Arthur Haswell Flute Repairs
Rudall Carte was the Rolls-Royce of flutemakers. Here you will find a short guide to the company, its craftsmen, and its flutes, plus reports from players who use Rudall Carte wooden flutes as their everyday instruments.
The London company Rudall Carte produced some of the finest Boehm-system flutes of all time. Today the name is largely associated with wood flutes, but the company also produced instruments with bodies of ebonite, silver, platinum, and gold.
Throughout Britain and the Commonwealth Rudall Carte was the natural flute of choice for any professional or serious amateur player. Cartes were popular in mainland Europe, and also the USA until import tariffs in the 1920s killed that trade (but protected the American flutemakers).
In the Rudall Carte workshop there was no mass-production or even rationalisation such as in other manufacturers of ‘hand-made’ instruments: each flute was the work of one craftsman. Each maker had his own style within the parameters of the Carte design. Thus every Rudall Carte flute is unique and irreplaceable, with playing characteristics all its own.
Rudall Carte wood flutes were available in two price categories. The higher grade flutes have Sterling silver keys and were the work of the established top makers. Lower grade flutes have nickel (German silver) keys, often silver-plated; they were the work of a wider range of makers, and some can play as well as higher grade flutes.
For these reasons it is essential to try a Rudall Carte in order to assess its qualities and find out how it matches your own personal playing style.
In the Victorian English-speaking world (apart from the USA) many orchestras and ensembles played at Old Philharmonic Pitch, around A=452 Hz. Some of the best Rudall Cartes of the time were made to play at this 'High Pitch'. Then in 1896 the New Philharmonic Pitch of A=439 was introduced (later raised to International Pitch of A=440). Gradually orchestras and ensembles changed over.
Players found their High Pitch flutes could not be played at this new Low Pitch, and either abandoned them or returned them to Rudall Carte to have the keywork transplanted onto a new Low Pitch body. These transplants remain some of the best of Carte flutes.
Anyone interested in buying a Rudall Carte should note that if High Pitch flutes were playable at modern pitch this costly and time-consuming transplanting of mechanisms would not have been necessary.
THE RUDALL CARTE FLUTEMAKERS
The best craftsmen were given the job of making the finest flutes. In most cases not much is known about these flutemakers, yet their names live on in the quality of their work.
There were Englishmen such as Christopher Holland, Harry West, Edwin Ounsted, Albert Atkins, Frederick Handke, and the Hindes father and son. Other fine makers were coaxed from the Continent: Henri Schumacher of Strasbourg, Henri Nivarlet, Augustus Kurzendorfer, and Eugene Goulliere. After the Berners Street workshop closed in 1958, a younger generation of flutemakers that included Harry Seeley, Roger (Angus) Harris, Ewen McDougall, and Albert Cooper continued the tradition either working on their own or at Flutemakers Guild.
A superb concert flute made in 1958, just before the closure of the old Rudall Carte workshop at Berners Street, in London's West End. Made by Fred Handke, then aged 69, this was probably this great maker's last at the end of his career.
Although nominally a lower grade nickel-key model, this flute is the work of Albert Atkins, the chief piccolo maker, and is wonderful!
Maurice Heugen is Principal Flute of the Zürich Opera Orchestra. His Carte was made by Nivarlet in 1908.
I just wanted to tell you that I play frequently on my Rudall Carte flute. In fact this afternoon I shall play Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito on it. I did Beethoven 9 on it, which gave me a real kick! Verdi's Macbeth also worked great on it. The blend with the other wind instruments cannot be equalled even by gold in my experience.
Ian Reynolds studied at the Royal Academy of Music under Gareth Morris, and spent most of his career performing full-time with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Having played a hand-made American silver flute professionally, on retirement in 2015 he bought Rudall Carte 4669 made by Nivarlet in 1911 to reacquaint himself with the wooden flutes on which he was trained.
I had to come out of retirement today to play a memorial concert for our former Head of Music, Guy Woolfenden, in the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford. Guy wrote fabulous flute parts and I spent most of the 1970s performing his scores every evening. Holy Trinity is a huge space and although I`ve done lots of concerts there over the years and know the acoustic well I was a bit nervy about how the Rudall Carte would go on its first outing. I also only had a couple of days to practise after eight months off so was not match fit by a long shot.
Anyway, I`m warming up and our oboist comes in and comes up to me and says that it sounds amazing at the other end of the church, which was a good start. The Nivarlet has a huge voice and is a great flute to really open up on. There is an unfathomable depth to explore and my only regret is that I never had the chance to use it 'on the job' regularly and push it to the limits. My silver flute was all brightness and edge by comparison.
The orchestra was composed of all of my former friends and colleagues who knew my playing intimately from days of old and everyone was very complimentary about the Nivarlet. They were also struck by how beautiful it looked and what a lineage it must have had – I introduced it by saying that Stravinsky was composing The Rite of Spring and World War I was still three years off when 4669 was made.
The intonation was spot on and our oboist remarked on how well together everything was.
I mentioned this before, but the intonation of that flute is what I expect it to be, based on the way Gareth Morris taught me to blow. My silver flute’s scale never seemed so logical and in twenty five years I was never quite as settled on it as I was on 4669 right from the start.
I`m rambling on a bit but I just wanted you to know that I think that your faith in the old Rudall Carte makers is not misplaced and these instruments are the best out there.
I once said that 4669 is far and away the best flute I`ve ever played on, and nothing in my first road-test of it today has made me want to change my mind – quite the opposite!
WHAT MODERN PLAYERS SAY
Ann Unwin plays and teaches in north-east England. She used a modern Japanese flute before falling in love with a Rudall Carte wooden flute made by Atkins. Later she acquired further Cartes by Nivarlet and West, one of them an 1867-Patent system.
'I was taught at Cardiff University by Roger Armstrong (BBCWelshSO), a remarkably self-effacing gentleman and truly inspirational teacher who taught how to think about playing instead of handing answers on a plate or creating a clone. This invaluable teaching gave me the skills that, many years later, allowed me to be open minded in my approach to the Rudall Cartes.'
Playing a Rudall Carte is a journey of discovery, a seeking out of what the instrument holds. It has made me think about flutes differently. It has opened up possibilities that I didn't even know existed. I find that I need to work with these instruments in a way I never really did on my modern silver flute. I can’t impose my ideas on them, it’s a partnership, and I have to be flexible. The reward comes in subtleties of articulation and tone colour, and a depth and focus of sound that I find hard to replicate on silver.
My Nivarlet, for instance, is a subtle flute that leaps between registers very nicely and is easy to articulate on. Things that I can’t play well on other flutes (including silver) suddenly seem right and musical on him.
This acceptance of the instrument’s character has enabled me to revisit technical exercises and studies and enjoy discovering what each of my Rudall Cartes is capable of. I only occasionally play on a modern silver flute now, but when I do it seems to lack soul and depth.
There’s something special, hard to quantify, about playing an old handmade instrument, the work of a great craftsman. They are beautiful to look at as well as to play. They are not big and brash, but speak with their own voices, and, after you play them for a time a bond develops. So, yes, these Rudall Carte flutes are great – I have learned so much from them!
At the time it was a big surprise to fall in love with a Rudall Carte, but I have been rewarded with first one flute and then others that are a delight to pick up and are always interesting to play.
All these Rudall Cartes were prepared by and bought from us.
With thanks to Robert Bigio, the acknowledged authority on Rudall Carte & Co., for help and support. Also to Mike MacMahon, player on Carte Boehm and 1867-Patent system flutes, for editing and information on the makers.
One piece thinned body to low B - a special Rudall Carte made by West in 1929.
For testimonials by Rudall Carte players click HERE.
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This text is copyright 2015 by Arthur Haswell.
I have written it in good faith to inform fellow Carte enthusiasts.
Please do not copy and paste it to a sales advert.