Plastic 1-keyed flutes (repro by Aulos of Japan, after Stanesby Junior and ??)

These are, so far as I know, the only "mass-produced" 'baroque' flutes available... and they are not all that "mass-produced" at that. Unlike the recorder, which has caught on to such a degree, especially as an educational instrument, that plastic recorders can be bought for next to nothing, and even serviceable wooden ones can be bought cheaply, pre-Boehm flutes have never really made a 'come back' to the point of wide acceptance. Really, it's quite remarkable, almost astounding, how common the recorder has become today, when you consider that at one point it was almost extinct, more of a museum piece even that the 1-keyed flute. But the traverso hasn't reached, and almost certainly never will reach, anything like the same position. Which is why, whilst you can buy a plastic recorder for $3, and you can buy quite a good plastic recorder for $30, your cheapest option for a 1-keyed flute is pretty much the dark Aulos illustrated above, which sells for around $300. The other instrument illustrated is Aulos' reproduction of an Ivory flute by Stanesby Junior (an English maker who flourished in the first half of the 18th century). The original of this flute is in the possession of the fine Japanese flautist Masahiro Arita.

Personally I would suggest that these are not intruments to be sniffed at. You could do a lot worse. Indeed, the cheaper Aulos (the Stanesby copy sells for closer to $600) is what I would unhesitatingly recommend to someone wanting to commence experimenting with the baroque flute - unless the person in question had unlimited money to spend, and was sure of their committment. The cheaper Aulos is, it is true, not quite such a refined instrument as a good hand-made wooden repro... there is a certain rawness to its tone, not dissimilar to that found with plastic recorders. But, on the other hand, it speaks easily, and plays in tune without forcing - which, frankly, is more than can be said for quite a lot of the flutes on the market, antique or repro. Indeed, this brings back memories - my own first 'baroque' flute was a repro of a Cahusac by a maker whose name I (perhaps mercifully... perhaps there's something even Freudian about it) forget now. I fell in love with it in a recorder shop... and it did have many of the charms these flutes can offer - it looked beautiful, made of dark-wood and ivory, and it had a soft sighing voice. Unfortunately the darned thing was next to impossible to actually play in tune, and I spent a year or so struggling with it, before I was fortunate enough to try other flutes and blessedly realized that my failure wasn't simply the result of my own incompetence. In fact, the next flute I actually bought, if I recall correctly, was the Aulos Stanesby copy - and the contrast between playing this and struggling with the Cahusac copy was like night and day. The Stanesby copy is not a bad flute at all, by any measure. It doesn't have a raw, 'plastic'-like tone at all... in fact it has a rather soft well-focussed tone. It's not made of any kind of plastic I've seen used in recorders - it's very heavy for its size. I wouldn't say it plays exactly like ivory (which is what the original is made of)... I've had the opportunity to play several ivory flutes, and there's something a little more slippery and liquid about their tone. The best I can say is that this copy plays like something between a very dense wood (such as ebony) and a ceramic (although I'm somewhat hampered in making this comparison by the fact that although I've had the opportunity to play several ceramic flutes, none of them were, in fact, up to much).

Anyway... despite the fact that they seem very expensive compared to recorders, I still think that both these intruments are actually very good value for money. Another asset of them is precisely that, not being made of wood, you can play them without needing to coddle them - you can pick them up, tootle something, and put them down again, without having to worry about whether you need to swab them out or oil the bore. And you can carry them round without having to worry about climate changes, humidity variations, etc. These characteristics mean that my own examples get a lot of play - for one thing, I always use one of these when I want an instrument for playing snatches as I read or edit scores.

The cheaper, dark Aulos plays in A=440, and has a rather open, quite loud tone for a baroque flute, which probably makes it as suitable as anything if you need to play a 1-key flute with modern instruments. It can be reined in to play quite delicately also though. The Stanesby copy plays at A=415 and blends well with other period intruments. As I say, I'll use either for reading excerpts of all sorts of things (they both handle well over the whole expected range of a 1-keyed flute). When it comes to actually performing entire pieces, I tend to associate the Stanesby rather with the middle of the century - J.S. Bach (well... it's pretty doubtful if all the flute sonatas generally attributed were really written by J.S), later Telemann, C.P.E.Bach...

The only problems I've had with these flutes were with the key of the Stanesby copy. When I first got it, after a month or two of (fairly intense) playing the spring on the key gave out... it just sort of succumbed to metal fatigue or something and didn't close any more. If I remember correctly, I inspected it... but it seemed to be rather an odd kind of spring - not a standard flute-key spring nor something I'd venture to try and replicate myself. So... I took the flute back to the store I bought it from. And... the good news was that Aulos fixed it without charge (although really, so they should have done, given that the intrument was fairly expensive, and I hadn't abused it in any way). The bad news was that they required it to be sent to the main office of their distributor, which was 3,000 miles away, and it was gone for something like two months. When it returned it was, in fact, fitted with a leaf-spring on the key, much like a standard key-spring on any 1-keyed flute, and not at all like the spring that was originally fitted (which was more in the nature of a modern wire spring). The sequel to this story, is that just a few days after the flute came back from its two-month trip to have the spring fixed, the pad fell off the key. But I was darned if I was going to send it away again... so that was in fact the first replacement pad I ever made from the leather of an old glove... and it's been in place ever since.

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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