A pair of early 18th C French 1-keyed flutes (repro by Felix Raudonikas)

This is a matched pair of flutes made by the Russian maker Felix Raudonikas. I'm not entirely sure on what original they are modelled, although it seems quite likely to have been the Petersburgh Hotteterre, since they certainly look like pictures I have seen of it, and this (formerly Leningrad) was, I believe, Raudonikas' home, at least for some time. If they are modelled on the Hotteterre in the Petersburgh institute, then the head-cap has been considerably simplified here - the original has a large, curvy ivory head-cap, mimicking the shape of the foot and the centre joining piece. I don't imagine the shape of the head-cap would have a great effect on the sound... and I've never seen a picture of an early 18th century French flute with a head-cap as extremely simple as these.

Whatever the exact original, there seems no doubt that these flutes are based on flutes from early 18 century, perhaps even very late 17th century, France. This was, it seems likely, the time and place that gave birth to the one-keyed 'baroque' flute. The flute was divided into sections, which permitted more accurate reaming of the bore. The bore was changed from cynlindrical to tapering, becoming smaller away from the head. And, most obviously, a closed key was added to permit playing of D# (and Eb - not exactly the same note in anything other than modern 'equal temperament') without the need for half-holing.

I was sent these flutes on approval from the Early Music Shop Of New England, together with a reproduction of a Hotteterre in ebony by Roderick Cameron. The Cameron proved to be a big disappointment (although the staff at the Early Music Shop, always charming, courteous, and completely honest, had warned me of the problems) - I know Roderick Cameron to be a fine maker, and I have had the opportunity to play, albeit briefly, some splendid instruments by him. But this particular Hotteterre reproduction had, I am quite sure, been damaged and inexpertly repaired, with the result that it did not play properly at all... its voice was all wrong, and it was essentially impossible to play in tune. On the other hand, I quite fell in love with this pair... so much so that I ended up buying them both, giving me the ideal instruments on which to play all those flute duets left by Hotteterre, Monteclair, Mouret and others of the period, which would doubtless have been written with instruments just such as these in mind (as long as I can find someone to play with...) It's perhaps just as well that these flutes are so well-matched for playing duets, since I haven't really been able to play them with any other instruments - I'm not quite sure what their reference pitch is meant to be... to me they seem to play about 50 cents sharp of A=392, i.e. about midway between A=392 and A=415, or one and a half semi-tones below modern standard pitch (A=440).

These flutes are made from rosewood, with one being made of slightly denser wood than the other, giving it a slightly softer, fuller tone (as opposed to the slightly sharper and lighter tone of the other). The fittings are, I suspect, made from mammoth ivory, which was, apparently available for such purposes at one time in the former Soviet Union.

These instruments are, naturally, ideal for exploring the works of early 18th century French composers, who left quite a lot of material for the flute (or at least suitable for the flute - exact instrumentation is often not specified). There are sonata and suites and the like. But there are also quite a number of books of duets and solo pieces, airs and brunettes and the like, which were presumably intended for amateur players. Couperin's 'concerts' are another set of pieces I particularly like to essay with these flutes... although I have to turn to my computer for accompaniment (at least it doesn't mind retuning). It's interesting to sometimes try and play later pieces on these flutes also. No doubt many people in the 18th century would have owned such flutes and continued to play them late into the century. It certainly becomes a little more strained though, with much later repertoire. These flutes have a beautiful soft tone, and they are very suited to the sighings and graceful dancing of the French pieces from early in the century. But they are not as flexible in the higher register as later instruments, and their voices offer delicacy and character more than total consistency - which is to say that the tone colour of different notes varies even more noticeably on these instruments than it does on later 'baroque' flutes (which always vary more than classical flutes, which in turn vary more than the modern flute)... a characteristic which seems to fit quite well with much of the music from their time and place, but less well with material from later in the century, or drawing more from other musical traditions (even Couperin's pieces 'in the Italian style' still seem very French...)

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

Back to main Flutes Page

Back to main Early Music Page