5-keyed French flute (antique by Denis Noblet L'Aîné)

I bought this flute, as I did the Nicholson, from the estimable Tony Bingham in London, England. I just recently noticed another of Mr. Bingham's claims to fame... he is the publisher of The New Langwill Index, which is really the sine qua non of reference works for anyone seeking information regarding historical makers of European woodwinds. He is also the publisher of "Great Flute Makers of France -- The Lot & Godfroy Families, 1650-1900" by Tula Giannini.

This is a small flute, in more ways than one. It has no extended 'c foot', and it is pitched a little above A=440 (a tuning slide allows it to play a little lower), which make it physically short. It is also made for a small, focussed sound, retaining proportions of embouchure, bore and tone holes comparable to those typical in mid 18th century flutes. The walls of the instrument are also thin, which further contributes to both its physical compactness and its lightness of sound. The mark is "D. Noblet, AINE" with a small image of a sun. This would imply that the instrument was probably made in Paris, somewhere around the middle of the 19th century. It has 5 keys - those found on the Potter and the Astor minus the c and c-sharp of the extended foot (i.e. b-flat, g-sharp, f-natural and d-sharp), plus a key for the high c-naturals, operated by the knuckle of the right index finger. The keys are pivoted on metal posts fixed into the wood, and the f and g-sharp keys are made longer by wrapping them around the body. The head is fitted with a tuning slide and an adjustable cap, and is partially lined - that is to say the tuning slide itself is lined with metal, but the rest of the head is not.

This flute represents an entirely different ideal of the instrument to that which the Nicholson is aspiring to - whilst the Nicholson aims for loudness and brilliance, this type of flute retains much more of the soft tone of earlier instruments. This approach seems to have been favoured particularly in France. Nonetheless, this flute is still very different from those of the 18th century... it very much favours the higher register - all the semi-tones of the third octave up to a''' can be played clearly, precisely, and with no problems on this instrument, but persuading the lower notes of the bottom octave to sound at all clearly can be a problem (admittedly these problems with the lower octave may in some measure be due to maintenance issues... but I think there is little doubt that this flute was built with the intention of its being played mainly in the higher register).

The barrel of this flute (the part of the head below the tuning joint) had cracked through and been professionally repaired before I bought it - the repair was made by drilling and inserting pins to close the crack as well as glueing it. As is usual in such cases with old flutes, as soon as I tried to play the instrument the barrel cracked again. There are now several cracks in the wood of the head, and the ivory rings at the joint of the tuning slide are also cracked. Unfortunately this is almost inevitable when such thin wood is combined with metal inserts. I have done my best to patch the cracks with Nu-skin and to lubricate and pad joints with the waxy variety of cork grease, in order to try and keep everything airtight. The keys of this flute are fairly modern in design, presumably intended for pads not unlike those used on modern woodwinds. I have not replaced the pads, which appear to be quite old, although I have oiled them in an attempt to soften them and make the seals better.

Unlike the Nicholson, one could to some degree play 18th century repertoire on this flute, especially later 18th century material, where the bias towards the higher register would be less of a problem. In practice I mainly tend to play 19th century pieces on it. This flute, for example, produces a very different take on Giuliani's Gran Duetto Concertante from that offered by the Nicholson... and one that is probably more suited to blending with an accompanying guitar.

If you have any questions or comments, or related experiences you'd like to share, or whatever... email me at xorys@idirect.ca.

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