors (as it appears to have been to Rockstro) that what Radcliff meant by “this flute” was the Radcliff Model by that name, and it is noteworthy that he was careful to use the term “made in 1870” rather than “designed in 1870”.  If we assume (as we are doing throughout) that the words mean what they say, then the comment as worded in no way constitutes a claim that the Radcliff Model was designed in 1870. 

It actually appears that Radcliff’s comment was intended to convey the information that the Radcliff Model flute first appeared as a commercial offering under that name in 1870. This is of course perfectly true. If Radcliff had said “the Radcliff Model was first made commercially in 1870”, there would be no ambiguity at all.  It seems almost certain that this is all that he intended to convey. Thus, in our view Radcliff’s comment does not constitute a legitimate challenge to the veracity of Rockstro’s comments regarding the Carter flute.

Why did Rockstro have it in for Radcliff??

Now that we are clear on the story as presented by Rockstro and are ready to accept it on a provisional basis pending further information coming to light, the question remains –  why was Rockstro so anxious to avoid any mention of Radcliff by name in his “Treatise” despite wishing to tell the true story (according to Rockstro) of the genesis of the Radcliff Model flute and to denigrate that model by comparison with others??  Wouldn’t it have been far simpler and less convoluted to just tell the story in an open and straightforward manner?? 

The most likely reasons for Rockstro’s failure to do so are two-fold – professional jealousy and commercial competition.  At the tender age of only 15 years the upstart Radcliff had burst onto the London scene from “the provinces” in 1857 and almost immediately assumed a leading position among the elite flute players then present in London, including Benjamin Wells, Oluf Svendsen, Robert Sidney Pratten, Edward Card, Joseph Richardson and the like.  By contrast, Rockstro (then 31 years old) had lived in or near London all his life and had exerted every effort to move from the musical fringes into that elite circle, apparently with very little success – his name does not appear as a member of any of the prestigious orchestras or opera companies active in the capital during his lifetime.  Basically, Rockstro seems to have spent his working life playing in minor provincial or municipal orchestras and giving lessons. The sight of young Radcliff moving so effortlessly to centre stage in the highly competitive London musical scene cannot have been easy for Rockstro to accept, and a legacy of professional jealousy seems entirely logical, if not necessarily commendable.

In addition, when the Radcliff Model was introduced in 1870, it represented direct commercial competition to Rockstro’s Model which he was then in the process of finalizing.  It was formally introduced in 1877 although earlier variants had been sold intermittently for some years previously - another example of formal introduction lagging behind actual availability.  The sight of Radcliff receiving the credit for a flute design with which he had had nothing to do apart from his enthusiastic adoption of it, on top of Radcliff’s meteoric rise to public acclaim, may well have galled Rockstro beyond endurance. And the new flute represented very real commercial competition for Rockstro’s own evolving model.

So we may understand (but not necessarily approve) the notion that, in a commercial sense, Rockstro would have wished to use his “Treatise” as an opportunity to denigrate the Radcliff model by comparison with other designs such as his own (which was basically a slightly tweaked Boehm model). But he wished to do so without mentioning Radcliff by name, since mentioning the Radcliff Model even in a negative context would represent free publicity for Radcliff and would imply a level of credit for the design to which Rockstro clearly felt Radcliff was not entitled.  In addition, Radcliff was still very much alive and well and before the public eye at the time and thus well able to defend himself against any direct attack by Rockstro (unlike Rockstro’s other victims such as Boehm, Clinton, Siccama and the like who were all safely dead when Rockstro publicly attacked them).

So Rockstro chose to tell the tale in a manner which did not specifically mention Radcliff but nevertheless made the point for those who read the relevant passages with any attention.  It must be said that if Rockstro’s aim was to damage Radcliff and his commercial interest in the Radcliff Model flute, then he failed signally to achieve his aims. The Radcliff Model flute slightly outsold the Rockstro Model, and Radcliff’s name and reputation doubtless had a lot to do with that.  And until now, 100 years after Rockstro’s death, no-one appears to have taken his hints regarding the origins of the Radcliff Model flute.  Even now that the truth appears to have emerged, Radcliff’s memory remains unsullied, at least in the opinion of the present authors – he never claimed more than his due, as we hope that we have shown.


We submit that, as matters stand, the evidence is very strong that Radcliff did not design the Radcliff Model flute in the late 1860’s, as has previously been assumed, but that it had in fact been conceived back in 1850, some 20 years prior to its official release, by the amateur Captain Harry Lee Carter in consultation with Richard Carte.  The actual manner in which the model moved in 20 years from a one-off customer special to a series production model is less clear, but there are a number of entirely plausible sequences of events which could explain this.  We have presented one such scenario above, and there are others which come to mind.  And the evolution of the Guards Model provides a parallel development path which is well confirmed by irrefutable hard evidence.

In closing, we hear some of our readers saying “So what!?!”  To a certain extent, we agree with that sentiment – at this point, it really doesn’t matter whether Carter or Radcliff designed the thing, and Rockstro’s apparent attempt to discredit Radcliff appears totally irrelevant, whether or not his tale is true. But what does matter is the timing of events. If we are to understand the inter-relationships and influences which the various flute designs and designers exerted upon one another during this very convoluted period in flute history, then it is essential that we sort the designs into their correct chronological sequence. In that context, recognizing that a design which has hitherto been dated to 1870 may actually have been conceived and first realized in 1850 is a significant step forward.


Thanks to Adrian Duncan, Vancouver-based player and researcher, for seeking out loose threads that have eluded the most of us, and seeking to weave them into something sensical.

Thanking also Robert Bigio, for Rudall Carte sales information.


A fingering chart for the Radcliff flute can be downloaded from Radcliff Flute Fingering.

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  Created 9 July 2007, updated 23 Dec 2007