Ribas's Improved Flute



In the Edinburgh University Collection, we find a most interesting Pask flute - a Ribas's Improved.  It's marked: (unicorn head) / PASK / 8 LOWTHER ARCADE / STRAND / LONDON. / PATENT / RIBAS'S / IMPROVED.  Like the others we've seen so far, it seems to fit into the 1842-47 period.

It too is a 9-key, but not the same 9 keys we met earlier.  The extra key this time is a D trill, operated by R1.  Note that pressing the D trill appears to open the C key, for extra venting.  Note also the Bb is no longer the typical English down-the-side key, but has been put more "in-line" with the thumb.  The G# key and its mountings are missing from this flute, but it's hole can be seen just to the right of the third finger hole.  It presumably followed the German angled approach.

This flute is longer than the others, at 655mm.  Of course, this is not a useful measurement, as it includes parts of the instrument not involved in its acoustical operation.

Ribas's Improved, by John Pask.  Edinburgh University Collection of Musical Instruments.  
Image T. McGee, 2002.

Apart from the slightly unusual keying arrangements, the most significant improvement was a bigger bore than those commonly in use.  Note the apparent lack of a serial number.

Who was Ribas?

To find out about José Maria del Carmen Ribas and his Improved flute, we go to the biographies section of Rockstro's A TREATISE ON THE FLUTE, published in London in 1890...

919. RIBAS (JOSÉ MARIA DEL CARMEN) was born on July I6th, 1796, at Burgos, a town of Old Castile. He was the son of a band-master in a Spanish infantry regiment, and under his father's tuition he learned at a very early age to play the flute, the hautboy and the clarionet. He served for some years as a clarionet-player in the band of the regiment, and during the Peninsular war, having been taken prisoner by the French, he was conveyed to the island of Fünen, whence he was rescued by the British. He afterwards served under Wellington, and was present at the battle of Toulouse. On the termination of the war, Ribas left the army and settled in Oporto, where his father then resided. At that time he began to study under Parado, a Portuguese flute-player of great merit, and he soon became celebrated both in Spain and Portugal, as a performer on the flute and the clarionet. He was at one time first flutist at the Opera in Lisbon, and besides many other important positions that he occupied while a young man, he was first clarionetist in the orchestra of the Philharmonic Society of Oporto, the members of which presented him with a diamond scarf-pin.

Towards the close of 1825, or at the beginning of the following year, he incurred the displeasure of certain priests of Oporto, who posted his name, as that of a recalcitrant, on the church doors. Not choosing to submit to this indignity, he left the country and came to England. In a Sketch of the state of Music in London, published in The Quarterly Musical Magazine of 1926, appears the following notice: " Mr. Ribas, of Lisbon, was introduced, and took the station of first clarionet during the season. "As a matter of fact, he never was the leading clarionet-player in London, but he soon gained a good position as a performer on that instrument, as well as on the flute, and he as one of the very few who ever played solos in public on the flute and the clarionet during the same evening. In 1835 he was engaged as " second flute " at the King's Theatre, then under the management of Laporte. 

On the death of Charles Nicholson, in 1837, Ribas was appointed principal. Not long after this he became the leading orchestral flute-player in London, and that position he retained until 1851, when, after an extremely successful " farewell concert," on August 7th in that year, he finally left England.

His intention, on quitting this country, was never to allow himself to be heard again in public, wishing, as he said, to retire before the slightest falling off should be perceptible in his performance. He did not, however, immediately carry out that intention, for he made a tour through Spain and Portugal, giving concerts in some of the principal towns, as he had been accustomed to do at intervals during his twenty-five years residence in London. It should be mentioned that during one of these visits, Queen Isabella of Spain presented to him a diamond brooch. In 1853 he once more settled in Oporto and occupied his time in giving lessons on the flute and the concertina.

If Ribas was less celebrated as a soloist than as an orchestral player, it was not owing to any deficiency of talent manifested by him in the former capacity, but because his orchestral playing was so superlatively fine that it eclipsed his performance as a solo player. In his time the work of the principal instrumentalists in the opera orchestra was much more arduous than at present, for that was the epoch when the ballet was in its zenith, and the charming dancers Taglioni, Cerito, Carlotta Grisi, and Duvemay, were as highly esteemed as the illustrious singers Giulia Grisi, Persiani, Rubini and Lablache. The ballet music of those days abounded in long and important solos for the principal instruments, and artistic interpretation was as necessary for the music to the elegant pas seul as for the delicate obbligato accompaniment to the voice. It need hardly be said that Ribas, finished musician as he was, never failed to make the most of his opportunities. I have often heard him at Her Majesty's Theatre, playing the most difficult passages with consummate ease, and with such a clear, full tone that not a note was lost. In the matter of fullness and power of tone throughout the compass of his instrument, Ribas was perhaps unequalled. He was one of the first in England, to play the celebrated staccato solo in the Scherzo of Mendelssohn's "Midsummer's Night's Dream " music. The composer, who conducted, was so pleased with the performance of Ribas that he asked him to play the passage three times, at the rehearsal, saying that he had no idea it could be made so effective.

"Ribas's Improved Flute"

Ribas played the old-fashioned large-holed flute, not because he failed to recognise the advantages of the new system, but because he saw plainly that he was too old, as well as too busy, to be able to change his fingering with any prospect of success. He made several modifications in his instrument, with a view to improving its intonation and its power of tone. For the sake of the latter he greatly enlarged the upper part of the bore; he also added to the thickness of the wood, thus enabling the tone to be increased in power with less risk of the loss of its full character. 

Throughout his long and successful career, Ribas was highly respected, as well as admired, by all who knew him; he had, indeed, a most happy talent for making friends. He died at Oporto in July, 1861.

I am much indebted to the kindness of Madame Ribas (née Scott) and of my friend Mr. James Ramsay Dow, for most of the foregoing particulars. It is not a little surprising that the name of Jose Maria Ribas is not so much as mentioned in any Dictionary of Musicians, and I am, on that account, especially pleased to have an opportunity of paying a tribute to the memory of this worthy gentleman and excellent artist.

Ribas' Compositions

920. The principal published compositions of Ribas are as follows:

A Duet for Flute and hautboy, with Pianoforte accompaniment.

Adagio and Polonaise
; Fantasia on "God save the King; Idem on the Spanish Air " El Sereni "; Idem on "The Swiss Boy"; Idem on " Mary of Castle Cary"; Idem on "La Cachucha"; Idem on the "Alpesanger´s Marsch"; Eighth Fantasia.

Three grand Duets
; Eighteen original Duets; Forty-eight Duets; Grand Duet.

Cavatina di concerto.

Studio di Modulazione; Capriccio on six National airs.

Ribas also composed a Concerto for flute and Orchestra, which has not been published, and two other Fantasias for flute with pianoforte.


Thanks to the Edinburgh University Collection of Musical Instruments.

On to Pask defends the old flute, or

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