Richard Carte's
Sketch of the Successive Improvements
in the Flute

Carte's Patent Flutes. Sketch of the successive improvements made in the flute. With a statement of the principles upon which flutes are constructed; and a comparison between the relative merits of the ordinary flute; the flute of  Boehm; and Carte's two new patent flutes. pp. 46. Rudall, Rose, & Co.: London, 1851. 8o.  [BL:]

Carte's Sketch precedes an explanation of the benefits of his "Council and Prize Medal" flute.  Coming just a few years after the introduction of Boehm's cylinder flute, the Sketch gives us a useful insight into how the ordinary 8-key flute of the period was viewed in the light of the new developments.

Carte is remarkably well placed to provide this insight.  He studied 8-key flute with George Rudall through the heyday of the 8-key flute while the 1-key flute remained still available and as Boehm's two great designs swept into view.  Nicholson, Rudall, Rose, Boehm, Siccama, Clinton, Ward, Card, Lindsay and the rest played out their lives around him.  Capitalising on this experience, he comes up with a pair of his own designs and is invited to join the most prestigious flute-making company in the country.

As you'll see from what follows, he seems a logical, thoughtful and whimsical man.  I have kept the document as close to the original as possible, but broken up some long sentences and paragraphs, inserted topic headings and made other minor changes to improve readability.  Wherever I have added comments, they will be found in [square] brackets.

Special note:  The document was actually published twice, in 1851 as mentioned above, and in 1870 as a prologue to Carte's "Complete Course of Instructions for Rudall, Carte & Co.'s improved Boehm Flute".  The documents are mostly identical, but there are a few interesting alterations which will be pointed out as we go along.  While we have tried to identify all changes, it would be unwise to assume total success!

Sketch of the Successive Improvements
in the Flute

The Flute of M. Boehm has not only taken a powerful hold upon the admiration of the musical world, but has been the means of making the imperfections of the Ordinary Flute so obvious, as to urge even those most attached to that instrument, to confess that its days are numbered. It may be asked, then, why not remain content with an Instrument so confessedly superior to the Ordinary Flute? The following observations are offered, as an answer to this question, and as a reason for presenting my new Patent Flutes to the public.

[From the context, we can assume Carte is referring to the 8-key and its predecessors (6-key, 4-key, 1-key and even the renaissance 6-hole flute) under the name "the ordinary flute".]

I propose to enter somewhat minutely, (though as briefly as may be), into the history of the Flute, and give an explanation of the successive improvements effected in this instrument; in order that those who have not an opportunity of examining the different instruments may possess the means of judging of their respective merits, and be enabled to estimate the relative advantages afforded by the Ordinary Flute, the Boehm Flute, and my new Patent Flutes.

In answering the question proposed, it will be necessary to give an outline of the early history of the Ordinary Flute; tracing it from its simplest beginnings, through various stages of improvement up to the present time; and then to point out the superior principles upon which the Flute of Boehm is constructed; so that the causes of the defects in the Ordinary Flute may be seen, and the important revolution lately brought about, not only in this, but in all fingered wind instruments, may be fully appreciated. 

By this means, also, the reader will be prepared to see how far it became necessary that the present improvements should now be brought forward, these improvements being, it may here be premised, not opposed to the principles of Boehm, but a farther carrying out of those principles, the securing a more full establishment of them, by uniting Boehm's perfections of tone and intonation with a greatly increased facility of execution; the want of this facility having been the only drawback to the more rapid progress of the Boehm Flute.


For the sake of perspicuity, what has to be advanced may be arranged under the following distinct heads:-

I. A brief historical sketch of the steps by which the Ordinary Flute has reached its present state.

II. An examination into the causes of the imperfections of the Ordinary Flute, and a statement of the principles upon which Flutes are constructed.

III. What was effected by Boehm's first Flute, and what by his Flute with the Parabola head and Cylindrical body, with an explanation of the difference between the conical and cylindrical bores. 

IV. Reasons for now bringing forward Two New Flutes, one with improved fingering, and the other with the fingering of the Ordinary Flute. 

V. Comparison of the Patent Flute with improved fingering as regards facility of execution, with the Ordinary Flute and the Boehm Flute, from which it will appear that the New Flute affords extraordinary resources in this respect. 

VI. Particulars, descriptive of the New Patent Flute with the old fingering.

1. History of the Flute


I do not propose to enter into the subject of the flute of the ancients. The extraordinary popularity of the ancient Greek flutes, the numerous varieties of this instrument in use among them, their forms and capabilities, and the various and singular uses to which they were applied, would form a highly interesting topic, were this the fitting opportunity. At present; I intend to speak only of the modern flute.

The Early Flute

The Ordinary flute, originally known as the German flute, is mentioned by Mersenne, in his great work, published at Paris, in 1636; but it is evident, from the manner in which he introduces and describes the instrument, that it was then but little employed. The flute in general use, at that time, was the Flute-a-bec, termed also the English flute, and by the French la Flute douce. The Flute-a-bec was held perpendicularly (to the mouth) like the Clarionet.

[Today we call the Flute-a-bec (flute with a beak) the Recorder]

At the commencement of the last century, the German flute, which, in allusion to the position in which it was held was also termed the Flauto traverso or Transverse flute, began to divide the public favour with the Flute-a-bec. The superiority of the German flute over the Flute-a-bec consisted in its improved quality of tone, and somewhat better intonation. On the Flute-a-bec, no skill of the performer enabled him to vary to any extent the quantity and quality of tone or the pitch of the notes, owing to its being voiced with a tongue, like the pipe of an organ, or like a common whistle.  But on the German flute, the notes were produced by the immediate agency of the lips; comparatively a greater variety of tone and certain improvements even as to intonation were consequently obtained.

The One-key Flute

At that time, the German flute had but six holes which were stopped by the first three fingers of each hand. From these holes, combined with the note given by the entire tube, that is, when all the holes were closed, was produced the diatonic scale of one key or mode - that of D major. Shortly after, however, an additional hole was added by Phillibert, a Frenchman, stopped by a key (D # or Eb). This, which constituted the one-keyed flute, or flute with seven holes, as seen in the one-keyed flute of the present day, was a death-blow to the flute-a-bec. It improved the quality of some of the tones, and extended its compass upwards.

[Some statements here, particularly the role of Phillibert and D being the natural scale of the early flute, would be disputed today.  While lifting one finger at a time will certainly produce a D major scale, the instruments were intended to be played in a range of keys, admittedly some better or more easily than others.]

Many a kindly prejudice, many a grateful recollection of past enjoyment, was enlisted in favour of an old servant, and lingered to the last, but in vain. The Flute-a-bec is now among the things that were, or is to be met with only in the hands of the antiquary. 

Quantz' Two-Key Flute

The Flute remained in this state until the time of Quantz, who flourished from about the year 1720 to 1770, and was celebrated as a performer upon the flute, and as a composer for that instrument. He was also a manufacturer of Flutes. He added another D sharp or E flat key, and contrived a method of lengthening and shortening the head-joint, so as to raise or lower the pitch half a tone. The discovery of this additional key was made in 1726, and the new head-joint in 1752. 

The use of the latter is obvious; but it has puzzled the critics to divine what could possibly have been the object of this additional key, which, in conjunction with the new tuning-head, were said at the time to have corrected "all the imperfections of this instrument, in point of bad notes and false tuning." They could not suppose it intended to make the enharmonic difference between D sharp and E flat. This would have been attributing a refinement of perception to Quantz utterly inconsistent with the obtuseness of ear which could endure the extreme imperfection, not only of the chromatic, but of the diatonic intervals of his instrument. 

[I suspect Quantz came to the matter of a second key from quite a different perspective.  As the one-key flute is generally capable of differentiating enharmonic notes (ie Ab is fingered differently to G#), it would have seemed odd that the same facility wasn't extended to D#/Eb.  This could only be achieved by the addition of a second key.

This explanation though is not to argue against the criticisms that Carte records above (it is not made clear if he shares them).  The 20 odd cents between enharmonic pairs would seem very subtle compared to the considerably greater systemic problems confronting the player.  A study by Coltman of the "Fredrick the Great" instrument, No 916 in the Dayton C Miller collection, concludes the same as Carte.

While it can be (and has been) argued that these evaluations are invalid as they are made from an equal-tempered perspective, no scientific study of instruments of Quantz's time appear to have been published to illustrate how well they were designed to facilitate playing in just-intonation.]

We know by the flute music of his time that several of the scales nearest related to that of D major were then employed, as well as the chromatic scale; but we know also, by a reference to the one-keyed flute of the present day, how grossly defective all these were; all the notes not belonging to D major having been produced by what may be termed artificial fingerings, and the scale of D major itself having been also, as will shortly be shown, very imperfect. That this additional key afforded no great advantages may be concluded from the fact that the application of it was ultimately discontinued.

[Californian collector and player Rick Wilson puts forward the view that rather than "was ultimately discontinued" it would be fairer to say "never really caught on".  Either way, Carte's ultimate point is perhaps a valid one. Inability to finger enharmonically different notes on Eb and D# were perhaps the least of the player's problems.]

The Four-Key Flute

The next great improvement was the addition of three other holes, stopped by three additional keys, constituting the four-keyed flute, that is, the flute with ten holes. Some difficulty has been experienced in ascertaining the exact time of the introduction, and the name of the originator of these keys; but the most approved authorities among the Germans give the honour of this contrivance to our countryman Joseph Tacet, who was popular both as a performer on and as a manufacturer of the flute in London, about seventy years since [ago]. 

[More recent discovery of earlier keyed flutes suggest that Tacet was not in fact the inventor of the four-key.] 

This was really a great step in the progress of the Flute. The notes G# or Ab, A# or Bb, and F, were, by means of these keys, produced upon the same principle as the D# or Eb, which had been obtained by the first key; and thus all the notes of the chromatic scale in the fundamental octave, excepting the C, were each produced by opening its legitimate hole, and the artificial fingerings for these notes, which produced tones of wretched quality and intonation, were no longer necessary. This improvement, great as it was, made its way at first but slowly. It was not until the beginning of the present century that the four-keyed flute began to be generally adopted in our orchestras.

Five keys

After this, the attempt was made to obtain a C natural by means of a key, the artificial C of the four-keyed flute fingered thus, 0 2 0 | 1 2 3, being very imperfect. For this purpose, a long key, acted upon by the first finger of the right hand, known as "the C shake key", was added; but although a good note was thus produced, it has been of little use, excepting in the shake with B, owing to the necessity, when using it, of moving the right hand.

[This confirms what we see in the fingering charts from the earlier part of the century.  C5 and C6 are played cross-fingered, and C#5 is played without opening the C key.]

The extended foot

About the same time, the tube was lengthened, and two long keys were added to the foot of the instrument, giving the two additional low notes, C sharp and C natural. This was the seven-keyed flute.

The Eighth key

The duplicate long F key, acted upon by the little finger of the left hand, was next added, to facilitate the execution of the notes D natural or E flat, in connexion with F natural. And thus was completed the ordinary eight-keyed flute. As many as seventeen keys have been added to some flutes, but the standard number has long been eight. 

Other improvements

Attempts were also made, from time to time, to improve the tone of the instrument, by enlarging the holes, and by variations in the bore. Joseph Tacet, before mentioned as the originator of the four-keyed flute, made experiments with large holes, as did also the father of the late Mr. Nicholson. The most important of the improvements in the bore were made by Messrs. Rudall and Rose. These will be referred to when explaining the conical and cylindrical tubes. But these efforts, both as to the size of the holes and the variations in the bore, could be only partially successful, owing to the radically incorrect position of the holes and the erroneous principle upon which the keys were constructed. 

We have now to consider the grounds and proofs of these imperfections, which constitute the main causes of all the defects in the Ordinary Flute.

The Imperfections


From the preceding brief sketch, it will be seen that the Ordinary Flute has made great progress during the last two hundred years. Originally an instrument of six holes stopped by six fingers and producing but one diatonic scale; it has now fourteen holes, the additional eight being stopped by keys, thus affording the means of playing the twelve diatonic scales, major and minor, as perfectly, to say the least, as the original scale of D major. This great advance as to the resources of the instrument was necessary in order to meet the increasing demands of modern scientific music. 

The successive steps by which the flute thus advanced correspond in some measure to the progress made in the musical art itself. Modern instrumental music was in its infancy two hundred years since [ago]. The first instruments after the organ which felt the influence of modern science were those of the violin class. At the time when these instruments combined considerable facility of execution with perfection of tone and intonation, the wind instruments were still to be found chiefly in the hands of itinerant musicians; and the subsequent improvements as to tone and intonation upon them did not keep pace with their development in other respects. 

It is on this account that the great classical composers have neglected them. The chamber music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven for the violin and other stringed instruments forms perhaps the largest portion of their works; while scarcely one piece of this class for the flute and other wind instruments can be found among them. This can have arisen from no other cause than the imperfections of the latter, especially from the inequality of their tones, and the incorrectness of their intonation. 

These defects are proverbial; and the Flute being the most conspicuous in the orchestra as well as the most popular of these instruments, notwithstanding the charm peculiar to its tone has always received the greatest share of this odium. As early as the year 1725, Quantz, the eminent flautist before mentioned, being on a visit to Naples, entreated his countryman Hasse to introduce him to the celebrated Scarlatti, under whom Hasse was studying. His friend was anxious to do so, but upon mentioning him to the old composer, he said: "My son, you know I hate wind instruments, they are never in tune." 

To the same purport, nearly a century later, a leader being much concerned that he had but one flute in his band, on an occasion when the celebrated Cherubini was to be the conductor, observed to him: "What, sir, is worse than one flute?"  The composer's laconic answer was, "Two." Although this witticism was uttered when the flute probably had still but one key, yet the reproach involved in it applies to the Ordinary Flute of the present day.

The two great defects

This flute has two great defects; it is out of tune - some of its notes being too flat, and some too sharp; and it varies in quality of tone - some of its notes being free and clear, and others feeble and muffled. The two principal causes of these defects are the unequal distribution of the holes - some being above and others below their correct position, and the existence of closed or shut keys. That these are the causes of the imperfections of this instrument will be demonstrated by a very brief examination of the principles upon which the fingered wind instruments are, or obviously should be, constructed.

Let us first suppose a tube, without any finger-holes, which when sounded will give the note C natural, the lowest note of the flute. If this tube be now shortened by cutting off about an inch and a quarter from the open end, the sound given will be C sharp, which is half a tone higher. If another piece of the same length be cut off, the sound produced will be D natural, which is half a tone still higher. Proceeding in this manner, with a slight diminution of distance as the tube is shortened, fourteen or more semitones will be elicited.

Now the same effect is produced if, instead of cutting sections off the tube so as to form so many different tubes, holes or apertures are bored in a single tube at distances corresponding to the sections cut off. The annexed H - I diagram will illustrate this. 

H represents sixteen tubes, which give the notes C natural to D# an octave above.  I represents the single tube C natural, with holes bored at distances corresponding to the lengths of the sixteen tubes of H. These being stopped, and afterwards successively uncovered from the open end, will give the same scale of sixteen half tones. These notes constitute the fundamental series of the instrument, each note being the representative of a separate tube. 

The next series of notes obtained from the instrument, which are the octaves of these, are really the first series of harmonics arising from the fundamentals, being produced by dividing the column of air into two by the action of the lips. In a similar manner - that is by a further division of the column of air - the third octave is produced. The notes, therefore, of the second and third octaves are obtained from the fundamental series. The thirty-seven notes included in the three entire octaves of the flute are not the representatives of thirty-seven different tubes, as has been erroneously supposed, but are naturally generated by the tubes or holes of the fundamental series only.

[The mention of thirty-seven tubes sounds like a gentle tilt at Clinton, who employs this analogy in his "A Few Practical Hints".]

From this statement it will be seen that the notes of the fundamental series and these harmonics are high in pitch as the uncovered holes approach the head or closed end of the tube, and are low in pitch as they approach the foot or open end. It consequently follows that, if a hole be placed above its correct situation, the note will be too high in pitch, or sharp, and if below it, that it will be too low, or flat. 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 tones.

Equality of Temperament and Tone

The most perfect intonation that can be obtained upon an instrument, the sounds of which are fixed by the manufacturer, is that produced by tuning them according to what is termed "equal temperament"; appreciably to which the holes of the flute should be placed at equal relative distances apart. Equality of tone also can only be obtained by means of equal-sized holes. Bearing this in mind, the following diagram will show one of the causes of the unequal tones and incorrect intonation of the Ordinary flute.

K represents the holes as they are bored on the most perfect of the Ordinary Eight-keyed Flute, commonly called the large-holed flute.

[This is interesting as Carte is confirming that the tuning of the large-holed version of the 8-key is more accurate than the small and medium hole versions, a matter brought out by our own researches.  This of course makes sense.  If the holes cannot be equally distributed (because of reach problems) then they must be graduated in size to compensate as much as is possible for their misplacement.  The combination of equally-sized holes and irregular placement is a sure guarantee of intonation problems.]

The holes are placed [in this illustration] in a straight line and without the keys, in order to show their relative size and position. It is obvious that equal tone and temperament cannot be possessed by this instrument, there being scarcely two holes placed together under these requisite conditions. It is true that by making those holes which are placed above their correct positions smaller, the pitch of the notes is somewhat lowered; but in the application of this means of avoiding the difficulty, the manufacturers were limited, being met by another of not less consequence, viz., the muffled or smothered quality of tone yielded by the small holes thus placed.

Closed Keys

The second great defect in the construction of the Ordinary flute is connected with the first, and partly the cause of it, as will presently be explained. This is the use of keys which are closed by their own springs, termed closed or shut keys. To demonstrate the nature of this defect, it is only necessary to observe, that if the hole immediately below another which is opened to produce a note be closed, the note becomes weaker in tone, and lower in pitch, constituting what is termed a veiled note. If two holes be opened to produce a note, and the hole immediately below be closed, the note will be slightly veiled if the holes are small, that is, the tone will be somewhat enfeebled, although the intonation will not be injured; but if the holes are large, the note will not in this case be perceptibly affected.

On the Ordinary flute, there is but one hole open between the holes which give the notes F sharp, A natural, B natural, and C sharp, and the closed keys, F natural, G sharp, B flat, and C natural. These are therefore veiled notes of the worst character. Between the F natural and G sharp, closed keys, and the notes G natural and B flat, there are two holes open: these open holes being all small excepting one, these notes also are slightly veiled.

In the two first octaves of this flute, then, there are no less than twelve notes out of the twenty-four rendered imperfect by these four closed or shut keys; and when to this imperfection is added that which arises exclusively from the smallness of some of the holes, it will be found that twenty of the twenty-four notes are more or less defective in regard to quality of tone. The only really pure, full, and perfect notes being the lowest C natural, C sharp, D natural, and D sharp.

[To which I'd add G, G#, Bb and c, given that all of them enjoy venting support from a decent-sized hole a semitone distant.  We have to keep in mind that Carte is trying to sell us on the importance of open keys, just as Clinton is trying to sell us on their dangers.  Caveat emptor.]

In the highest octave the disarrangement of the holes is such, owing chiefly to the closed keys, that the correct vent holes cannot be employed. These being placed too high, cause the notes to be much too sharp. The vent holes of the half tone lower are therefore used, and these make them too flat.

[This is a fascinating observation that I don't think I have seen otherwise noted.  I haven't had time to verify it and to consider the implications.  It needs to be contemplated in regard to the fingerings of the various generations of 8-key flute, Siccama's 10-key design, and the multi-keyed conicals of Carte, Clinton, Ward etc.]

The bad effect of closed keys may be illustrated by reference to the H-I diagram above. Suppose a person were to place his hand near the open end of one of the tubes, represented by H, while sounding the note yielded by it, the effect would be to deaden the tone and lower its pitch, by altering and checking the volume of air, and this in proportion to the nearness of the hand. It is on this principle that the closed notes of the French horn are produced, and this is the cause of their muffled quality. Any flute-player may satisfy himself upon this point by sounding the note A upon his flute, at the same time opening and closing the G sharp key.

In order to see how these defects originated and were perpetuated, we must refer to the flute as made at the early period when it had merely six finger holes. The opening successively of these six holes, as before observed, combined with the note produced when they were all closed, gave, though incorrectly, the scale of D major.

The reason why even this scale was incorrect is that the holes were placed so as to come within the reach of the fingers. As the fingers do not happen to vary in length corresponding to the half and whole tones required (the idea of keys to give artificial length to the fingers not occurring to our forefathers at that early stage of music's progress), some of these original notes were necessarily too flat, and others too sharp. As, when keys were successively added in order to obtain the chromatic scale, this faulty arrangement of the original holes still remained, so the Ordinary flute as to intonation is nearly as incorrect as it was two hundred years ago.

[This, we can now show, is an exaggeration.  Eight-key flutes immediately pre-Boehm were dramatically better than the early conical flutes, but they still suffered obvious and grievous failings.  Indeed, the ultimate improvements to the conical came in quick response to the challenge posed by Boehm's cylindrical flute.

Perhaps perceiving his overstatement, Carte backs away a little from his doom and gloom position ...]

The tone received some improvement when the D sharp key was added. By keeping open this key with the little finger of the right hand, it acted virtually like one of the open keys lately introduced, rendering some of the notes near it much fuller and clearer. Those in the highest octave were also improved. In the same manner, when the F natural key was added, those desirous of an improved quality of tone were enabled to keep this key also open for the notes above it, thus using it as an open key, whenever practicable, and admitting, in fact, the principle and advantage of open keys. It was not possible to use the G sharp and B flat as open keys in the same manner, because the notes A natural and B natural, being produced by the holes next above these keys, would have been too sharp in pitch.

[Carte is right in regard to A natural, but less rigorous in regard to B natural.  The B hole, being well placed on the 8-key, can afford to be of decent size, and provides good enough venting in conjunction with the A.  The A is one of the weaknesses of the 8-key design.]

Wishful thinking

On this subject, we can only regret that it never occurred to anyone before Boehm's time, that a key is more easily kept open by a spring, than closed; and that thus the holes under the keys might have been acted upon like the other holes. To regret this, however, is akin to lamenting, if we may compare small matters to great, that although numbers before Newton's day had seen an apple fall to the ground, it occurred to none to follow up a train of thought suggested from this circumstance, until he discovered by it the laws of gravitation; or that, although water had often been seen to boil, the wonderful power of steam had not sooner been applied to more important purposes.

Boehm's Two Flutes

III. What was effected by Boehm's first Flute, and what by his Flute with the Parabola head and Cylindrical body, with an explanation of the difference between the conical and cylindrical bores.

I have endeavoured briefly to show the nature and causes of the imperfections in the Ordinary Flute. From what has been stated, the means by which these imperfections were to be removed, may now be apparent. If holes of unequal size and distance and closed keys produced these imperfections, they were to be corrected by holes relatively equidistant and of equal size, combined with open keys. This accordingly has been the line pursued.

It is not necessary here to enter into the question whether Captain Gordon or M. Boehm first conceived the idea of adopting these principles, further than to observe, that, if it could even be shown that Gordon was the first to experiment in this direction, it is certain that it was Boehm who first produced an instrument upon these principles, which arrested the attention of the musical world, and proved the efficient cause of the reformation which the flute has since undergone.

The Ring-key conical

Boehm contrived this flute as early as 1832, but it attracted little notice until at a session of the Academy of Sciences, at Paris, a Commission was instituted to enter into a full examination of its merits. The members appointed for this purpose were MM. De Prony, Dulong, Savart, Par, and Auber. The result of this examination was that the commissioners gave it their full approbation, and recommended it to be adopted in the Conservatoire de Musique of Paris. 

It was not, however, until the year 1843 that it attracted much notice in this country. Its auspicious introduction into the French capital, and successful progress in France, induced Messrs. Rudall and Rose to examine its merits, and to consider how far it might be acceptable to the taste of the English flute player. This examination proving satisfactory so far as concerned tone and intonation, the two greatest essentials of a good instrument, they determined upon commencing the manufacture of it, in the year I have mentioned. And in order to do this most efficiently at once, they invited to this country the partner of M. Boehm, M. Greve, from Munich, to instruct the workmen and superintend its production. 

Notwithstanding that, in his first efforts, M. Boehm produced a flute which, by its superior tone and intonation, not only rendered more than ever apparent the defects of the old flute, but proved the possibility of correcting them, which was before despaired of, he still felt persuaded that something nearer perfection, something mathematically correct, might be obtained. 

Boehm's new bore

Having ascertained that the correct vent holes for the notes in the highest octave are those of the fifth below them in the fundamental series, with or without the addition of the hole immediately below these, and having found that although the notes in the fundamental series of his first flute were perfectly tuned, still those in the highest octave were a shade to sharp (those of the Ordinary Flute being much too flat), he became persuaded that the fault lay in the shape, or general bore of the tube. The fact also that the three or four lowest notes of his first flute were not equal in power to those throughout the rest of the instrument, seemed to him to arise from the same cause. He accordingly pursued his investigations in this new direction, and at length discovered that those remaining defects might be removed, and other advantages gained, by making the head-joint of the instrument a section of a parabola, tapering towards the closed end, and the body of the Flute a perfect cylinder, that is, of equal diameter throughout.

As many flute-players have not observed the peculiar shape of the flute, and are not aware that the slightest change in the shape of the tube may change the character of its tones, or alter their pitch, a few observations upon this subject may not be unacceptable.

The Oboe, Bassoon, Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone, etc., are of a conical shape throughout, the smallest end being inserted in the mouth. The body of the Clarionet is cylindrical, while the mouth-piece is tapered, and the foot joint expands into a bell. The Military Fife is a cylinder throughout. The Flute differs from all these instruments; the head of the Ordinary flute being a cylinder, and the body conical, the tapering being towards the open end. It may be asked why a Flute cannot be made of the same shape as a Fife, that is, with the head, body, and foot joints, forming one cylinder; or what would be the effect of such a change? The answer is, that in a perfectly cylindrical tube of the dimensions necessary for an Ordinary Concert Flute, the vibrations could not be made to move with rapidity sufficient to produce all the sounds; on the same principle that strings will not produce audible sounds, under a certain rate of rapidity of the vibrations.

From these remarks, it may now be seen in what consists the peculiarity of Boehm's second flute, which is formed of a Parabola head and Cylindrical body, his former flute having been in shape like the Ordinary Flute. It differs from the Military Fife in not having the head joint a cylinder, but of a Parabolic form, the tapering being towards the top, or closed end: and it differs from the Ordinary flute, in having the body cylindrical, and the head conical; the Ordinary flute being the reverse - the head being cylindrical, and the body conical. 

It is the parabola-head-Joint which renders the cylindrical body available for a Flute; one would be useless without the other. The parabola-head-joint seems to effect that for propagating sound, which the parabolic reflector does for propagating light. The vibrations are concentrated in, and propelled from the one, as the rays of light are concentrated in, and transmitted from the other, both with superior velocity and power.

[Carte is getting a bit out of his depth here, attempting to find some explanation for the benefits Boehm's bore offers.  We are reminded that he is a flute player and designer, and not an acoustician.  Boehm would perhaps have tittered a little upon reading this.]

Among the advantages secured by this flute made with the Parabola and Cylinder, whether constructed of wood or of metal, over the first flute of Boehm, may be mentioned the following: The weakness of the three or four lowest notes is corrected, so that all are now equal in volume throughout the instrument. The imperfect intonation in the upper notes is altogether removed, so that the flute is now singularly perfect in this respect. These two desirable objects are so completely realized by the new form, that the old reproach of unequal tones and incorrect intonation can no longer be urged against the flute by the most fastidious. 

Added to this, the quality of its tones, which, notwithstanding all its other imperfections, always rendered the flute popular, is also greatly improved. They are sweet and clear, rich and sonorous, liquid, powerful, and free. Like a beautiful soprano voice, their volume may be increased to the utmost stretch of power, or be decreased to a mere whisper, without affecting the intonation, in a manner that could never be attempted on any former flute. This latter capability is of all the most desirable, as affording the means of embodying and conveying, at the will of the performer, every variety and every shade, even the most delicate, of musical expression.

Connected with this is the facility with which the sounds are produced. They are elicited with the greatest ease, a very little breath being sufficient; so that those with weak lungs, who might hesitate to practise a Flute of the old shape, may use one constructed according to this principle. So little exertion does it require, that it may be played by the most delicate person. 

There is one other advantage possessed by the Cylindrical Flute, and that is, the ease with which the pitch is varied - the head joint itself forming a tuning slide. This may be drawn out so as to flatten the pitch to a great extent; the only thing required to be done is to draw out also the foot joint, when the pitch has to be very much flattened.

[This seems to confirm that pitch variability was still a major problem at the time Carte is writing.]


It is immaterial, so far as concerns the quality of the tone or perfection of the intonation of flutes made with Boehm's Parabola and Cylinder, whether they are constructed of wood or metal. Metal is preferred by some; but this not on account of any superiority it possesses over wood in these respects, but for other reasons. There are two or three qualities possessed by flutes made of silver or other metal, which may induce many to prefer them to the same instruments made of wood. One is, that metal preserves its pitch better than wood. Neither the moisture of the breath, nor the hottest temperature, will cause the slightest sensible variation in this respect. This, especially in extreme climates, is a great desideratum. 

Another is their being less liable to get out of order. They are also extremely light. This latter quality arises not only from the lightness of the metal, but also from the simplicity of the head-joint, by which, without any additional contrivance, the instrument is tuned. Their elegant appearance, is also, with some, a not unimportant recommendation. These, however, are minor considerations. The difference between the tones of flutes of silver or other metal, and of wood is so slight that it can scarcely be distinguished. Wind instruments have long been made of brass and other metals; not only Trumpets, Horns, and Trombones, but the fingered instruments, as Clarionets, Oboes, and Military Fifes. 

The Miller Patent

A patent was granted to one Miller, a military musical instrument manufacturer, in 1810, for making Military Fifes of brass. It has been asserted that this patent was for improvements in the flute - for a change in the bore of it to a cylinder; and it has been implied that it was, in fact, the same as the patent lately taken by Boehm. This, I find upon examining Miller's specification, lodged at the Patent Office (which anyone can refer to on payment of one shilling), is altogether untrue. There is in it no allusion whatever to the Flute, but it claims simply the making of Military Fifes of brass, or other metal, instead of wood and does not include any alteration of shape even in this instrument. 

Boehm's patent relates only to the Flute, and does not extend to the material of which it is formed. It is the novel shape of the different parts of the tube, and especially for the Parabola head-joint, which renders a cylinder body-joint, for the first time, available for the Flute, and without which it would be useless. The assertion, therefore, that this patent for making fifes of brass is the same as Boehm's last splendid invention - the Parabola and the Cylinder - is, to say the least of it, a mis-statement calculated to mislead and deceive. 

[This sounds like a dig at Clinton, who made reference to the Miller Patent in one of his documents.  It is possible of course that the Miller Patent was a common item of ammunition in the long running Boehm-vs-Gordon debate]

The New Conoidal Bore

[This next section appears in the 1851 edition, but has been completely excised from the 1870 version.  Perhaps Carte felt it was a trifle embarrassing, or perhaps the whole topic of conical bores was now completely off the agenda.]

Before leaving the subject of the bore of the flute, a further remark or two may be useful, to prevent misapprehension.  It appears that Boehm's investigations, which led to his discovery of the parabolic head and cylindrical tube, arose from the circumstance that he could not obtain a tone so fine in the lowest notes of the old conical body, used in his first flute, as in the rest of the notes; and that some notes of the highest octave were also a shade too sharp.  Now, it is to be observed, that Boehm having failed to obtain the notes in question so perfectly with the conical bore, as he afterwards did with the parabola and cylinder, is no proof that these notes were not to be obtained with the old shape. On the contrary, there are reasons to be given why he might be expected to fail in this respect. One reason is this: the Germans, although the original inventors of the ordinary flute, have ever been slow in experimenting with the bore. Experiments in this direction have been chiefly made in England. In France very little was done in this way before the introduction of Boehm's flute. The eminent performers also, both German and French, have always aimed rather at mere sweetness of tone than power. Very different has been the case in England. No performers have ever approached the English in the union of a rich and large volume with sweetness of tone.  And it has, doubtless, been from the desire to obtain this, that so many experiments have been made by the English performers and manufacturers with different-sized holes and variations of the general bore.

Tacet, as before observed, in the last century, experimented with large holes, as did also the late Mr. Nicholson's father; but the most important improvements as to the tone of the ordinary flute, especially those gained by variations in the bore, have been effected by Messrs. Rudall and Rose. Now it may easily be conceived that Boehm, who is a German, coming necessarily, as he did, to the subject without much previous experience with regard to the bore, and falling upon, or turning his attention to, the more scientific mode of shaping the tube before he had exhausted the resources of the conical tube, did not ascertain to the fullest extent the capabilities of the old shape. I am also convinced that this was the case by experiments which have lately been made. As it was thought that flutes of wood, of the parabolic and cylindrical shape, if made sufficiently thin to be held comfortably in the hands, would be liable to crack, and as some preferred the tone of the wooden flute, while others could manage the embouchure of it better than that of the same flute in metal, strenuous efforts have been made by Mr. Rose so to vary the proportions of the cone as to correct the defective notes mentioned as having existed in the first of Boehm's flutes; and so successful have been his efforts, that not only are these notes rendered equal to the others, but so much is the general tone of the instrument improved, that it becomes a matter of opinion whether the wooden flute with parabola and cylinder, or that with this improved conical bore, is now the better.  

This improved bore is therefore adopted, if required, for the two new Patent flutes, as well as also for the flute of Boehm.

["if required" is interesting - sounds like an option.  We'll be looking elsewhere for where this option becomes available.]

In summing up what Boehm has effected for the Flute, and not only for the Flute, but, as before observed, for all the fingered Wind Instruments, we can scarcely I think estimate this eminent man's services too highly. We see, from the sketch before given, the successive steps by which the Ordinary Flute, as well as the Oboe, Clarionet, and Bassoon, have progressed from their primitive, single diatonic scale, to their present capacity of giving all the diatonic and chromatic scales, and that this was piling error upon error, the foundation being erroneous.

It was Boehm who stood forward to oppose the deeply-rooted prejudices engendered by this long continuance in a wrong course; it was the enduring patience and perseverance of Boehm that opened the eyes as well as the ears of those most blinded by former prejudices to the value and importance of equidistant holes and open keys. He convinced their judgment as well as their senses. Many who at first opposed the movement from interested motives, as well as from prejudice, have at length yielded to the force of the truth. His senses must be indeed obtuse, who cannot hear the superiority of the free tones gained by the open-keyed over the muffled tones of the closed-keyed system, and who has not discernment enough to see that various-sized holes must produce notes of various quality. It was Boehm who rendered these principles palpable; and if, in what I have to advance respecting the Flutes I have myself patented, I shall have to record some strictures upon Boehm's flute, they will be strictures, not so much upon what he has done, as upon what he has left undone.

Why the new Carte Flutes


The introduction into England of Boehm's first flute, in 1843, was the signal for the immediate appearance of others, upon which his principles were either partially or entirely carried out, but with a different mechanism and mode of fingering. Boehm's flute, however, has stood its ground up to the present time, evincing that it was not brought forward without much cautious consideration. Within the last two years*, however, - that is, since the appearance of his Parabola head and Cylinder body, - this attempt at rivalry has been again renewed. Numerous are the flutes which have been made and discarded during this period. Messrs. Rudall and Rose, alone, as manufacturers, have made not less than ten flutes for different contrivers within this period.

* This was written in 1850.

Two dissatisfied types of customers

The object aimed at in these instruments was to meet the wishes of two classes of objectors to the Boehm flute. One party consisted of those who were anxious to have the advantages of this flute, without the necessity of changing their old method of fingering. This desire was expressed not only by numbers of amateurs, who, having once studied the instrument, were indisposed, either from want of leisure or inclination, to go to school again; but especially by some of the most eminent professors, who, although fully alive to the desirableness of securing a flute of the finest and most perfect tones, were so circumstanced as to be totally unable to study a new method of fingering, owing to the nature of their professional duties, which would not allow the necessary time for acquiring perfect facility upon it. For it must be borne in mind, that the time necessary to establish that union of the mind with its agents the fingers, which enables the performer to utter his notes without reflection, as it were, instinctively, must be greater in the case of a professor than the generality of amateurs, on account of the much greater facility which he requires to have at his command.

The other class of objectors to the Boehm flute consisted of great numbers of those, professors as well as amateurs, who, after having adopted it, although enthusiastic in their admiration of its superior tone and intonation, and altogether unwilling to return to the Ordinary Flute, were yet constrained to admit that they were limited upon it as to the third essential, facility of execution. It was the Professor more particularly, and the highly graduated Amateur, who felt this. It was therefore the aim of the Makers in any third flute they should publish, not to lose any portion of that perfection of tone and intonation which constituted the excellence of the Boehm flute, but to unite this with increased facility of execution, if they could obtain it. 

Any instrument consequently giving up any portion of this excellence, whether fingered in any new method, or like the Ordinary Flute, would necessarily be rejected by them. It was not sufficient, in the case of any Flute fingered like the ordinary flute, that some of the notes should be superior to those of the old flute, while others were inferior; nor was it enough in the case of any flute with a new fingering, that the fingering should be easier, if the tone were in any way sacrificed; or even that the tone should be equal, and the execution only facilitated to a limited extent. It was requisite, if any change were made from the Ordinary eight-keyed flute, or from the Boehm flute, that both should be greatly superior to either of these instruments, in order to make it desirable for parties to adopt the new one.

Some of the flutes contrived to meet the wishes of these parties had great merit; but all failed in one or other particular. If one realised the desired object of greater facility of execution than Boehm, it gave up the principle of open keys, and consequently left some notes weaker than others, and disarranged the holes. If another retained the open keys, it was by means of a mechanism which upon trial was found unfit for action. The consequence was, that the manufacturers were obliged to decline publishing any of them.

Having myself taken up the Boehm flute warmly, upon its first introduction into this country, and having been the first native professor to perform upon it in public, I watched with interest the experiments of the many talented individuals occupied in endeavouring to carry out its principles in the new direction, intending, if one should be produced with the same perfection of tone and tune, but with greater facility of execution, to adopt it. It was not until all these efforts had failed, that, for the first time, I gave my attention fully to the subject, with the view of ascertaining whether I could not design a mechanism which should retain the open keys and equidistant holes of Boehm's flute, and yet secure a greater facility of fingering. 

I was the more readily emboldened to make this attempt, as I had had full knowledge of the means taken by all those who had preceded me in this line, and of the nature and cause of the failure of their endeavours. In a short time I succeeded beyond what I could possibly have anticipated. 

What's wrong with the Boehm

The great cause of difficulty in fingering the Boehm flute arises from the necessity of constantly keeping the little finger and thumb of the left hand upon their keys to shut them, which otherwise are kept open by their springs. This, especially in the upper octave, cramps the action of the other fingers. The cause of the superior facility of the ordinary flute, is the freedom of these fingers, the keys worked by them being kept closed or shut by their springs. As the open keys were the cause of the superior tone of Boehm's flute, and the closed keys the cause of the superior facility of execution of the old flute, the object was to free the little finger and thumb, and yet to retain the open keys, so that facility of execution and beauty of tone might be at once secured. This I have been enabled to effect. 

By means of the mechanism adopted, every perfect note of Boehm's is retained, and some additional fine ones are gained; and, at the same time, a facility of execution is secured never dreamed of even by players of the old flute. Added to which an articulate enunciation of the notes, and an evenness of execution, are obtained, arising from the little motion of the fingers, similar to that upon the violin. These points I shall now proceed to render apparent.

Boehm vs. Carte's Improved Fingering

[in the original 1851 edition, the expression "new fingering" was used - clearly by 1870, it was no longer new, simply "improved"]


My Patent Flute with improved fingering is not brought forward as possessing any considerable advantages over the flute of Boehm as to purity of tone and intonation. There are two or three notes upon it somewhat more free and full than the same upon Boehm's flute, but this improvement merely would not have justified the adoption of a new flute. There is also a more even and articulate enunciation of the notes, arising from a cause hereafter described. But the great object gained upon this flute, is a facility for rapid execution, as superior to that obtainable upon the Boehm and the Ordinary flutes, as are the tones and intonation of the Boehm over the Ordinary flute. 

As to tone and intonation, this flute is the same as Boehm's, being made, as is also my Patent Flute with the old fingering, with his patent Parabola and Cylinder, in silver or other metal, or of wood with equidistant holes. All therefore that is stated respecting Boehm's improvements at pages 6 and 7, and throughout the preceding remarks, applies equally to my Flutes.

What remains, then, is to show the great advantages as to facility of execution which my flute with the improved fingering possesses over both the Boehm flute and the Ordinary flute.

What's hard on the flute

In examining the relative facility of execution afforded by these three instruments, the first point to be shown is what is the chief cause of all difficulty upon the flute. On the violin the chief difficulty consists in hitting the exact place upon the string to produce the notes. This requires both a correct musical ear, and a judgment, which can arise only from long practice. Great experience also is required to know which fingers to apply. 

None of these difficulties exist in performing upon the flute. The fingers are identified with certain notes, with very slight variations, and the pitch of the notes is fixed by the manufacturers, except as to very minute shades, made as it were instinctively, by the action of the lips. 

All difficulty and ruggedness of execution upon the flute arise solely, and in proportion as it is necessary in passing from one note to another, to raise one or more fingers from off the holes, or keys, at the same time that one or more fingers are to be put down. This is the only source of difficulty so far as relates to mere execution. If the fingers, whether one or more, were simply raised from off the holes, or pressed down upon upon them in passing from one note to another throughout the instrument, the execution upon the flute would be rapid beyond conception. 

The object, then, to be ascertained is, which of the flutes has the greatest and least amount of a double action of the fingers, usually termed "cross-fingerings".

[Potential for confusion sneaks in here.  The term "cross-fingering" is often used today to mean a fingering where one or more holes are covered below an open hole, eg c = oxo xxx.] 

Try this at home!

That this point may be fully understood, let any flute-player take an Ordinary flute and first play up the scale of D major (two sharps) from the lower D to the C sharp first above it.  In playing these notes, either in ascending or descending, or in any possible combination, the fingers are either simply raised or put down. They may consequently be played with any degree of rapidity, and with perfect facility. 

But let him now play upon the same flute the first octave, say, in the key of E flat (three flats) - here the case is very different. In passing to, or from any or all of these notes, with scarcely any exception, to F natural, A flat or G sharp, B flat or A sharp, one, two, or more fingers have to be raised, at the same time that others have to be put down, one of which has also to open a key. There is consequently a hindrance to the rapid execution of the notes, and this in proportion to the number of fingers raised and put down at one time. Between all the notes of the first example, there is only a single action of the fingers; but between all those of the second, there is a double action, or cross-fingering.

Difficult Digits

In changing the closed or shut keys for open keys, Boehm did away with this double action, so far as those keys were concerned; but he introduced other cross-fingerings, and, as before observed, an increased action for the thumb and little finger of the left hand. The springs of open being lighter than closed keys, those worked by the thumb and little finger on Boehm's flute are more easily managed than the keys of the ordinary flute, which require springs so strong to close them that considerable force has to be applied to open them. The difficulty of working these keys, therefore, on Boehm's flute does not arise from this cause, but from their being in constant use in every scale and chord of every key, and from the fact that the thumb and little finger do not act so freely as the other fingers.

The greatest comparative difficulty, however, of the Boehm flute, arises from the number of cross-fingerings, in the highest octave. [Because of this] there are certain passages in this part of the instrument which can only be played by having recourse to harmonics, that is to notes fingered exactly like those of the fundamental series, which are of a nasal quality of tone. The same observation applies to some of the notes in the upper octave of the ordinary flute, which are also difficult, and require the use of harmonics, although not to the same extent.

Carte's Improvements

The chief cause, then, of the cross-fingerings on the ordinary flute, is the necessity of having to open the closed keys worked by the thumb and little finger; and the chief cause of the same on the Boehm flute, is the necessity of constantly keeping the open keys closed by the same means, combined also with the arrangement for producing the F sharp and B flat. Now by the mechanism applied to my flute, both these defects are removed. The keys worked by the thumb and little finger are open keys, as on Boehm's flute, but they are closed not only by the thumb and little finger, but also by other fingers - the thumb-keys by the second finger of the left hand, and by the first and third fingers of the right hand, and the little finger-key by the first finger of the right hand. 

The effect of this arrangement is that the thumb and little finger have much less action than upon the Boehm Flute, and an easier action than upon the Ordinary Flute; the cross-fingerings caused by these keys are also removed; and the open keys being more easily closed than closed keys are opened, all the advantages as to tone of the open keys of Boehm are united, with more than the advantages as to facility of execution of the closed keys of the Old flute.

By the introduction of an additional hole for the note D of the second and third octaves, some further most objectionable cross-fingerings of both the Boehm and the Ordinary flutes are also removed.

[In the 1870 edition, the sentence stop there.  In the 1851 edition, Carte continues:

... and the necessity of boring the C sharp hole, so as to adapt it, though imperfectly, for several different purposes, is no longer necessary, and this note is rendered as perfect for its legitimate use (C sharp) as any other note, which is not the case upon either of the other flutes.

By another arrangement, the necessity is removed of ever moving the thumb of the left hand either for the high or low notes throughout the scales and passages, in the keys of one, two, three and four flats; and one, tow, three, and four sharps, that is, eight out of the twelve keys; and but very rarely in the remaining four keys.

Presumably, by 1870, Carte had determined that these were not accurate or wise statements!]

One very important point gained upon this flute, is the removal of a certain ruggedness or abruptness in the utterance of the notes, arising from the gap necessarily caused between the notes in all "cross-fingerings", by the momentary interruption of the stream of sound, which destroys that smooth connection of the notes, and articulate enunciation of them which forms one of the great charms of the voice and the violin.

Doing the numbers!

But perhaps the most effectual mode of demonstrating the great facility afforded upon the new flute compared with the others is to make a statement of the number of cross-fingerings, and the number of times the action of the little finger and thumb of the left hand is actually required in all the scales and chords in every key.

In ascending the twelve major keys and twelve major common chords, taking the compass from the lowest C to the highest B flat,-

The number of cross-fingerings upon these Flutes is as follows :-

Ordinary Flute . . . . . . . . . . 176 
Boehm's Flute  . . . . . . . . . . 127
Carte's Flute . . . . . . . . . . . .  91
[in 1851, replaced in the 1870 edition with] 55 

The number of times the little finger of the left hand moves :-

Ordinary Flute. . . . . . .  .  .  . 51
Boehm's Flute. . . . . . . . . . . . 71
Carte's Flute . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

The number of times the thumb moves ;-

Ordinary Flute . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Boehm's Flute . . . . . . . . . . .  54
Carte's Flute . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
[in 1851, replaced in the 1870 edition with] 28

Upon the above statement, it may be observed, that under the head of "Cross Fingerings", the new Flute has about half [in 1851or] one third [in 1870]  the number of those upon the Ordinary Flute, and about one-third fewer than [in 1851or] less than half the number of those upon [in 1870] the Boehm Flute. The reason why the Boehm Flute is more difficult of execution than the Ordinary Flute, notwithstanding that it has fewer cross fingerings, is that those of the Boehm Flute are of a more difficult character, owing chiefly to the action of the thumb and little finger. 

Those upon the New Flute are chiefly in the highest octave, and even here they are of a more simple character than even those of the Ordinary Flute, while, in the lower two octaves, by employing the new open D, there are none whatever except in passing from C natural to C sharp. In the highest octave, also, it may be mentioned that there is a second class of fingerings for several of the notes, which lessens even this number of Cross fingerings, and thus gives still further facilities.

Under the head of "the number of times the little finger of the left hand moves," this action is shown to be less required upon the New Flute than upon the Boehm Flute by two-thirds, and less than upon the Ordinary Flute by more than one-half. 

Under the head of "the number of times the thumb moves," it will be seen how little this objectionable movement is required upon the New Flute compared with the others. 

[This next passage exists only in the 1851 edition]

The following passage:

formed of the chords of the tonic and dominant, and played in all the major keys, may also be instanced as a remarkable illustration of the extraordinary facility of execution upon the Patent Flute with the new fingering, as seen in one simple fact, namely, that in playing through the whole of them, the thumb of the left hand has actually to be moved only seven times, while upon the ordinary flute it has to be moved one hundred and forty nine times, and on the Boehm flute no less than two hundred and twenty three times.  These, and the preceding calculations, will serve to enable those who have not the three flutes in their hands, to form a definite conclusion upon the subject.  These are facts which speak for themselves.  If we bear in mind that one of the chief causes of the cross-fingerings of the flute arises from the moving of the thumb, and that on one flute it moves but seven times, where on another it moves a hundred and forty-nine, and another two hundred and twenty-three, it must be evident to a demonstration which has the advantage as to facility of execution.

[It is interesting to speculate why this section has been excised in the 1870 edition.  It might be wrong, meaningless, insignificant, or overtaken by some change in the current version of the instrument.  There is an opportunity here for someone to investigate and report back ....]

The sales pitch

From the preceding statements and examples, an idea may now be formed of the relative facility of execution on my flute with the improved fingering, as compared with the Ordinary flute and Boehm's flute. It must be palpably apparent that the New Flute has incalculable advantages, in this essential respect, over both the other instruments. Every pupil has felt the difficulty, in the early stages of his progress, of opening the closed keys of the Ordinary flute; and every master of the same instrument has felt the hindrance they present to freedom of execution, especially in some of the keys or modes, the difficulties of which are so great, that they have always been avoided in compositions for the instrument. 

On the Boehm flute there exists an anomaly with regard to facility of execution. Several of the keys or modes in which there were great difficulties upon the Ordinary flute are easier upon this instrument, especially in the lower two octaves, while others are more difficult. The keys acting more easily, a certain degree of facility of fingering is also more easily acquired than upon the ordinary flute, and it is only when more advanced that the student discovers that he is fettered by the cramped action of the fingers and cross fingerings, above described. It has been shown that, on the New Flute, both these obstacles are removed. The early steps of the pupil are singularly facilitated, and the more advanced performer is like a bird let loose; he feels himself free to follow where his fancy prompts him; he finds the more difficult keys upon it as easily manipulated as the more facile of the other flutes. 

Notwithstanding the short time this flute has been before the public, there have been several opportunities of witnessing these results in those who have adopted it. Some of my own pupils, who had made but little progress upon the Ordinary flute, found themselves in a few weeks capable of performing compositions considerably more difficult than they could before, and expressed themselves as much pleased with the superior facility of execution, as with the superior quality of tone they were able to produce. 

Others also, who were excellent performers upon the Boehm flute, have been able in a surprisingly short time to realize the advantages I have described. I shall never forget the delight expressed by one gentleman, and my own surprise, at finding that he was able to play with me one of the most difficult duets of Kuhlau, at sight, with scarcely any mistakes, in about a fortnight after he had commenced practising on the New Flute. The satisfaction of this gentleman arose, not only from the facility with which he acquired the mastery over the New Flute, but from the beauty and manageable character of its tones, and the perfection of its intonation; and also, in an eminent degree, from that equable flow of the notes one into the other, referred to as peculiar to this Flute (above), which renders the execution, at the same time that it is rapid, as articulate and smooth as the voice or violin.

I should perhaps before have observed, that although this flute is entitled The Flute with Improved Fingering, the changes from the fingering of the Ordinary flute are really very few. Those of the right hand are the same; the changes are in the left hand, and here the notes A, B, and C sharp are the same.

It now remains to offer a few words respecting The New Flute fingered like the Ordinary Flute.

Carte's second Flute


In all the attempts to realize the perfection of tone and intonation of Boehm's flute combined with the fingering of the Ordinary flute, one of the greatest difficulties has been to obtain an endurable C natural, fingered thus 0 2 0 | 1 2 3. On several flutes, the most defective note in the lower octaves, E natural, was sufficiently improved; but this C baffled every endeavour. This obstacle has been removed in the New Flute with the old Fingering, by means of duplicate holes.

The C fingered thus, 0 2 0 | 0 0 0, which facilitates the execution of many passages, and which has hitherto been even inferior to the other C, is on this instrument greatly improved.

The C sharp with all the fingers off is now corrected as well in the upper as the lower octave.

All the commonest fingerings of the Ordinary flute are available, from the lowest C to the highest G sharp, inclusive. But although the commonest fingerings for the high D sharp, E, and F, fingered thus,


123 023,


120 023,


1,20' 023, 


1,20' 120,

are available, and are of a fine quality, and fully as correct as upon the Ordinary Flute, they are still too flat in pitch, as they must ever be if thus fingered (that is if the holes are correctly placed).  Consequently, other fingerings for these notes, which are also fingerings of the ordinary flute, though not so common, are preferable. They are as follows:


123'   123,


120   120,


12,0  12,0,


12,3   12,0,

On the New Flute these notes are perfect, and being equally easy with the common fingerings, are soon acquired by those not already accustomed to employ them.

[I have used my own format for illustrating the fingerings above as I found Carte's a bit confusing.  

Keys are not shown if in rest position, and shown as commas and apostrophes if operated. The key marks appear between the finger-holes in the positions the cups occupy.  This gets around the problem that levers could be operated by one or more different fingers.]

A better long F

Another improvement is introduced in this flute, relating to the long F key, which removes a great difficulty experienced by all classes of players who attempt to make use of this key. The long F key, which was the last added to the Ordinary flute, was originally devised as before observed to enable the performer to pass from D natural or E flat, to F natural, without the intervention of the note E natural. Now, out of five players, not more than one upon an average makes use of this key, on account of the difficulty arising from the double action of the fingers. 

In lieu of it is placed upon the New Flute a key, constructed upon the same plan as those upon the Flute with improved fingering, which requires but one action of the fingers - the little finger pressing down and remaining upon the key, while the fingers of the right hand only move. Thus the more accomplished performer, who has employed this key but sparingly, will be delighted to find it so much more serviceable; and the less capable performer, who never employed it at all, will now have the advantage of it without its former difficulty. So much did the late Mr. Nicholson object to the action of this key, that he never allowed it to be put upon his flute, and blinded himself to its evident use.

The other closed keys

In order to retain the fingering of the Ordinary flute, it has been absolutely necessary to retain also the closed keys. But the bad effects arising from them, so far as regards tone and tune, have been counteracted. Thus, in the case of the F natural key, acted upon by the third finger of the right hand, and the B flat key, acted upon by the thumb of the left hand, there are duplicate holes stopped by the second fingers of each hand, which give free vent to the air, as on Boehm's flute. When playing C sharp, this note is fully vented, the C natural as well as the B natural holes being open. 

The only remaining closed key is the G sharp, acted upon by the little finger of the left hand. For this also a duplicate hole has been provided, connected by a ring key acted upon by the third finger of the left hand.  But it has been thought advisable not to make use of this contrivance unless expressly required; for several reasons:

  • by this arrangement the upper B flat, fingered thus 1 2 0 | 1 2 3 4, which, from being a fine note, although not the common fingering, many have become attached to, would be lost, 

  • as well as the upper F natural, fingered thus, 1 2 0 | 1 2 F 0 4, which, although somewhat flat in pitch, and not the common fingering, many are accustomed to use in certain passages; 

  • and because the note A, which is affected by this closed key, is, without it, much more freely vented than upon the ordinary flute; all the holes below the G key being open. 

The note is also much finer than the same upon the ordinary flute, not only from this cause, but also from the fact, that the hole which produces this note is brought lower down, and is enlarged.

Other gains

Although the object, in constructing this flute, has been simply to unite the old system of fingering with closed keys with the superiority of tone and intonation caused by open keys and equidistant holes, still there are several important advantages gained, even as to facility of execution, of which the performer can avail himself, or not, as he pleases. 

  • One of these facilities arises from being able to use the upper C sharp like the lower one: with all the fingers off. 

  • A second consists in the great improvement of the C natural fingered thus, 
    0 2 0 | 0 0 0, which is equally available in the upper and lower octaves. This facilitates the execution of numerous arpeggio and other passages, and removes the necessity of constantly employing the usual "cross fingering". 

  • A third facility is secured by the contrivance, in lieu of the long F key, before adverted to. 

  • A fourth, arising from the notes being properly vented, consists in enabling the performer to keep open the D sharp key for all the notes of the highest octave. The F sharp, fingered thus, 1 0 3 | 1 0 0 4, which is much easier, is also available in rapid passages, with the D sharp key open. 

  • A fifth improvement is the obtaining of several additional shakes, and the numerous little facilities which are always connected with the fingering of good shakes.


From what has been advanced it must, I think, be evident that the Flute has been undergoing for a number of years a very important reformation, and that this reformation extends not only to the Flute, but to all the fingered Wind Instruments. We have seen that the Flute and these Instruments went hand in hand through similar progressive steps of improvement for a period of two hundred years, led on by the necessity of keeping pace in some measure with the march of modern scientific music; but that, owing to the very imperfect foundation upon which these improvements were built, such gross imperfections of tone and intonation still adhered to them, that they were neglected by the great masters of composition, while the folios of their more fortunate brethren of the violin class were enriched with mines of musical wealth. We have seen that when the increasing musical intelligence of the times arrived to such a pitch that these defects could no longer be countenanced, a successful effort to remedy them was made by Boehm. 

No one will attempt to deny that Boehm has been the great agent of this important movement; and when we consider how much courage must have been required in an individual to oppose himself to the prejudices and interests of two hundred years' growth, we must conclude that nothing but an enthusiasm inspired by the conviction, that, in thus exerting himself he was effecting a great and useful object, could have carried him on. 

The great object gained has been, we have seen, perfection of tone and intonation:- the removal of those imperfections in these respects, which, notwithstanding the charm which always made the Flute popular, had become proverbial - the changing it in fact from an instrument formed upon no principle, but as chance or empirical experiment suggested, to one constructed upon highly scientific principles. That Boehm failed to secure, by his mechanism, a facility of fingering equal to his other ameliorations, is a matter of secondary importance. His principles have gone forth, and cannot now be lost.

No Flute that fails to yield equal tones and correct intonation, will long stand the test of that intelligent scrutiny which the knowledge of these principles has spread abroad. No Flute in the construction of which the principle of open keys, and equally distributed and equal-sized holes is not recognized, will satisfy the requirements either of the Professor or Amateur in these times.

[The former of these two statements is the more accurate and the more useful to us.  A turning point had been reached in which bad intonation and uneven response would no longer be tolerated.

The second statement is more political.  Boehm's cylinder, open keys, and equally distributed holes of equal size are one way to achieve the former objective.  But there are losses too, and not all the makers were happy to go down this path.  Leading the charge in the other direction was our other hero, John Clinton.] 

It will be seen that all I claim in furtherance of this desirable end is the contrivance of a mechanism by means of which in one case, that is, upon the Flute with improved fingering, a degree of facility is secured as superior to that afforded upon the ordinary Flute, as are the other two greater essentials, tone and intonation, the chief merit of which is due to Boehm; and in the second case, that is upon the Flute fingered like the ordinary Flute, I claim a mode of so arranging the holes and keys, that those who, having once studied the Old Flute, are indisposed to learn any new fingerings, may have, without this necessity, the advantage of the new arrangement of the holes, and thus the possession of a finer instrument. 

It will be seen, finally, that the reasons which have induced me to bring forward these Two Flutes at the present time, have been solely the desire to remove the only drawback which existed to the full reception and propagation of the principles introduced by Boehm, viz. the difficulty of obtaining a rapid execution upon his Flute, and the adaptation of his principles to the wants of those who could not change their fingering.

That my Flutes have been adopted by Messrs. Rudall and Rose, and that I have consequently been admitted a Partner into their firm, has been a source of great gratification to myself; I am thus enabled to construct these instruments, with Boehm's last splendid invention, the parabola and cylinder, the patent right of which, for this country, has been purchased by this Firm. I have thus also secured the advantage of the acknowledged great experience, and admirable workmanship, of these long-established and eminent Flute Manufacturers.

The mechanism by means of which equidistant and equal-sized holes, with open keys, are combined with great facility of execution, on my Flute with improved Fingering, applies equally to the Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon,. and the application of it to these Instruments, which are even more defective upon the old principle than the Flute, is included in the Patent. These Instruments are in preparation, and will be announced as soon as completed.



[The press notices below were not reproduced in the 1970 edition]

"The tone of this flute almost resembles a mellow soprano voice, so liquid and pleasant is it; the gradations from soft to loud, and the extremes of each, seem producible in a manner I never remarked in a flute before.  I should certainly (judging from this one hearing) be inclined to give the metal flute a preference over the wood flute, for the quality and quantity of tone that is obtained from it. The pitch, moreover, is less likely to suffer by the changes of temperature than in the wooden flute.  The purity of the tone is remarkable, and it retains the same quality throughout the register. Mr Carte and his flute made a decided hit on this their debut; a more hearty and genuine encore than that which followed the piece (a very long one) could not have been desired by artist." - Musical World

MR. CARTE'S LECTURES.-" The last two Flutes were of the lecturer's own contrivance: the object of one of them being to combine the improvement as to tone and tune introduced by Boehm, with the fingering of the old Concert Flute; and the other to introduce a more facile mode of fingering, the instrument designed by Boehm being difficult of execution. The tone and intonation of these instruments appeared to be fine and correct; and as we know ourselves that defective intonation and difficulty of fingering in our Flute-playing days were serious objections, and no very great improvement has since been made in the manufacture, we hope the improvement, as explained by Mr. Carte, will turn out to be a valuable one. The lectures were well attended, and appeared to excite much interest."-Atlas.

" Our great musical conductors may at length rejoice that a perfect Flute is now made, and that their ears will be no longer tortured by the weak C and A natural, and the incorrect E, nor by the imperfect execution of certain Flute passages in some of the best overtures which were really impossible of finished execution and correct intonation on the old Concert Flute."-Sunday Times.

"We have seen the new Flutes announced by Rudall and Rose. They are the contrivance of Mr. Carte. The Flute, as well as the greater part of the orchestral and wind instruments, feel the effects of this transition age. We understand that numerous experiments have lately been made to bring these instruments to the long envied perfection as to intonation of their stringed brethren of the orchestra - "a consummation devoutly to be wished." There are two, one planned so as to accommodate those who are unwilling to change their fingering, and one with some changes in this respect, but with facilities that seem really extraordinary. They are made of wood or of silver, and the tone is unquestionably finer than any we have yet heard."-Bell's Life in London.

" We have much pleasure in noticing the Metallic Flutes manufactured by Messrs. Rudall and Rose, which appear quite perfect. There are two - one planned to accommodate those who are unwilling to change their fingering, and the other with a slight difference in the arrangement of the keys, which give great facilities in executing difficult passages. These Flutes are made of silver and wood, the tones of the former being of the finest description, full and harmonious."- United Service Gazette.

"At the Collegiate Institution, on Tuesday evening, R. ,Carte, Esq., of London, delivered the first of a course of lectures on instrumental music, with illustrations on the Flute. The lecture was extremely interesting in a musical point of view, combining extensive research with sound and ingenious criticism; and the illustrations, which embraced a great variety of pieces, both ancient and modern, were played with exquisite skill and taste. The effects of the new Flute used by Mr. Carte on this occasion were much admired." - Liverpool Mercury.

"To illustrate this quality" (that of allowing the tone to be attenuated to the merest whisper without losing the quality of sound that belonged to the fullest tones, and without sinking in the slightest degree in pitch,) Mr. Carte played a familiar French air, slightly varied for the purpose. The effect was thrilling. We never before saw an audience more intensely spell-bound by musical sounds, whether vocal or instrumental. Mr. Carte's playing is indeed of the most masterly and finished character, and no one, on hearing him, could hesitate to admit, that the acme of excellence must have been obtained in the construction of the Flute."-Liverpool Courier.

" Mr. Carte's lectures on the present state of instrumental music, commenced on Tuesday evening, have proved, as was expected, a rich treat; his illustrations on the Flute being a class of musical performances such as the public of Liverpool have seldom an opportunity of listening to. His facility of execution is something truly wonderful; but his command over the instrument is not more remarkable than is the expressive character of his tones, and the depth of feeling which he infuses into his softer passages. Added to this, he has an instrument of a superior quality to any yet known, being an improvement upon that of Boehm, which was in itself prodigiously in advance of the ordinary eight-keyed Flute."-Liverpool Albion.

LECTURES AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTION.-" He (Mr. Carte) played with remarkably good effect, both as to fullness of tone and brilliancy of execution, a fantasia upon his new Flute. His closing illustration was 'Rule Britannia,' with Drouet's variations; which was brilliantly given, and loudly applauded. The lecturer, who excels both in his prelections and in his instrumental illustrations, was repeatedly and loudly applauded by the numerous auditory."-Manchester Guardian.

"In the course of the concert Mr. Carte introduced two new Flutes. with patent improvements, considered by the profession as the very perfection of the instrument. Of these Flutes Mr. Carte is the sole inventor; one is constructed of wood, and the other entirely of silver. They are both remarkable for an equable and sonorous quality of tone, and are perfectly tuned." "The lower notes are of great power and mellowness, and the upper ones clear and bell-like. On these Flutes are carried out the same principles as on those of Boehm, but with a different mode of fingering." "It is difficult to say whether the Flute in wood or silver has the finer tone.  Mr. Carte's performances were never better received in Newcastle than on this occasion. There was a desire that he should repeat his first piece, though an elaborate one; and on the second being called for again, he substituted 'the Keel Row,' with variations, amidst rapturous applause."-Newcastle Journal.

[Appended to the 1851 edition of the Sketch was a catalogue of flutes available from Rudall, Rose & Co., (the Co., by this time, comprising or incorporating Carte himself)].


As you'll have seen from my comments, Carte hasn't everything right.  While we can carp at facts though, we can't carp at feelings, and this is where the Sketch is most useful.  We do have to allow for the fact he is on a mission to sell his new designs, but a few exaggerations are easily discounted, the real thrust of his message being untrammelled.

Of particular interest to 8-key flute enthusiasts, Carte confirms that the ordinary or eight-key flute at the time was still riddled with intonation and tone-quality problems and that these problems were of sufficient magnitude to cause concern and difficulty to players.  These are matters we know by experience, and more recently by measurement, but it is good to get the confirmation that it was ever thus.


The original 1870 document was obtained from the Dayton C Miller Collection at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The original 1851 document was obtained from the British Library and made available to me by London maker and researcher Robert Bigio.

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