LITURGICAL LOOK AT THE FLUTE
written record of the development of the flute in the nineteenth century
is replete with treatises and other writings devoted to various aspects
of the subject. The majority of these writings were generated by the various
competing flute designers of the day, each wishing to demonstrate the
superiority of his particular concepts over those of his rivals.
general, these early writings on the subject of flute development are
found today only in major libraries or private collections and are thus
generally inaccessible to the interested public.
Indeed, even the serious researcher faces an uphill battle in
trying to gain access to the more obscure examples, since a number of
them exist in copies which are too fragile to lend out or even copy.
Our research into
the development of the flute as an instrument in the nineteenth century
has brought us face to face with this reality.
of our objectives in undertaking this exhaustive research is to make
information on the subject more widely accessible to the flute-playing
public in general. When we ourselves manage to obtain access to a rare work on
this topic, our desire is to share the information as widely as
possible, thus sparing others the trouble that we ourselves have had to
undergo. In keeping with
this philosophy, we have provided transcripts elsewhere in this web-site
of a number of rather obscure yet often highly informative papers on the
subject. We present herein yet another literary gem unearthed from the
dust of decades in the remote archives of musical history.
author this time is neither a flute designer
nor a manufacturer, but is instead an amateur dilettante
of the flute who approaches his subject from what he himself
conceives to be an unbiased and disinterested standpoint.
Once having read the work in question, the reader may form his or
her own opinion on this matter, but suffice it to say that a work on
this subject by an individual who is not professionally involved with
the flute in any capacity yet is sufficiently interested and
well-informed to develop and present his own considered judgments,
whether objectively or no, is a real find because it is more or less
unique for the period.
work which we present herein is the little book entitled “The
Flute in its Transition State”
by the Hon. and Rev. T. C. Skeffington, M.A.
This book was completed in May, 1862 immediately following the
author’s visit to the International Exhibition of that year in London,
at which all of the then-current flute designs were on display.
The book has been largely ignored by subsequent authors, being
quoted to any degree in only one major work, namely H. Macaulay
Fitzgibbon’s 1913 work entitled “The
Story of the Flute”. This
may well be due in large part to the fact that Skeffington’s book was
omitted from Rockstro’s otherwise exhaustive bibliography prepared for
his famous 1890 treatise on “The Flute”. It would
appear that this omission was likely motivated by the fact that
Skeffington expresses positive
views of both Boehm and Clinton, two of Rockstro’s pet aversions.
Rockstro had an unfortunate habit of suppressing evidence when it
ran counter to his own views – Christopher Welch and W. S. Broadwood
were both similarly ignored by Rockstro, apparently for similar reasons.
Clotworthy (!!) Skeffington was born in Ireland into the family of
Viscount Massereene, formerly of Antrim Castle in Northern Ireland.
This aristocratic connection explains the honorific prefix to his
name. He has been variously
reported to have been born in either 1816 or 1819, and died on the 20th
of December, 1862, at the age of 46 or 43 years depending on which
birthdate is correct. Regardless
of his true age at the time, his premature death occurred only seven
months after the completion of the work presented here.
At some point he had obtained an M.A. degree from an unknown
college and had taken Holy Orders, accounting for his use of the title
Reverend. He was clearly of
the Protestant faith, since he is recorded as having married Henrietta
C. Blackwood in 1841 in Ireland. But
he did not remain in Ireland; at the time of the completion of this book
he was living near London, England at West Drayton in Middlesex.
is clear that, while Skeffington was not a professional flautist, he was
a genuine music-lover and flute enthusiast.
Indeed, this was not Skeffington’s only work on musical
subjects – he also published a book entitled
“Handybook of Musical
Art; with some Practical Hints to Students”, which was published
in London in 1859. He makes
oblique reference to this earlier work in the opening sentence of the
present book, and hints pretty clearly that he was intending to write
more. His premature death
obviously put paid to that idea.
We are pleased to have had this opportunity to re-acquaint the present generation of flute students and enthusiasts with the work of this long-forgotten kindred spirit. To render the text more approachable by the modern reader, we have taken a few editorial liberties; we have broken up some of the page-long sentences and two-page paragraphs, for instance!! We have also corrected some of the rather convoluted punctuation of the original as well as rendering a few archaic spellings into more familiar forms. Otherwise, we have kept every word of the original text exactly as Skeffington himself wrote it.
do warn that there are some historical errors of fact and some bold
assertions of opinion in the text.
We felt that correcting these errors and challenging the assertions
would detract too much from the value of the piece as a statement of its
FLUTE IN ITS TRANSITION STATE
a review of the changes it has experienced during the past fifty
Hon. And Rev. T. C. Skeffington, M.A.
William Walker & Co.
one of a series of works I have lately taken in hand to write on the
subject of Musical Art, the present is intended to give as fair a view
as I can get of the transitions to which a very valuable, and a very
favourite instrument of my own - the Flute - has been subjected of late
years, and of the condition in which it now is. To many persons the
subject will be of small interest, but to those who love the advancement
of musical appliances generally, it cannot fail to be interesting, while
to those who use the instrument, whether for recreation or
professionally, the subject will assume a value sufficient to excuse all
that may be said upon it.
number of pamphlets and prospectuses have already been written,
apparently to the same end, but one and all have failed to convince or
to teach - for the obvious reason, that those who wrote were biased in
favour of some one or more improvements of their own, whose claims they
were advancing. For the
most part, there was a professional concern in the matter and, even
supposing these accounts to have come from
independent sources, it was clearly impossible, while so nice and
difficult a matter was in the fluctuating state of change or transition
from year to year and month
to month, that any calm unprejudiced view could be adopted.
must confess (that) after a perusal of all these different publications
I can get little more than this - that the Flute was attracting a great
deal of musical attention, and that a great deal of talent, energy, and
zeal was being expended in various endeavours to improve it.
One writer has taken us back in historical points hundreds of
years, as if it could be of any interest to know that in the days of Apollo the
Flute had six finger holes, one mouth-piece and an unconquerable
aversion to being played in tune. Another
seriously informs us that some cane Flutes had been found in a pyramid
in Egypt, but he could not tell how they were sounded!
Another states the important fact that a cylindrical fife was
really adopted in the French army in the time of Francis the First,
circa 1530. Another laments
with genuine pathos the extinction of the old Flute-a-bec, which was
simply a bad flageolet, and discourses gravely and judiciously upon the
large advantages we have gained from the Flute traversiere
of the French and Germans. All this is exceedingly droll; it may be
useful at times to remind the public that we have read and explored the
secrets of antiquity, but to my thinking such notices are practically
will not fall into such a path, but will candidly tell the reader what I
do, and what I don't, think in the matter of the present practical use
and condition of the Orchestral Flute.
It is unquestionably a modern instrument; its infancy was passed
in ignorance and barbarism. The Egyptians had no diatonic scale, and Francis the First no
Flute concertos. For all
practical ends I date its era from about fifty years back,
and I have no hesitation in saying that it was then an instrument
as bad as bad could be; and that now it is as good as any musician could
desire, indeed as perfect as from its intractable nature it ever will
fathers of the modern Flute undoubtedly were the Nicholsons.
Charles Nicholson came to London in 1820 with a Flute of an
improved bore and large holes. For
years he held his ground, and though his system is now all changed, his
services and his success, both as a maker and a player, will not soon be
forgotten; even now, certain effects in certain keys are unattempted,
and unattainable, which on his improved large-holed eight-keyed Flute
had a novel and a peculiar charm. To account for the advantage of large
holes is almost unnecessary; the subject has been dished up in almost
every possible form for the enlightenment of Flute players generally.
will be sufficient for me to show that if we construct so simple a thing
as a Pandean pipe, each pipe gradually diminishes in size and length in
diatonic or chromatic order. The Organ is an instrument of pipes; each
one yields a fixed sound in proportion to its size and length, but the
Flute has to give thirty-seven sounds from one pipe alone and the effect
of opening holes upon it is the same as if so much of the instrument
below the hole opened were cut off.
Hence it becomes like a number of pipes united in one.
applies to the first, or fundamental octave, from which the other two
are derived. It is
plain then that the larger the opening of the hole, the freer is the
sound produced; but as tune or intonation interfered with this
arrangement in some of the notes, it was found necessary to adopt a
scale of holes varying in size, so as to suit the requirements of the
modern diatonic system. But
here as one evil was got rid of, another presented itself - the holes
were unequally placed, (and) it was plainly seen that the fingers were
not long enough to act upon them. Thus to equalize the position of the
holes became the study and discovery of those who succeeded Charles
Nicholson as Flute reformers.
professor of Munich, Herr Boehm, was the first to reduce the thing to a
general and practical form in 1831.
It is true that a Captain Gordon, two years before, had laid the
foundation of that mechanism which is applied to modern wind
instruments, chiefly in this, - that by a key which covered a distant
hole, the lever or handle of which was brought in a half-moon shape
round the edge of the next finger-hole, a power was gained of stopping
two holes by one action of the finger alone.
To him is due the merit of the invention, but to Boehm is due its
practical development; and without going into a needless discussion
about the relative value of the shut and open system of keys, whether
the open G# key of the Boehm Flute compensated for the toil it imposed
on the player, whether good results obtained in one octave were not
counter-balanced by evils in another, it may be laid down as a fact that
the origin of all the improved modern Flutes with their various
well-contrived and cleverly-adjusted systems of mechanism sprung from
that one idea of Captain Gordon in Paris, somewhere about the year 1828.
again, in order to get greater equality in the break that occurs between
the three octaves, the fingering was changed and all was altered. This
to the whole Flute playing community, who had hitherto learned but one
acknowledged mode of fingering, became a very serious objection; and it
was with a great deal of truth asserted that complications and
difficulties increased exactly in proportion to the amount of departure
from the old system of the eight keys.
Dorus of Paris changed the open G# key into a shut one, which change was
adopted by Mr. Clinton of London in 1843.
Then a Mr. Ward constructed a new Flute, and wrote a treatise
which announced the mysterious fact that facility had been gained upon
his system by sundry cross or back fingerings and by the application of
five keys for the work of the left-hand thumb.
Then Mr. Card had a modification of the Boehm system, by which
the right-hand part was altered and the left-hand part remained as
before. Next, Mr. Siccama
of London reverted to the old fingering, and sacrificed his third octave
and middle C natural for a few questionable advantages elsewhere.
Then Mr. Tulou of Paris provided two thumb keys, one for Bb,
and one for C natural, which were subsequently adopted by English
players and professors and which only led to still greater difficulty
Mr. Carte, associated with those eminent Flute makers Rudall and Rose,
brought out two new Flutes, and in a written sketch laid down an
opinion, hitherto undisputed by all makers and players, that the
instrument still needed a reforming hand. The
body of the Flute was now to change its form from a cone to a cylinder;
the head joint was to be slightly curved, similar to the tubes of an
organ, and to it was assigned the high-sounding name of Cylinder Flute,
with parabola head. From
his treatise I get the following passage: "Numerous
are the Flutes which have been made and discarded during the last two
years (that is 1848 and 1849); Messrs. Rudall and Rose alone as
manufacturers have made not less than ten Flutes for different
contrivers during this period." From these facts, will any reasonable person expect an
unprejudiced writer to examine into the merits of each?
Is it not apparent that all these investigations and theories
tended to show but one thing - the imperfection of the Flute of that
day, and the singular value of an instrument which could recompense men
for such labours?
confess without hesitation that after having heard, seen and read all
that has been advanced upon the subject, I am driven to conclude that
all these anxious efforts have been purely experimental, based on no
sound theory; in short, that they were a search after great effects
where the causes of the existing evil had not been sufficiently
cylindrical form of Flute was thought to be new; clearly it was not new,
for the same form had been applied to military fifes for years
previous(ly). The curve in the head joint was said to be new also; but it
was by no means a new thing to have a curve or belly in a musical tube.
The truth is, there was a general seeking after new applications
of old things, and the exchequer of the country was
benefited to a large extent by the patents granted for these and
have not yet alluded to the exertions made by a professor in London who
has done more than any other to regenerate the Flute - I mean Mr.
Clinton, because, in my judgment, his views and opinions, if not
consistent with his early writings, were at least directed to a right
defects of the Nicholson or old Flute lay in the cramp(ed) fingering for
F natural, in the difficulty of passing freely from the one octave to
the other, in its use of numerous cross or back fingerings and in its
general inequality of tone - some notes were very fine, some very feeble.
Could these defects be removed, even in part, a fine Flute
would be the result. I
had all along thought, and still think, that makers and inventors who
hitherto had done evil to effect good, in other words, who had gained
the removal of old defects in the Flute by the strange process of
engrafting upon it new ones, had gone to work in the wrong way.
I find in one of the numerous Flute treatises this view very
fairly laid down by Mr. Clinton; and whatever be the general opinion as
to the practical results he has obtained, his theoretical views on the
subject appear to me both sound and convincing.
His Equisonant Flute has the obvious advantage of retaining the
old or natural system of fingering with all its imperfections removed,
while the equality of the tone and the freedom of passing from one
octave to another without disturbing the flow of sound, are at once
apparent to both player and listener.
to the discrepancies we meet with in the various statements and errors
propounded on the subject of Flute manufacture, it is not my intention
to speak a single word. While the instrument was passing through this fire of change
and development, it was clearly unfair to expect any calm views upon the
subject. Flute players were
divided and Flute makers were worked up to a great pitch of rivalry and
contention. Systems of
mechanism were advocated which had really nothing at all of system in
them; and theories were hastily laid down which were untenable on the
commonest principles of science. It
is now, and now only, when the rage and passion has ceased, that we can
hope to obtain any fair and impartial view of the so-called systems.
The time, in my judgment, has arrived for a candid summing up of the labours of the past fifty years in Flute manufacture. We have seen what the workshop has produced during that time, and we now see how very small is the practical result of the whole. We have seen Flutes sent forth with flaming titles, and explanations based on acoustical theories, and all sorts of scientific nostrums which were to astonish the orchestras of Europe, and we look round now in vain to see a single trace of their existence - their once boasted perfections had no power to rescue them from oblivion - their very name is lost, and they are no more.
it is that the anxiety shown by all lovers of the flute to effect its
regeneration indicated in spite of repeated failures that the instrument
contained within itself the germ of musical excellence and was worthy of
the attention paid it. It had been used in the days of the great masters as an
appendage to the orchestra, but was not honoured with a place within the
sacred circle of chamber music. The
reason was clear; the instrument was rough, rude and imperfect; and
although its compass and quality of tone were all that could be desired,
its means of effect were as yet undeveloped.
to and during the days of Charles Nicholson, the written music for the
Flute was very feeble - Kuhlau was but little known, and the
contributions of Tulou and Berbiguier were not sufficient to stamp the
character of the instrument with any high or classic fame; but as new
effects sprung forth, new music was written to embody these effects.
The popular nature of the Flute as a drawing room and concert
instrument had long been acknowledged; the young efforts of musical
amateurs were generally directed in this quarter; and in the palmy days
of its existence, while Charles Nicholson was feeding and charming the
musical public with his fine Flute and his fine playing, astonishing and
delighting his audiences with bold and new effects, the love and mania
for Flute playing became as general as the suspicion and disregard that
is now commonly shown towards it.
was a result to have been looked for; the Flute was practically new in
the hands of Nicholson; he first developed its resources and first drew
forth its capabilities as a fine concert instrument.
Everyone with a turn for music desired to possess the secret of
such sweet melody, his teaching became almost incredible in extent, and
scarcely could a well-bred family be found who had not either one or
more of the celebrated Nicholson Flutes, or Flute players, within its
domestic circle. True it is that the power of playing just sufficiently
well so as to please the ear melodiously, was on no instrument so easily
acquired as on the Flute; more than this, scarcely any one instrument,
if we except the violin, approached so near in quality of tone to the
human voice, which when well managed is the acknowledged pattern and
perfection of pure musical sound. Besides,
it was an orchestral instrument, its compass was of good extent, its
diatonic and chromatic progression was pretty just and equal,
sufficiently so as to allow of its being played in every key; while as
an adjunct to the voice, or in conjunction with the piano-forte,
scarcely any one instrument could be found that was more suitable for a
drawing room performance.
these causes combined, it is no matter of astonishment that popular
favour should have been so largely shown to the Flute; but, as with many
other things we could name, this repose was not suffered long to
continue; the eye of the critical objector had begun its evil work.
Certain defects were pointed out and enlarged upon, its sanitary
state was pronounced to be far from satisfactory; the usual course of
re-construction was hinted at and indeed very shortly after begun; its
simplicity, its novelty, its charm vanished in the recesses of the
workshop, and it came forth before the world shorn of its popularity and
favours, though increased in its powers, in its complication, in its
resources and in its general importance.
first revolution, as it may be called, in the Flute's history, led by
Boehm, introduced a large number of new players, who began as upon a new
instrument, while a great majority of the Nicholson school either
abjured the system or despondently retired from the field.
Equality and fullness of tone was then the one thing sought
after; and it was thought under this (the Boehm) system to have been
obtained. Players of
moderate capacity discovered a certain ease in producing the sound; in
the lowest octave the notes came out full and free, and they thought all
was right. At the same
time, the advanced and intelligent player soon discovered the amount of
complicated evils with which he had to deal - there was an undisguised
sharpness in the upper octave - there were several new and awkward cross
fingerings - there was a great amount of work imposed upon several
fingers, owing to the complication of its key arrangements - lastly,
there was a new scale of fingering to be learned; the old system had to
be forgotten, while the new had to be studied; and the music already
written for the instrument was found to be ineffective upon the new
of amateurs seceded from the body of Flute players; they were not
prepared to re-learn the instrument, and a very natural and just
suspicion was entertained that what had been so far complicated and
changed already would undergo still further modifications to suit either
the convenience or the interest of contending parties.
It is now seen how justly the suspicion arose, and how truly the
fears of many who were attached to the old form of Flute, as to the
injury it would suffer under this remorseless handling, were realized.
The answer is ready enough, that this was but a necessary
consequence of the Flute's regeneration, that all instruments, like
other mechanical inventions, have at one time or other to undergo the
penalty of disfavour and disgrace while they are being brought through
the several stages of experimental improvement.
this I reply, that the Flute has had more than its due share of reproach
and much less than its fair amount of treatment, for the plain reason
that each successive change of form or mechanism involved some change in
the system of fingering. In
each case the player was compelled to re-learn as well as to forget
only instrument I know of that bears any analogy to the Flute in point
of general use and popularity is the piano-forte; to it none of these
objections applied. In the different stages of its development no such change or
difficulty was imposed upon the player - it merged successively from and
through its different stages of Virginal,
Spinet, Clavichord, and Harpsichord
to the modern perfect piano-forte; yet the system of its key-board,
arranged so as to suit the human hand, remained practically the same.
Each step in its renovation involved the player in no new
perplexity; each improvement to its tone or change in its internal
structure served but to draw forth the consent and approval of all
players, inasmuch as the point gained created no new difficulty but was
an obvious development of the natural resources of the instrument.
at all similar to this can be found in the late flute improvements. The
greater part of those who appeared as flute reformers had really no
established principles on which to work; each one set up a theory of his
own and saw, or thought he saw, a chain of brilliant results likely to
arise: one staked his reputation upon the open keyed system, and found
to his cost that in its practical working it became to all intents a
closed, shut up, or veiled system; another relieved a weak finger at the
expense of a strong one; a single note was improved at the sacrifice of
two or three others; certain passages were rendered easy, but the
difficulty was distributed elsewhere. All
the fine theories as to fingering, tone, and tune, were blown to the
winds by the searching test of practice; experiment was heaped upon
experiment, conjecture upon conjecture; opinion was waged against
opinion; imagination and dreams of success helped to keep up all this
enthusiasm and in his failure served to sustain the disheartened
results, as we find them, were such as might have been expected - the
amount of players not professionally interested in the flute gradually
decreased - from being an unfailing source of the evening's amusement,
the ornament and the charm of every drawing-room, the flute became the
tenant chiefly of the orchestra and the workshop; it ceased to occupy a
place as before in the domestic concert; its sweet vocality was
remembered and regretted, but its sound was no longer heard.
It must be evident to all readers that an instrument of such
importance in the orchestra as this could not possibly suffer
annihilation, that its services in concerted music were being
professionally called upon each day in the week, and therefore the only
point in which it could suffer was in that of its popularity as a
chamber instrument; it was also clear that a time would sooner or later
arrive when all possible experiments having been made and tried, some
sort of general and sound agreement would be come to as to its form,
structure, and mechanism.
do not know how far the several manufacturers or proprietors of flutes
are prepared to concede the point, but this I do know, that the number
of new inventions and experiments upon the instrument have almost
ceased; I know that all players, professional and non-professional, have
tacitly come to some sort of understanding as to the flute of their
adoption. I also know from
experience that it must now be a man's own fault if he do not possess an
instrument of a very fine quality, and therefore I draw the obvious
conclusion that the flute, after being experimented upon in every
possible way, has at length arrived to as high a state of perfection as
from its nature it can ever reach.
may be inquired which flute then, among so many, is the best?
The question often has been asked me, and my answer in a general
sense would still be that one
which is the most practical; but this is vague; some advocate this
quality for one, some for another. The worst of the matter is that any
experimentalist, should he invent or alter but a
single key, calls such invention a theory
or system, and he attempts to show that the acoustical properties of
the flute demand this key, or this alteration. Such statements are
hardly worth the ordinary trouble of refutation, nor can it be supposed
that any unprejudiced person would sit down calmly and gravely to
discuss the point.
my own part, I am not inclined to put much faith in any of the so-called
flute theories I have read; nothing approaching to a sound or legitimate
theory have I ever seen laid down -
all has been what the ancients might have called "vox
et praeterea nihil."
I think it will be found that the theory of acoustics, as
applied to the flute, has in the abstract but small weight, and that the
principle upon which a single tube is formed to produce a succession of
sounds is much more simple than what has been generally believed.
is true that, in order to derive a number of notes harmonically from a
given number fundamentally, a certain skill of adjustment in keys and
holes is necessary; but to say that the science of acoustics interferes
to guide or regulate the judgment in such matters is as idle as to say
that the tides regulate the phases of the moon, or that the sun governs
the diurnal revolution of the earth.
There is beyond question a certain principle laid down to us in
the construction of all musical instruments, but this will generally be
found in the plain law of nature who, having established a diatonic
scale as the basis of all musical sound, has given us likewise the power
of producing the same by simple and natural means: nothing in nature
will be found complicated or difficult; ease and facility form the basis
of all her handiwork, and whether by string, pipe, or reed, I believe
the principles of producing sound are identical.
being the case, I am at liberty to go on and state what, in my opinion,
is the groundwork of a correct flute, why so many failures have occurred
and what path out of so many is likely to lead to a satisfactory result.
the few remarks I have yet to make upon the flute's construction
generally, I shall not stop to inform the reader, as others have done
before me, of certain acoustical requirements, theories and what not,
nor shall I tell him that I have submitted the flute to diverse
experiments, but shall at once proceed in plain language to give, from
practical experience, a free and independent opinion upon the matter.
old fingering is decidedly the best, under certain modifications,
because it is formed upon the pure and simple law of nature; the passing
from one octave to the other was difficult, and in the upper octave some
cross fingerings were of necessity awkward, but mechanism has overcome
these few objections, and I submit again, with all deference, that
nothing but difficulties and complications arose in every case where the
principle of the old or natural fingering was departed from.
the second place the system of equal sized holes, which has been so
strongly insisted on, cannot be laid down as a fixed one because the
form of the flute will not in every case admit of it. It
appears to be an established fact that every tube which is made for the
conveyance of sound shall contain within itself a medium of resistance,
so as to give an additional impulse to the vibrations of air as they
pass through it. This has
been done from time immemorial by means of a conical shape in the flute;
at the same time the long shape of the cone offered rather more
resistance than was needed, and prevented, as an organ builder would
say, the notes from speaking with sufficient freedom.
A cylindrical form of flute, it was thought, would remedy this
evil, and has now been for some years in general use.
The idea was no doubt taken from the form of the old metal fife,
but this is of little consequence; it is sufficient that Boehm of Munich
sent a practical model of the instrument into this country (though not
the first of its kind), and that patents were taken out for its
am not going to discuss the relative merits of cone and cylinder, metal
and wood, but I shall show upon what principles the first of these two
agree. I have said that tubes for the delivery of sound require a
certain graduation within themselves, so as to increase the intensity of
the vibrations of air; the cylindrical tubes of an organ are slightly
curved in the centre for this purpose, so as to give a resistance at the
apex. The difficulty
experienced in the cylindrical flute was that, being a tube for the
conveyance of more than one sound, any curve or belly in the centre of the
instrument would hopelessly interfere with its general tone.
This, however, was overcome by the invention of a head-joint,
into which a curve was introduced a little below the embouchure, and it
served the purpose named; it was the simplest of all inventions; it was
merely the carrying out of nature's laws, and it can be seen now in
practical use on all organ pipes.
The principle once understood and practically carried out left little more to be desired - as one would think - but not so. The flute was found to be wanting in the one great feature of equality - no two notes were alike, some were free and full, others uncertain and feeble. The low C natural, for example, was a fine note, the D above it weak. As might be expected, this radical defect has, in spite of all endeavours, served for years to lessen its general and popular use; it is not to be supposed but that every possible kind of experiment has been tried for the purpose of reducing the cylinder to a just and equal temperament. And the inventor himself appears to have been quite as much puzzled as everybody else in arriving at the true causes of the evil; the so-called principle of large and equal-sized holes having struck such deep root into the fancy of modern makers, very great attention was paid to this particular, and all improvements, alterations and experiments appear to have been chiefly directed not to where the evil really lay, in the body of the flute, but to the head-joint alone.
have already hinted at the necessity there is that tubes which are made
to produce successive musical sounds should have a relative graduation,
both in size and length; if we would construct a chain of pipes intended
to give out the musical scale, each pipe according to the note assigned
it would have to be shorter and smaller, or longer and thicker than its
neighbour; in plain words, the diameter of the pipe would have to be changed in proportion to the
very simple and convincing experiment will prove this.
Let a pipe of any given length be placed in the wind-chest of an
organ, whose length and diameter shall be in such a true corresponding
ratio, each to other as is necessary for the production of a pure sound;
the pipe will then deliver its note, or speak with accuracy and freedom.
Divide this same pipe or tube at its centre in order to get the
octave above; the length is now reduced by one-half, but the diameter
still remains the same. Adjust this same portion of pipe, as before, in
the wind chest, and it will require a double force of wind to make the
note speak, and even then the quality of sound elicited will be impure
result of this experiment is very easily explained.
When the pipe was shortened, it ought at the same time to have
been narrowed or constricted in size, in order to have carried out the
same conditions as the first one. Precisely
the same principle obtains in all tubes, whether flutes or otherwise,
and herein lies the real cause of the failure above mentioned.
the first patentee's explanation of the Cylinder Flute, I find the
following statement: " It is also clear
that the nearer the holes are in size to the diameter of the tube the
freer and finer must be the tone." Had
he said, "divide an organ
tube at its centre, and it will give you the octave above," he
would have been just as near the truth as he is in the opinion I have
quoted; if you cannot by natural means vary the diameter of a cylinder
flute, which it is plain you cannot, the
statement he hazards as to the propriety of making the holes extend to
the edge of the diameter, in order to get a full and freer tone, is
plainly contradicted by the organ experiment I have just given.
no greater folly was ever so perversely held by flute makers generally
as the supposition that the more equal were the holes the more equal
must be the tone. I will
use their favourite term for once and say that it is decidedly contrary
to theory, and also of course
to practice. In the case of
stringed instruments we see another instance of this fallacy; as the
strings become shorter so do they lessen in size or thickness, in order
that the vibrations of sound may be rapidly produced.
Indeed, it is hardly necessary, were it not for the surprising
neglect of this principle shown in the old cylinder flute, to dwell
further on a matter so obvious to common sense and daily practice.
Within the last few weeks, I have seen a newly constructed cylinder flute which I believe has been invented and patented by Mr. Clinton, in which these requirements, so long overlooked, are substantially carried out. To save the trouble of a long explanation I herewith give a drawing of the position and size of the holes.
idea has evidently struck him of effecting the object of the cone and so
to reduce the diameter of the tube with each successive note by the very
simple process of graduating the holes, not as in the old flute by a
variable scale, but equally and regularly.
Thus the small opening of the holes, or the partial excision at
the top of the instrument, serves practically to shut up or lessen the
diameter of the tube, and therefore, as each note rises, the orifice
becomes smaller through which the sound is delivered and the closing up
of the diameter becomes gradually less and less, proportionate to the
end required. The theory (I
will use the term once more) seems to me a sound one, but in flute
manufacture, practical results are the all-important tests.
To these tests I have submitted it and, in conjunction with many
other players, am satisfied that a most important end has been gained.
perfection can ever be looked for in so restricted and complicated a
piece of mechanism as a flute, I think we shall find it here, because
there seems to be a practical reason and a sensible foundation for all I
have seen in this new improved cylinder flute. Unquestionably a
principle founded on nature's laws has been ingeniously carried out in
it and, so far as my judgment leads, it is and will be the principle and
model of all future instruments of the same class.
do not, speaking of this Flute, lay any stress at all upon the nature of
the fingering used, for this must be an after consideration for those
who make and those who play, but I do say with confidence that it is as
yet the only flute I have ever seen to which the often vaunted terms of theory,
system, acoustical science, &c., &c., seem to have the
smallest application. Certain effects and defects peculiar to each
instrument must remain - the one its pride, the other its weakness, but
both acting as a wise provision to enable us to regulate our judgment as
to its value. It would, on
the one hand, be as unjust to refuse praise to the excellence of an
invention as it would be unwise, on the other, to shut our eyes to the
defects inseparable from it. It
is right, however, to form a fair and candid estimate of the whole by
both of these in conjunction, and to ask ourselves whether the combined
efforts of years of patient and too often of unrewarded experiments in
flute manufacture, have not led at last, as I think they have, to as
fair and satisfactory a result as can ever be expected in the nature of
have but one more word to say in closing these remarks: no position is
much less to be envied than that of one who, without partiality,
endeavours to take a collective glance at the different rival systems of
past years in any branch of art, and who seeks, as it were, to pass
judgment upon them. It
clearly would be impossible for such a reviewer to gratify, or even hope
to convince, one-tenth part of those who have been engaged in such
contentions. Whatever be
their worth, I have openly and, I hope, clearly expressed my own views
on the subject. Should any one who has himself added his share of industry and
experience towards the regeneration of the flute conceive offence from
any of the above remarks, I must distinctly beg to disclaim, on my part,
any such intention; should the conclusions I have drawn be in opposition
to any one's private views or interests, I have only to plead that they
are the necessary consequences of premises which they themselves have
helped to establish, and will be found to be but the natural results of
a fair, free, and open investigation of all matters under dispute.
I beg my readers, one and all, to believe that I have endeavoured to
arrive at the truth of this much vexed question by the legitimate road
of research and reasoning, and that I have earnestly desired to examine
all its various points with discretion and good temper.
DRAYTON, Middlesex, May,
Publisher of this work has the pleasure to add the following critique
from The Age we Live in, July
26th, 1862. It will be read
with considerable interest by all Flautists, and will prove the
correctness of Mr. Skeffington's views.
PRIZE MEDAL FLUTE. - The decision of the jury upon the long vexed
question of Flutes will be hailed with great satisfaction by all
Flautists. During the last
fifteen years the instrument has been undergoing a series of changes in
its fingering and construction, which has proved most perplexing to
amateurs. Each Inventor or Manufacturer earnestly insisting that his own
Flute was the best, and that all others were mere abortions, it became
almost impossible to decide which was really the most perfect
instrument. All possible contrivances for new Flutes being exhausted, it
was desirable that some competent and disinterested
judgment should be pronounced upon this bewildering subject.
could happen more opportunely than the International Exhibition of 1862,
where a jury consisting of the most eminent men in Europe, unbiased by
the party feeling of rival manufacturers, had all the new Flutes
explained to them and played upon by the best performers. Upon
referring to the list of awards published by the Royal Commissioners, we
find that the firm of Clinton & Co. have received the only Medal for
improvements upon the system of Boehm, which is the acknowledged
standard or groundwork of all the modern Flutes.
improvements effected by Clinton & Co. refer to the three most
important parts of the Instrument, namely Tone, Tune, and Fingering. On
Boehm's Cylinder Flute, the holes are professedly equal,
by which the same amount of opening is obtained at each length of
the Tube. That system is manifestly wrong, being a violation of nature's
first principle. The
gradual opening of the holes upon the Flute gradually shortens the Tube,
and the Flute has been correctly compared to a series of organ pipes
which are gradually reduced in length for the ascending scale. In
that respect, Boehm's Cylinder Flute is correct, but it must not be
forgotten that, in a series of organ pipes, the diameter
of each must be reduced as well as the length, otherwise equality
of tone could not be
obtained. A reference to any set of organ pipes will clearly demonstrate
the holes of a Flute are equal in size, and the tube (or body) of the
Instrument equal in diameter (i.e., Cylindrical), it would be impossible to have the tones equal,
because no change of diameter, nor any substitute, could be obtained; it
therefore becomes necessary to make the notes equal by the skill of the
performer, as upon the ordinary flute. Clinton & Co. have overcome
this defect in the most simple and natural manner, thus: the lowest or C
sharp hole is nearly as large as the diameter of the Cylinder, reduced
in the same proportion as the C sharp organ pipe. The other holes are
reduced upon the same principle, hence the Instrument is named the
Cylinder Flute with graduated holes.
needs but a small portion of musical knowledge to perceive the soundness
of that theory, it being in strict consonance with nature's law, and is
carried out upon all other musical instruments, whether made by a series
of tubes, strings, or tongues. If
reference be made to a pianoforte or harp, it will be seen that as the
strings decrease in length, they also decrease in diameter. The
same principle is found in all organ pipes; in short, a reduction in
diameter is quite as necessary to obtain equality of tone as reduction
of length is to obtain correct tune; they must be co-existent, and it
would be sheer nonsense to admit one and deny the other.
Nothing but gross ignorance or interested prejudice could attempt
to deny the superiority of graduated holes.
principle being secured to Clinton & Co., by Her Majesty's Royal
Letters Patent, it may possibly meet with some opposition from rival
manufacturers or their dependents; but the soundness of its theory, and
the palpable improvement in the tone and tune of the improved cylinder,
especially in the extremes of the Instrument, will render opposition of
no avail eventually. The public care not an atom about rival inventors
or manufacturers. Like the
jury of the International Exhibition, they will award their prize,
namely, their patronage, to the best flute.
the subject of fingering, the jury have notified their award to Clinton
& Co., as a modification of Boehm's system. This
flute has long been known as the
'Equisonant.' It is free from all difficulties of fingering throughout
the whole register. Considerable ingenuity has been displayed in some of
the new flutes, by the introduction of facilities in one or two points
in the first and second octaves; but alas, when too late, the purchaser
discovers that the third octave or upper notes are out of tune and that
the boasted facility is a myth and a barrier to perfect, certain or easy
performance. The fingering of the Equisonant is alike easy in all
passages and in all keys, and is, moreover, so near to the fingering of
the ordinary flute, it can be readily adopted.
retain the old fingering in every particular would be to perpetuate the
well-known difficulties of F and C natural, and to render the third octave more
difficult than formerly, while the adoption of such an instrument would
involve a much greater amount of study than the trifling deviation of
the Equisonant, and still fail to realize the object sought, namely, a
perfect flute. There can be no doubt that the fingering of the
Equisonant, united to the improved cylinder with graduated holes, will
become the universal flute. We
congratulate Messrs. Clinton & Co. in having obtained so
distinguished and well-merited a reward from the jury."
ends our rendering of the complete text of Skeffington’s work.
A number of points arising from a reading of the above document
appear worthy of comment. Skeffington
amply confirms the notion which has been presented before that the
plethora of different flute designs which were being promoted during the
three decades from 1832 to 1862 (when Skeffington was writing) had had a
very adverse effect upon the general popularity of the instrument.
He becomes a valuable witness to this phenomenon.
He also provides confirmation that even in 1862 there was still
considerable resistance to the new fingering system introduced by Boehm
in connection with his 1847 cylinder flute.
He provides a very clear sense of the frantic pace at which
competing evolutions of the flute were being brought out and promoted in
the years leading up to 1862. Against
this, he provides us with a further valuable insight by reporting that
the general impression at the time of writing was that the era of
intensive development of the flute had passed and there was now
something of a breathing-space for flautists to take stock of what was
on offer and choose what was for them the best instrument.
In this, he was correct – the next major evolution did not come
until 1867 when Richard Carte brought out his famous and very successful
There are a number of factual errors and “sins of omission” in the text, which, as we have warned in the preface, we have allowed to remain unchallenged. But these do not in any way detract from the interest of this long-forgotten little work. As a testament to the views of an amateur practitioner of the flute on the efforts of the various flute reformers of his day, Skeffington’s little monograph fully deserves its place in the bibliography of the flute.
it comes to Skeffington’s views on Clinton, we are on more speculative
ground. It is difficult to
escape some degree of suspicion that Skeffington’s shared nationality
and religious affiliation with Clinton (they were both Irish-born
Protestants) may well have influenced these views.
But there is a thread of sincerity that runs through the text in
our assessment – while he may have been predisposed towards a
favourable review of Clinton’s work by the cultural kinship of the two
men, such a pre-disposition does not appear to be of itself sufficient
to account for the effort expended to marshal what Skeffington appears
to see as genuinely-persuasive arguments in favour of Clinton’s line
of development. In
the end, Skeffington was clearly a proponent of the old system of
fingering which Clinton as trying to preserve with his “Equisonant”
designs, and appears to have been genuinely impressed with Clinton’s
efforts to combine the old fingering with Boehm’s new bore allied to
the graduated holes to recover some of the acoustical characteristics of
the old conical bore. Skeffington
thus provides confirmation that, like all of his rivals, Clinton had his
advocates as well as his detractors.
One of the more interesting features of the above work is the addendum included by the publishers in the form of a transcript of an article in the publication "The Age We Live In" from July 26th, 1862. The inclusion of such an addendum is a most unusual step for the publisher to take. It will not escape the notice of serious students of this period that the style of this article is very reminiscent of the style of John Clinton himself when writing about his own flutes under his own name in earlier publications. To the present researchers, it certainly appears possible that this highly laudatory article was written by Clinton himself or at least based by an anonymous critic upon Clinton's own now-lost writings in praise of his own new flute.
If Clinton wrote it himself, he must have submitted it to the magazine through an intermediary or under a nom-de-plume. The repeated references to "Clinton & Co." add support to this possibility, as do a number of elements of the writing style and use of terminology. However, this would be a significant departure from Clinton's previous track record - he had never been the least bit shy about advocating his own instruments under his own name in the past. But he may have felt on this occasion that an apparently independent appraisal such as this article would be more persuasive than yet another paper issued in his own name. As Skeffington points out in the main text, the primary weakness of most earlier texts upon the subject of flute development was their openly partisan source. Clinton may have wished to break away from this perception when praising his latest creation. If true, this supposition would of course have no effect whatsoever upon any objective evaluation of Clinton's efforts to improve the flute - it would merely confirm that he was a hard-nosed businessman who was willing to do whatever he could to ensure the success of his new flute.
Whoever wrote it, one thing is true - the article uses Clinton-style flute terminology very freely and with familiarity. It does not read like the work of a reporter-at-large, who would not be expected to have a close familiarity with the design and language of the flute. However, it could well have been assembled by such an individual using a promotional pamphlet of Clinton's as a guide to the more technical aspects. This would explain the similarities to Clinton's writing style and use of terminology. Although no writings of Clinton's on the subject of the 1862 flute have survived (to our current knowledge), it was the practise at Exhibitions of the sort in question to feature promotional materials in conjunction with exhibits, as Clinton and Carte had both done at the earlier 1851 Exhibition. It seems highly unlikely that Clinton would not have written something similar for dissemination from Clinton & Co.'s stand at the 1862 Exhibition. This would have been freely available to the critic who wrote the article under this entirely plausible scenario.
Adrian Duncan, Terry McGee