THE RUDALL CARTE FLAUTISTS

 

                                                                                                              by Stuart Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the first half of the 20th century the majority of British players used a Boehm system wooden flute manufactured by Rudall Carte & Co. of  London. Nearly every professional player in Britain was a Rudall Carte flautist!

 

From the early nineteenth century Rudall Carte & Co. was the foremost British flute manufacturer and improvements in the instrument made from time to time by that firm were both numerous and important. They were the first manufacturers of Briccialdi’s B flat thumb key and later, Brossa’s F# key, both of which remain in use today. In addition, they produced the Radcliff and Rockstro model flutes, Carte’s modified Boehm system flutes and the Siccama flute used by the likes of Joseph Richardson (1814-62) and Robert Sydney Pratten (1824-68).

 

Rudall Carte & Co. were certainly not afraid of innovation and always kept an eye on the requirements of the flute players. In their 1895 catalogue Rudall Carte offered 118 possible varieties of flute and until World War II, they continued to offer flutes of silver, cocuswood, ebonite and gold with every one of the commonest fingering systems. Through this and expert craftsmanship, they commanded a worldwide market over a long period of time.

Boehm, having closed his own flute making business in 1839 in order to pursue interests in the steel industry, made official arrangements for his flute model to be manufactured by Rudall & Rose (as it was then) in London and Clair Godfroy in Paris where some cocuswood flutes were made at the request of Dorus. The Boehm system quickly became popular with professional players in both England and France.

 

Richard Carte (1808-1891) who had studied the 8-key flute with George Rudall (1781-1871) welcomed Boehm’s new designs and became a partner in the firm around 1850. Almost at once he set about improving the Boehm flutes and did much to encourage business through lecture recitals in cities throughout Britain.

 

One such recital took place at The Royal Institution in Manchester and the Guardian reported that he “played with remarkably good effect, both in fullness of tone and brilliancy of execution”. Drouet’s Variations on Rule Britannia were “brilliantly given and loudly applauded”.

 

At Liverpool’s Collegiate Institute he was praised for his facility of execution, expressive character of tone and depth of feeling in softer passages. (Liverpool Albion)

 

By 1900, half a century having passed since the introduction of Boehm’s final model, his instrument was well on its way to becoming standard – the trend being clearly reflected in Rudall Carte’s trade catalogues.

 

By then they had a corner in the European and American markets and the company’s black and gold label which appeared inside the lid of every flute case was certainly an emblem of quality and justifiable pride.

It is interesting to note however, that by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the Boehm flute was still not common in Germany, Italy or Russia and certain players including recording artists John Lemmone, John Amadio and Edith Penville stuck to alternatives such as the Radcliff and Rockstro models throughout their careers -  as we shall hear in due course.

 

So what was it that made Rudall Carte’s Boehm system cocuswood flutes so popular with British players?

 

The professionals who took up these instruments in the early years of the 20th century were nearly all involved in orchestral work of some kind. They were technically proficient players who saw the possibilities of further improving technique through the use of the Boehm system. The thick headjoints offered a natural resistance to the players allowing them to blow harder without splitting the sound. Thus, a bigger sound was possible and a greater control of dynamics and a better balance of tone throughout the three registers could be achieved using strong lip pressure and greater air speed.

 

Using Rudall Carte flutes, the orchestral player could articulate well and project a hard, clear and brilliant sound. This, coupled with virtuoso fingering was the hallmark of the Rudall Carte flautist.

 

But, not least of all, they valued the blend with the other instruments of the wind section. And to all of you metal flute players, let me tell you, that this is no myth! I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been told by clarinettists in particular, how much they enjoy playing alongside a wooden flute.

 

The sound of the British flute player, at this time then, was directly linked to a particular type of flute – those manufactured by Rudall Carte. The players’ approach to using these instruments produced a characteristic dense and firmly centred sound. This, along with their strong awareness of intonation, ensemble blend, and a technique second to none, is what makes some of their recorded performances so interesting.

 

Early recordings gained London flautists a new audience and those such as Albert Fransella, George Ackroyd, Eli Hudson and Robert Murchie were fast becoming household names even before the advent of World War l.

 

Not so for flautists working in the provinces, who were more or less ignored by the early recording companies. It is to be regretted that highly thought of players, such as Vincent Needham and E.S.Redfern of the Hallé Orchestra, for example, left us no recordings at all.

 

However, Albert Fransella (1865-1935) spent most of his career in England, and as flute professor at the Guildhall School and Trinity College of Music, was an influential teacher of the future generation. He was one of the most famous flautists in Britain before World War l,

and first recorded in 1898 for the Gramophone Company. Four years earlier (1894) Bernard Shaw had heard him play at Crystal Palace with August Manns(1825-1907) and noted a new kind of flute sound. Shaw admired the relaxed quality and translucency of his tone which was obviously smaller than some of the other English players of his generation.

According to the Times, “Fransella held a very high position among flute players, for he was not merely an accomplished player who understood the technic of his instrument; he was a musician to whom phrasing, tone and expression came naturally as a method of interpretation and his playing always commanded admiration by the skilful gradation of tone”.

 

Fransella was principal of the  Queen’s Hall Orchestra for 25 years (1895-1919) and appeared as soloist in the very first Henry Wood Promenade Concert, at the Queen’s Hall on 10th August 1895, playing

the waltz movement from Godard’s Suite which he was to record no fewer than three times during his career.

 

The following year ‘Musical Times’ reported on a Rudall Carte gold flute which Fransella had played at a Queen’s Hall concert on February 7th 1896: “The middle and lower registers of the instrument certainly possess a fine tone, somewhat suggestive of a saxophone”, the writer recalled. Fransella had paid £123.10s for the 18ct. gold flute with engraved silver key work but also still favoured his wooden flute, or a silver one, which he regularly used in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

 

In this recording made in 1911, he is almost certainly using the latter.

 

PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 1.  2’40”

Albert Fransella

Godard – Waltz (Suite)Op.116 – Columbia1674. (Rec. 1911)

 

 

Other outstanding players of the day included Eli Hudson(1877-1919). Twelve years Fransella’s junior, he recorded for a number of companies including Edison, Gramophone Company and Zonophone who issued many of his recordings under the pseudonyms of George Gundersen, Albert Rennison and Ben Walker.

 

Hudson had been a pupil of William Lewis Barrett(1848-1927) and A.P.Vivian(1855- 1903) at the Royal College of Music and spent his early career in music halls with his sisters, Winifred(Elgar) and Eleanor(Olga). At this time his piccolo playing was renowned but his flute tone was generally considered too strong and powerful for orchestral playing and so was denied a position in any of the London orchestras.

 

Nevertheless, he was eventually appointed first flute in the L.S.O. and in 1905 co-founded the New Symphony Orchestra – the first orchestra to enter into a contract with a recording company (HMV).

 

The qualities of his flute playing were well noted by his contemporaries and in 1913, Macaulay Fitzgibbon was to write of his “brilliancy and whirlwind chromatic scale passages, his fluent, clean execution and extremely  powerful, even tone”. 

 

Some of these qualities are apparent in this recording of Boehm’s Variations Op.22, made by Hudson for HMV in 1908, using his Rudall Carte 1867 model flute.

 

                                                                                   PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 2.  3’52”

Eli Hudson

Boehm – Variations Op.22 -  G & T 09150 (rec.1908)

 

 

Surely one of the greatest combinations of  talents to make up the flute section of an orchestra before the First World War was to be found at a special concert on May 24th 1912, at the Albert Hall given in memory of members of the band of the ‘Titanic’ who went down with their ship. For this occasion, the musicians of seven different London orchestras were brought together under conductors including Elgar, Harty, Henry Wood, Landon Ronald, Percy Pitt, Beecham and Mengelberg. Amongst the flautists were Albert Fransella, Eli Hudson, George Ackroyd and Robert Murchie. A unique event -  These four giants of the orchestral world probably never shared the same platform ever again.

 

That same year(1912), one of those giants, George Ackroyd of the Royal Opera House Orchestra, recorded a Fantasia on Faust exhibiting quite a broad vibrato –

 

 

PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 3.  1’24”

 

George Ackroyd

 

Fantasia on Faust (rec.1912)

 

 

 

Another of the giants, the Scotsman Robert Murchie(1884-1949), was to become a dominant influence on flautists and flute playing between the two wars. He was known as a good teacher whose big, straight, vibrant tone was outstanding in an orchestra but his early career had been as a piccolo player in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, sitting alongside Albert Fransella.

 

Throughout the 1930’s, however, he was principal flute in the BBC Symphony Orchestra and made numerous  broadcasts as soloist or

chamber musician, frequently as a member of the London Flute Quartet alongside Gordon Walker, Frank Almgill and Charles Stainer.

He founded the London Wind Quintet too, and made a number of recordings for Edison Bell, most notably two separate recordings of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (1923 and 1929).  

 

The recording we are going to hear now, titled Les échos d’Alsace, shows not only Murchie’s dexterity but his range, control and evenness of tone in all registers.

 

PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 4.   2’08”

 

Robert Murchie

Les échos d’Alsace – F. Rucquoy

 

 

 

The coming of broadcasting gave provincial players more opportunity to demonstrate their skills to a wider audience and from the mid-1920’s radio listeners became more familiar with the names of many Rudall Carte flautists who were mainly principals in the BBC regional orchestras

– Vernon Harris of the BBC Northern Orchestra, Walter Heard who became principal in the City of Birmingham Orchestra, A. H. Brinkworth of Wales and Harry Dyson of Belfast.

 

There were a number of Manchester flautists involved in the early broadcasts from the Northern Station including Bill Thorn of the Hallé, Ernest Fryer, Arthur Redfern, Harry Dobson, Frank O’Donnell, Roy Richardson and George Rutherford, pupil of Edward de Jong, along with  women soloists, Almena Marshall, Nancy Thirlwell and last but not least, Carrie Millars, who had the distinction of being the first woman flautist to be appointed to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

 

But, Hallé principal Joe Lingard (1880-1964) seems to have had his fair share of exposure on air, making over 36 broadcasts between 1924 and 1934, many of which were solo recitals accompanied by Eric Fogg at the piano. All broadcasts went out live and unfortunately, to our loss, none were ever recorded.

 

However, taking England by storm at this time was virtuoso New Zealander, John Amadio (1884-1964), who had left Melbourne in 1920 to tour Europe with the soprano Luisa Tetrazzini. This marked the beginning of a career of touring, concert appearances, radio

broadcasting and recording which brought him a great reputation.

 

 His effortless technique prompted critics to remark that he was the best flute player in all of England at that time. His recordings are testimony to his dazzling display of technical facility, and one in particular – the finale from Mozart’s Concerto in D – is certainly breathtaking. Here he managed to cut two minutes off a more usual timing of 6 minutes or so, and still include a lengthy cadenza! As he broadcast this piece in the same manner it is unlikely that his chosen speed was influenced by the timing of one side of a 78rpm disc.

But, he was also capable of playing with a great variety of tone and a light vibrato as demonstrated on this recording of Briccialdi’s Carnival of Venice made in 1921 using his Rudall Carte Radcliffe model flute.

 

 

The most successful woman flautist of the twenties was undoubtedly Edith Penville. She had studied at the Royal Academy with D.S.Wood (1872-1927)  whose ‘Valse Caprice’ appeared many times in her programmes. She became a successful concert artist in London, also appearing at Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts and as a music hall soloist. Numerous broadcasts were made from London and Birmingham studios with accompanist Roland Revell and gramophone records were made by Columbia, Homochord and Beltona.

 

Her programmes were wide ranging and often included pieces by flautist composers Kohler, Terschak, Doppler and de Jong. Pieces by Andersen were Penville’s favourites though, and were always to be heard in broadcast recitals along with some French music.

A recording of Andersen’s Fantasie Caractéristique made by Penville using her Rudall Carte Rockstro model flute – long before Geoffrey Gilbert was accredited with introducing a French style of playing to

Britain, I might add – shows a definite French influence in her tone and vibrato. A Rudall Carte flautist with a French accent? Surely not!

 

 

 

                                                                PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 6.   3’14”

 

Edith PenvilleAndersenFantasie Caractéristique Op.16, Columbia DB 398  (rec.1930)

 

 

During the 1930’s there were some excellent players to be found in London including Gordon Walker, Gerald Jackson, and the previously mentioned Robert Murchie. All three held key positions in London orchestras and Gordon Walker (1885-1965), principal flute with the LSO, was the first of three generations of Rudall Carte flautists. His son Eddie, (1909-1982) succeeded him as LSO principal in 1946 and his grandson Tony (b.1937) was principal piccolo in the BBC Philharmonic, from 1968 to 1984.

 

On Saturday morning, May 23rd 1931, Gordon Walker arrived at Kingsway Hall where the LSO were assembled to make a gramophone recording and give a first hearing to Elgar’s new work, Nursery Suite.

Arriving at the studio, Elgar wandered through the orchestra making his way to Gordon Walker’s music stand where he addressed the player thus:

 

“Mr Walker, I have written a flute solo in one of the movements with you in mind. I hope you like it”.

 

He referred, of course, to the second movement entitled “The Serious Doll”. In the resultant recording, Gordon Walker presents a sedate solo using his straight and fairly reedy sound.

 

                 

                         

                                                                PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 7.   2’44”

 

Gordon Walker  Elgar – The Serious Doll (Nursery Suite), HMV( rec.1931)

 

 

 

After the Second World War broadcasts continued on into the 1950’s still bringing Rudall Carte flautists to the attention of radio listeners but there also appeared new and foreign names along with a different sound made by their metal flutes. This new influx coupled with problems encountered by Rudall Carte & Co. in securing suitable materials for the manufacture of their wooden flutes was starting to bring about a change which would eventually see the demise of the company and the wooden flute in British orchestras.

 

The instruments being produced were not in many respects as good as the earlier ones and this assisted in the decision of many players to change to metal flutes.

 

However, there were still a good number of Rudall Carte flutes in the hands of excellent players who were more than happy to continue using an instrument they had become comfortable with.

 

Listen now, to Hallé principal, Oliver Bannister (b.1926) in this recording  of ‘The Aviary’ from Carnival of the Animals by Saint Saens, made in 1954. Everything is beautifully controlled.

 

 

 

 

                                                                   PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 8.  1’15”

 

Oliver Bannister

                                                                               Saint Saens – The Aviary (Carnival of the Animals) rec.1954

 

 

Recordings, broadcasts and flute playing in London throughout the 1950’s was dominated to a certain degree by Rudall Carte flautists, Gerald Jackson, Edward Walker and Gareth Morris.

 

A pupil of Robert Murchie, Gareth Morris (1920-2007) had all the qualities of his predecessors. He held an important teaching post at the Royal Academy and occupied the principal’s chair in the London Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras until the early 1970’s. Being a pupil of Murchie’s it is no surprise that he often appeared as soloist and chamber musician. He gave the first performance in England of Poulenc’s  Flute Sonata with the composer at the piano and introduced new works to the orchestral repertoire in the form of Gordon Jacob’s Concerto and

Alan Rawsthorne’s Concerto for Flute & Horn both of these works being dedicated to him.

 

Morris played on his teacher’s Rudall Carte flute with thinned head and open G sharp throughout the whole of his career. His playing was refined, elegant and expressive, although his tone was large and vibrato only ever employed sparingly in the service of the music being performed.

 

In this recording of Hotteterre’s Echos, broadcast in 1972, there really is only one player – Gareth Morris.

 

PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 9.   2’08”

 

Gareth Morris

 HotteterreEchos  (BBC Broadcast, 1972)

 

 

 

 

Well, despite performances like that, by the end of the first half of the 20th century, Rudall Carte flutes were being referred to by flautists and other musicians in a somewhat derisive manner – “Elephant Guns” and “Broomsticks” being two of the more polite names assigned to the instruments!

 

But, one or two orchestral players remained faithful to the wooden Rudall Carte flute, including not only Gareth Morris but Atarah Ben Tovim of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Tony Walker of the BBC Philharmonic, Roger Rostron in the Hallé Orchestra and Oliver Bannister at the Royal Opera House.

 

With retirement on the horizon, Gareth Morris left it to Roger Rostron and Oliver Bannister to take Rudall Carte flutes well into the 1980’s before they were finally abandoned by British orchestral principals.

 

Let us have one final reminder now, of Oliver Bannister’s beautiful sound and artistry, which he amply demonstrates in this recording of Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, made in 1969 with the Royal Opera House Orchestra conducted by Solti.

 

 

 

                                                                         

                                                                    PLAY MUSIC EXAMPLE 10.   3’21”

 

Oliver Bannister

                                                                                          – Dance of the Blessed Spirits

 

 

 

The Rudall Carte flautists have been referred to constantly in the literature as the “English School”, without any really satisfactory explanation of the term, apart from the fact that they all played wooden flutes. To group all the flautists we’ve heard today under the title of “English School” is to my mind somewhat misleading. They were all players of great individuality whose teachers came from a number of different traditions.

 

 From what we’ve heard earlier, they certainly didn’t all learn from the same tutor book, and I suggest, that just as today, there were as many different approaches to flute playing and performance as there were players using Rudall Carte wooden flutes.

 

 

 

RETURN              

END

© Stuart Scott 2007

 

 

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