Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co - the Eight Key Flute Years

A  page in honour of some of the finest makers of eight key flutes

A Brief History

George Rudall was born in 1781 and died in 1871.  He left the army in or around 1820 and took up teaching the flute in London.  At first, Rudall supplied his students with instruments bearing his name, but these were actually made for him by the flutemaker Willis who resided in Clement's Inn.  In 1821 Rudall formed a partnership with Edinburgh flute maker John Mitchell Rose and in 1850 Richard Carte joined the firm.  The various combinations worked from a series of addresses, which are useful in dating instruments.  These are:


Geo. Rudall (Willis fecit) 5 Clement's Inn c 1820-21
Rudall & Rose (4 petalled flower) 11 Tavistock St c 1821-27
  15 Piazza, Covent Garden c 1827-37
  1 Tavistock St, Covent Garden c 1838-47
  38 Southhampton St c 1847-50
Rudall Rose & Co 38 Southhampton St c 1851-52
Rudall Rose Carte & Co 100 New Bond St c 1852-54
  100 New Bond and 20 Charing Cross c 1854-57
  20 Charing Cross c 1858-71
Rudall, Carte & Co (Ltd) 23 Berner's St, Oxford St c1872-1955


The information above is largely taken from Langwill's Index of Musical Wind Instrument Makers.  Rudall, Carte & Co was bought out by Boosey & Hawkes Ltd in 1955.

The company did not limit themselves to flutes but were involved particularly in the later years with a wide range of wind and brass instruments.  Nor were their flutes limited to eight key models, indeed, Rudall & Rose were appointed by Theobold Boehm to manufacture his newly designed instrument in England.  This development however is to be taken up by another writer.

For our purposes, we can assume that interest in the eight key flute as a "fine music" instrument started to wane from around 1850; certainly there is evidence that few eight key instruments were made after 1870.  While occasional instruments were made up to and beyond the turn of the century, the period 1820 to 1860 probably encompass the eight key's early golden years.

The Historical Context

It's interesting to look at what else was happening in the world during that period.  In England, Stephenson invents his "Rocket", Peel his police force, child labour and slavery were abolished, and the Great Exhibition celebrates the greatness of Victorian Britain.  The same period in America saw Indians removed to the reservations, the Battle of the Alamo, the Californian gold rush, Lincoln becoming President and the leadup to the Civil War.  In the still very young colony of Australia, exploration, settling of the interior of the country, end to convict transportation and gold were some of the main features of the period.

In Ireland, the failure of the potato crop over a number of years caused the death of over a million people from starvation, even though the country continued to export food in large amounts to England.  Those that could fled to America and Australia, significantly influencing attitudes and the folk culture in those developing nations.  In other parts of the world, we saw Greek and Belgian independence, The Great Trek in South Africa, wars in Afghanistan, China and the Crimea, continuing social upheaval in France, the opening up of Japan and mutiny in India.

It was a rich period for literature and the visual arts with Shelley, the Bronte sisters, Constable, Delacroix, Victor Hugo, Pushkin, Balzac, Hans Christian Andersen, Dickens, Gogol, Turner, Dumas, Poe, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Millet, Melville (Moby Dick), Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin), Emily Dickinson, Longfellow and Tennyson.  In music, the period includes the work of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Berlioz, Chopin, Verdi, Wagner and Brahms.

The Flute Context

The turn of the 19th century saw the flute reach the eight key stage with the invention of the "long" F key.  The instrument yet retained much of the characteristics of the earlier one key or baroque flute.  The small and fairly uniformly sized fingerholes provided a weak although moderately uniform tone throughout the instrument; indeed many of the baroque cross-fingerings could still be used successfully.  Tuning though was not good, and the volume of tone available was falling a long way behind what the larger orchestras and concert venues of the day called for.

Credit for popularising larger holed flutes goes to the Nicholsons - father and son, performers and teachers - who were both also proponents of a hard, reedy tone.  Flutes marked "C Nicholson Improved" were made by Prowse and sold by Clementi, even though Nicholson himself preferred flutes by other makers, notably Potter and Astor.

But, in an interesting way, Nicholson was also responsible for the end of the eight key period.  Boehm, visiting London in 1831 was stunned by the remarkable power that Nicholson could achieve on his large holed eight key instrument.  He returned to Germany to start work on a completely revised flute.  By 1847 the new instrument was perfected and slowly but surely took over from the eight key.

The old eight key flutes became a common find in junk shops, and were eagerly sought after by Irish musicians, most of whom would not have been able to afford them previously.  A new life for the eight key instrument was emerging.  By the 1970's it was becoming hard to find enough old flutes to satisfy the revival of interest in Irish music.  Interest in making eight key flutes again appears to have emerged at around the same time in countries around the world.  There is an opportunity and a need to chronicle the revival while the makers who started it are still alive.  This might well be the subject of a future study ...

Flute Making

We seem to know little of how flutes of the early to mid 19th century were manufactured.  We can probably assume that human muscle provided the motive power, probably in the form of foot-operated treadle lathes.  Marks on remaining instruments seem to suggest that slots for keys were cut by a guided scraping tool, probably not dissimilar to a modern metal lathe cross slide.  Researcher Robert Bigio suggests that the workmen probably worked not from plans but from templates and gauges.  There is also evidence that, at least in their later days, Rudall, Carte and Co engaged other makers, some of whom had previously been employees, to make their lower price instruments.

The Rudall, Rose or Carte Models Study

What is not clear from any of the recorded history of the company is how the company's instruments varied throughout the eight key period.  This is important information for modern makers wishing to base their instruments on Rudall & Rose flutes - which of the many extant flutes will have the characteristics they seek to replicate?  Hence this research study to bring together information from as many of the extent instruments as possible to try to identify trends and jumps in their development.  Perhaps you can help.

For further information on the Rudall, Rose or Carte Models Study

To find out about my Flutes for Irish Music

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