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
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
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
One such recital took place at The Royal Institution in
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
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
and first recorded in 1898 for the
Gramophone Company. Four years earlier (1894) Bernard Shaw had heard him play
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 –
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.
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
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.
broadcasting and recording which brought him a great reputation.
technique prompted critics to remark that he was the best flute player in all
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
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
During the 1930’s there were some excellent players to be
On Saturday morning,
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.
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.
Recordings, broadcasts and flute playing in
A pupil of Robert Murchie, Gareth
Morris (1920-2007) had all the qualities of his predecessors. He held an
important teaching post at the
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.
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.
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 “
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.