From time to time, we come across flutes which might not be the centre of a particular research program at this time, but are just too unusual or remarkable to ignore. This page is our place to celebrate (or deprecate) them.
An Ivory flute by Monzani
Monzani was quite a man. The NLI tells us he was born in Verona in 1762, and died at Margate in Kent in 1839. As a maker he flourished in London between about 1807 and 1829. He was at various times a flute player, composer and music publisher. As a much sought-after maker, he was an early victim of forgers, two of whom passed themselves off as Manzane and Mancane, perhaps giving us a clue to how Monzani was pronounced at the time. He was perhaps also the earliest maker to apply serial numbers, starting around 1809. He promoted himself as "Patentees and Manufacturers of the New Improved German Flute in Three Pieces, without thread". His instruments demonstrated the finest workmanship, as our example illustrates.
Let's take a closer look at that foot:
From a private collection in the UK.
Cylindrical metal 8-key
A cylindrical (Boehm) bore simple-system flute in metal by Chapelain, Fernand and Co, La Couture, 1890-1917, that came up on Ebay. Interesting features include:
Note just how far up that F# sharpening pad is, even though the F# hole is so very big. Could be that there is a relatively small hole under that pad, and that the location is determined by having to avoid fouling the fingers on their holes.
Nothing so strange about the flute - a 4-5 key by Wood and Ivy (note that the upper c key appears to have been added later), now in the possession of US player, Kevin Rietmann. But perhaps you've perceived something unusual. OK. I'll come clean - the flute isn't perfectly straight! Go on - admit it - you'd never have noticed if I hadn't told you!
This was of course known at the time - Cornelius Ward in his The Flute Explained, 1844, comments:
Modern museum curators are aware of it too. There's a standing joke among curators that, left alone on a shelf, a boxwood flute will sooner or later make its own way to the edge and fall off.
So why is boxwood so prone to movement? Presumably because of the presence of "tension wood". Reaction wood occurs wherever a tree has to counter the pull of gravity - hardwoods grow tension wood on the top of their branches, softwoods grow compression wood on the underside. A straight-growing trunk should have none of it, and it is the reason why we never use branch wood for flute-making. Boxwood trees tend to grow in gullies in mountainous regions, and I imagine, being a smaller tree, has to fight for whatever light it can get. This probably means often growing at an angle, and having to support the leaning tree with tension wood. This is largely my surmise, but will have to stand until someone can correct me!
Block-mounted Eb piccolo
Now, perhaps this isn't unusual, but I'll admit to not having seen one before. Post-mounted piccolos are common enough, and it makes sense that before the post-mount era, any piccolo would have had to be block-mounted. There's not a lot of room for the blocks on a piccolo though - especially an Eb piccolo like this one. You can see how little room remains below the third finger hole before L3 runs into the G# block. Note also that the maker has abandoned the Long F guide (hardly necessary as the key is so short), although the c key retains its guide block, probably retained only because it is also the hinge block for the thumb Bb key.
The other very unusual feature is the lack of the usual barrel - this has been integrated into the top of the body section. There is the usual tuning slide arrangement, with a fully lined head, but with the female tube only extending a short way into the top of the body.
The instrument is in the collection of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, who also kindly supplied the image above, used with their permission.
Unfortunately, the piccolo doesn't seem to bear any maker's mark, so if you have seen one somewhere before or have any idea who made it, we'll be keen to hear from you.
An unusual Thumb Rest
Cornelius Ward was an unusual person, so perhaps not unusual that he'd come up with an unusual thumb rest. And here it is:
Just to help you get oriented, it's for your right thumb. You can see a trill lever for R1 just to the left of the thumb rest. How does this rest work? You point your right thumb right into it.
Yes, this assumes the earlier 19th century way of holding the flute, sometimes erroneously called the Rockstro Grip. Erroneous in that Rockstro didn't invent it; although he did stoutly defend it. Indeed he seems to be one of the last writers to encourage it.
So why did Ward feel the need to provide a special place to point the right thumb? Perhaps he was a great enthusiast for this way of holding the flute. Certainly interesting that Rockstro used to hang about Ward's shop in his youth. Or perhaps it was because he'd made it hard to use this grip by running the three pull-wires that permit the left thumb to control the foot keys right where the right thumb would like to be. Not all Ward flutes feature this thumb rest - perhaps it was by special request of a player who liked his flute but preferred the thumb in grip?
We'll be bringing you more interesting and unusual flutes as time and opportunity permits.
My thanks to the owners who made images of their flutes available for our enjoyment.
More of the same
If you've enjoyed this page, you might also enjoy Some Unusual Rudalls.