Rudall & Rose No 519 - early success

I had a surprise opportunity to measure up Rudall & Rose No 519, owned by Rob Boyle in Brisbane, Queensland.  This is of particular interest as it comes so early in the Rudall & Rose range, just as the new company was approaching full productivity.  

Being on the road, time was severely limited and I didn't have all my usual conveniences at hand, so you'll understand if images and measurements aren't up to full standard, and some matters could not be tested.

About the flute

This is a large holed instrument, in ebony and sterling silver.  It has the thin elegance of Clementi's Nicholson's Improved, without the bold visible statements.  The stopper shaft is ivory and terminates in a tiny ivory ball, visible peeking from the cap in the image below.  The inner slide appears to be solid sterling silver, rather than the nickel plated brass we see more often in later instruments.

The head follows Nicholson's style; there being no ring at the top end.  The highly decorative keys and rings are an obviously noteworthy feature.  From the serial number, I'd estimate its date as around 1826.

The inscription reads:

Rudall & Rose
? Tavistock Street
Covent Garden
London

519

The uncertainty in the address is probably 11, given the serial number.

The keys

This close-up of the Bb and upper c keys show some of the interesting decorative features.  Note:

  • the backs of the keycups
  • the key shafts
  • decoration on the base of the touches
  • the lined slots
  • the decorative cast ring

The bright patches are the sterling silver showing through where the metal touches fingers and the case.  The remaining dark is silver oxide.

Upper c and Bb keys
The lined slots are attractive, but, in the light of experience, not always a blessing.  The tightly fitted channel resists shrinkage and can induce cracks.  There is some probable evidence of this on this flute.  The small amount of clearance normally provided for the key-shafts on flutes without the liners offers usually enough scope for natural wood movement.  Jamming of the keys also provides an early warning if that clearance is inadequate.  
A peek under the keys proves interesting.  From left to right we see:
  • the cork dot key silencer
  • a screw securing a spring
  • the slot liner
  • the purse-pad style key hole
The cork dot is a very effective silencer and consists simply of a cylinder of cork set into a hole in the wood.  They are usually arranged to coincide with the spring rivet on the back of the key

This flute follows Nicholsonian practice of double springing.  A spring-steel spring is secured to the wood by a screw.  A hardened brass spring is secured to the back of the key by a rivet.  The combination of the two can help provide a very "snappy" action to the springing.

The hole is of the style designed for "purse-pads".  These are simply balls of wool stuffed into a fine leather bag.  On this flute, they have been replaced by modern card-backed clarinet pads, which cannot find an adequate seat to close reliably.

The long F key is currently not fitted, as it has broken just a bit on the touch side of the axle hole.  The block is unscathed.  While some have queried the strength of wooden mounting blocks, it seems one comes across more broken keys than blocks.

The foot keys are quite unusual.  The visible cups follow the style of the rest of the flute.  Attached to them by threaded shafts are brass cones closing into conical perforated plates, in the manner of Richard Potter's patented pewter plugs.

The low C and C# keys.

Playing qualities

With the flute in less than full repair, it was difficult to gain a full appreciation of the instrument's playing qualities.  But on the rare moments one could convince the inappropriate pads to seat adequately it showed real class.  I look forward to an opportunity to try it again when the pads are replaced.

Intonation

Being away from home meant I haven't been able to put my full resources into establishing the tuning characteristics of #519.  In addition, leakage through the ill-fitting pads rendered the low notes less than reliable.  But a quick check with a portable tuning meter suggests a very acceptable result in the A440 region.  The low octave is essentially in excellent tune apart from a slightly flat upper c note, which also affects c#.  The second octave tends a bit sharp in the G to A region, probably suggesting that 440 is not quite its best pitch - not altogether surprising given the period.  The C6 shown is using the key - a better result is probably available on the cross-fingering.  It reflects the flatness of C5.  The mid foot-notes, D5 and Eb5 are well placed to bridge the gap between the first two octaves.

Flat foot?

Now on flutes from that period one expects to find a very flat foot - notes between C4 and D4 up to 60 cents flat of the low octave notes.  But we notice they are flat, but not that flat.  Close inspection of the tenon of the right hand section suggests that the section may have been shortened to reduce flat foot.  Yet, if so, it would make it originally longer than others I have data for.  I couldn't tell for sure and by how much without removing the thread lapping - this is something that will have to await a better opportunity.  

Third octave?

Again, time meant I couldn't explore the third octave in depth.  But enough to say I could play up to C7 (C'''' in flute terms), an impressive range for this period.

Conclusions and Acknowledgements

A lovely flute all round, illustrating why Rudall & Rose so quickly and thoroughly came to prominence in the 1820's.

A thank-you to flute owner, Rob Boyle, for letting me measure and photograph the flute and publish this page.  A further thank-you to Melbourne flute player Andrew Le Blanc for making the connection.

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