1-keyed flutes (antique by Goulding & D'Almaine / repro by P.Gruar)

Here are a couple more 1-keyed flutes. These both fit pretty much into the standard four-section, 1-key 'baroque' flute stereo-type. The antique is marked "Goulding & D'Almaine, Soho Square, London". The company, originally founded by George Goulding in 1787, went through various partnerships. They were apparently at the Soho Square address from 1811 to 1834, and the "Goulding & D'Almaine" mark (without "& co.") would probably place this flute towards the end of that period. Despite being made, then, somewhere around 1830, it conforms pretty much in every way to the stereo-type of the 'baroque' flute. I bought it from a music store just near the railway station in Leicester, England (which is the town where I was born... I was back visiting family at the time). Unfortunately, the third section (the one immediately above the foot) is not original... presumably the original was irreparably damaged or lost at some point, and this section was made as a replacement (quite some time ago, by the look of it) - this sort of thing is quite common with old flutes.

The Gruar reproduction is in fact very similar in many respects to the Goulding & D'Almaine antique. I bought it from the flute shop on Baker Street in London (I think it's just called "The Flute Shop", but I could be wrong). It was intended for my daughter to learn the baroque flute on (she was playing the modern flute in school at the time), but she never really got much into it (she doesn't play woodwinds anymore - but she's a better musician than I am). I have no idea who "P. Gruar", the maker, was, nor do I know what original this was modelled on. It's characteristics appear rather English to me.

Both these flutes are quite playable... although I had to do some work on the Goulding to get it to that point. As with most old flutes that haven't been played for a while, the cork needed replacing - I just use corks from a wine-making shop, chosen for best fit, then sanded a bit, as necessary, and cut to length. I'm not too sure exactly what the approved procedure for determining cork placement is, either... basically I just fiddle around using trial and error until I can get notes to overblow in tune... if the three d's, bottom, middle and top, all come naturally an octave apart, then the cork placement should be ok, I mostly reckon. I also had to rewind the joints, that is, put new thread on the tenons, and put a new pad on the key. For flat keys like this I use glove-leather - literally... I keep old pairs of soft-leather gloves, and cut pieces from them to pad the keys. Unfortunately, the head was also split... a condition all too common with old wooden flutes. Constant changes in moisture content really play havoc with old wood... and moving from one climate to another and dealing with modern heating and air-conditioning systems certainly don't help. Sadly, keeping old flutes from cracking and warping seems to be a constant battle. Drying them well after playing, and oiling the bores regularly are necessary precautions... and with modern reproductions, these generally seem to be sufficient (touch wood). But for some reason antiques seem to have a harder time... and essentially every old flute that I've played myself, and almost every one that I've seen being played, has had problems with warping and / or cracking. It almost makes one wonder if it would be better not to touch these flutes, and just to keep them as museum pieces. But then, many of the instruments I've seen in museums seem to have fared little better... and it would seem such a shame to not give these instruments a chance to sing.

Anyway, I digress (not to say wander...) I don't know exactly what other people do about cracks in woodwinds. I've come across a number of approaches. One is to attempt to 'repair' the cracks, with glueing, pinning, etc. Whilst it may work for newer intruments, I really wouldn't recommend this for old flutes - whenever I've seen this done, the flute has simply cracked again in another place. A suggestion I've come across in several books is to use bees wax to fill the cracks, stopping the passage of air without imposing a rigid repair that will reintroduce tensions. I imagine this would be somewhat feasible, although getting a real air seal to hold would seem to be a problem. The approach I use was suggested to me by a professional player of old flutes... this involves the use of a product called "Nu-Skin". It's actually rather hard to find, and I have a little stock of it. It is made for medicinal purposes, specifically as a kind of "liquid bandage" for applying to wounds, especially sensitive ones, such as burns. It is applied as a liquid, and rapidly dries to form an air-tight but flexible coating, which appears to be largely chemically inert (well... I've been using it for years, and I've never seen any sign of it decaying or reacting with anything). One slightly odd thing about it is that it seems to feature oil-of-cloves as one of its ingredients, I would assume for anti-septic, or perhaps analgesic, purposes, which results in a very marked and characteristic odour to flutes which have been 'patched' with it... hence I will always strongly associate the smell of cloves with the repair of old flutes.

So, suitably recorked, rewound, repadded, oiled and nu-skinned, the Goulding is quite playable. And the Gruar has so far had no difficulties of that nature. They both play quite accurately in A=440, which is perhaps a little suspicious in the case of the antique - but then I know it is not in entirely original condition anyhow. Neither of these flutes is quite as light and agile to play as my Rottenburgh repro by Jean-Luc Boudreau , but one of the nice things about playing old flutes is that each has its own quite individual character. I play a variety of pieces on these flutes, mostly from the mid to late 18th century... I probably tend to avoid pieces with challenging upper-register work, since that isn't really the forté of these flutes - I'd rather enjoy their tone in something that isn't too much of a strain. The Gruar actually seems to have improved in tone quite a bit since I got it... it's dated 1986, and I think the years since I bought it have given it a chance to mature a bit. I don't really know though - the Boudreau was made for me, and sounded fine from when I first got it... and I have seen some suggestions that the tone of wooden instruments may actually tend to decline over time.

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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