Rudall & Rose Bb Flutes



In July and August of 2002, I undertook a massive tour of museums as part of my Self-Indulgent Flute-maker's Tour.  One of the many aims was to survey and measure available Bb flutes with a view to being able to offer a Bb in future.  That was entirely successful - I now offer a "Rudall Bb" flute based on what I found - see My Models.  But I thought you might like to know more about the wonderful originals ...

What I saw

I saw, measured and photographed seven Rudall and Rose Bb instruments on my trip:

  • A 4-key and an 8-key at the Dayton C Miller Collection in Washington
  • A 6-key and an 8-key at the Royal Northern College of Music at Manchester
  • An 8-key in the Bate Collection in Oxford
  • An 8-key in the Edinburgh University collection, and 
  • An 8-key in a private collection in England.

I also saw, measured and photographed Bb flutes by other makers, but none impressed me as much as the Rudalls.


The flute on the left is the 6 key R&R 2707, RNCM 43 from Manchester.  Here's the same flute in its original case:

Images T.McGee, used by permission of the
 RNCM Collection of Historic Musical Instruments

Notice that this flute, apart from being a 6-key, employs ivory at the rings.  Compare this with R&R No 5031 from Edinburgh,  EUCHMI 981:

Image: T.McGee, used by permission of 
Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments

This flute sports silver rings and 8 keys.  Now, if you look closely at the top three holes, you might notice that they don't appear to run straight down the axis of the flute.  Indeed they don't - they are in line, but not down the axis - they trend upwards.  No, it's not sloppy workmanship.  The aim is to assist the player in dealing with the wide stretch involved.

Other matters

Meanwhile in Oxford, we find a Rudall Bb (RR 4754, Bate 1036) that hasn't had much use (or abuse) at all.  And that's nice because it tells us a lot about how the old firm liked their embouchures.  Beautifully clean, as you can see on the right. 

Images: T.McGee, used by permission of the 
Bate Collection of Musical Instruments

We also see evidence of an interesting springing practice ...
Note how the spring on this long-F key mounts on a little platform, providing clearance above the spring when the key is depressed. The necessary clearance is more commonly provided by bending the spring from the same point; fine, but not good enough for the market leaders!  We see the same little touch applied to the other keys.

The DCM 4-key was also different in one other way - it had a combined head and barrel, and no tuning slide.  The length from the embouchure to the start of the body was about the same as the other instruments when their slides were completely telescoped.  Its serial number (R&R 458, DCM 1410) is interesting too - it suggests a date around 1826, very early in the company's history.  The highest number flute I saw was 5031, EUCHMI 981, estimated at around 1847.

A Rose by any other name?

The flute collections that have these examples of low pitch flutes by Rudall and Rose don't always agree on what to call them.  If you look around the collection catalogues, you will see these flutes variously described as tenors or basses, for band or chamber use, with pitches Bb, Ab or G.  Perhaps a reason for this is it isn't really clear where these flutes fitted into musical society.  It also part of the problem that the flutes are often not in playing order and cannot be tested.

What becomes clear from my study of these instruments is that the flutes are all members of one family.  Sure, they exist in 4 key, 6 key and 8 key versions, but so did their D-flute counterparts.  The instruments are effectively identical from the foot upwards (apart from the matter of two fewer keys fitted in the 6-key version).  The short foot employed in the 4-key version has a reverse taper in the foot, but that again is normal D flute practice.  

R&R 458, DCM 1410.  
Note the integral head and barrel, and the short foot.

Image by Dayton C Miller Collection, used with permission

Ideally, we need to find out what Rudall and Rose called these flutes - they must have appeared in advertisements or catalogues somewhere.  I do note that the 1922 Rudall Carte catalogue offers an array of "Alto flute[s] in Bb" - is this perhaps a clue?  In the interim, I'd prefer to call the instruments we're looking at "Low Bb flutes", for these reasons:

  • the normal D flute is already a tenor instrument
  • I haven't found a contemporary reference to an Ab flute
  • it seems unwise to base the description on the flute's lowest note when it will depend on whether you have the 4 key version or one of the others. 
  • the 6 finger note is Bb,
  • the natural scale is Bb
  • we need to differentiate between these and the Bb band flutes an octave higher
  • they definitely do not go down to G.

Pitch and Intonation

Many of the instruments in collecting institutions are not in playing condition, and reverting them to playing condition would require repairs that might devalue the instruments as study items.  Fortunately, one of the flutes in the Royal Northern College of Music was in "as-new" condition, and I was given permission to test it for pitch. 

The curves above reveal what I found. Keep in mind that I was on the road and so somewhat limited for facilities.  I also wanted to minimise the playing time to avoid any stress to the instrument.  So look to the big picture and don't rely on the fine details.

Both curves are for the same flute - the yellow one for the slide fully in and the blue curve for about 8mm extension.  The horizontal scale gives the notes for a Bb flute, and under them the fingerings for a normal flute in D, just to make it easier to get your head around.  The zero on the vertical scale is modern pitch (A=440Hz).  We can see that, at about 8mm extension, the flute responds very well at A440, with two areas of exception:

  • the foot shows the classic flat-foot syndrome we see on D flutes of the time, in the usual proportions.
  • the middle A (c# fingering) is dismally flat.

Fortunately, the maker of new instruments can easily overcome the flat foot problem.  The second one is the more interesting. 

The "all-fingers-off" note (c# on a D flute, A on a Bb) always tends flat.  Ideally the top hole would be bigger and higher up, but it also has to work for c natural and d.  And it has to be within reach.  The old players got around it by also opening the c key for c# - the additional venting eases the c# back into place.

But this is a classical 6-key flute.  There is no upper c key.  So players at the time would need to rely on their embouchures to get that c# up into place.  Fifty cents!  Very tricky!  Unfortunately, I didn't get to conduct the same test on an 8-key version, but we can be sure it would solve the problem.  It raises an interesting challenge to the modern maker wishing to offer a keyless Bb.

I trust you have enjoyed this opportunity to find out more about these fine old flutes.  I certainly enjoyed meeting them and the people that look after them.  You can find out about my own versions of them by taking the My Flutes for Irish Music tour.

Copyright of images

The copyright of images in this article is vested in the institutions where the instruments reside.  Images may not be used without permission.


My thanks to the curators and staff of the institutions mentioned in the article.  My thanks also to the flute players who hosted me in the relevant cities, and to the Australia Council and ACT Government for their support of the tour.

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