Pask defends the old flute




Boehm introduced his ring-key conical flute in 1832, but it really didn't catch on in England.  English players found it weak, complicated, unfamiliar and expensive.  It was reintroduced by Rudall & Rose in 1843, and was particularly promoted by Professor of the Flute, John Clinton.  This raised a bit of a storm in the popular magazine, The Musical World, with letters to the editor coming from Clinton, Ward, Prowse, Pask, and a number of contributors employing pseudonyms.  Pask's contribution gives us some insight into his feelings against the new flute and for the old familiar 8-key.  We do have to keep in mind he's not an impartial observer, in that his livelihood is no doubt an issue high on his agenda.

"Mr. C." is of course John Clinton.

The letter is republished undated in Welsh's "History of the Boehm Flute", but comes between letters dated 31 Oct 1843 and 27 Nov 1843.




My attention having been drawn to a letter which appeared in the columns of your valuable journal, written upon the subject of the Boehm flute, and so highly eulogistic of its merits and great superiority over all others, and the fact of that letter being addressed principally to amateurs, to induce them to lay aside the flutes now in use, and adopt those manufactured by Messrs. Rudall and Rose upon the above named principle, I feel myself called upon in justice to them to make a few brief remarks, the result of my own experience, and drawn from the evidence of those who have given that particular instrument a trial.

It is not my intention to occupy your valuable time and space in contending for the identical person who introduced this great boon to the flute players of this country. It is true Mr. C. has awarded to himself all the merit due to such an individual, but enough has been said on this head in a letter written by Mr. Prowse which appeared in your journal of November the 2nd, and ought to be read by all interested in this subject, being full of incontrovertible facts, supported by the testimony of those who I am sure Mr. C. will admit to be capable of forming an opinion.

The genuine Boehm flute, made by Buffet in Paris, and which was the property of that celebrated player Herr Frisch, and one of the best that has been made upon that principle, was laid aside by that gentleman, and placed in my hands for sale. Of course in my business as a maker I had frequent opportunities of showing the same to several distinguished flutists, and eliciting from them their impartial opinions, which were to this effect - that the Boehm system was perplexing in the extreme, especially to those accustomed to the established method, and if those difficulties could be surmounted the performer would soon be convinced that he had only made himself master of a more defective instrument. The following will in some degree illus trate this:- The flute alluded to was placed in my window for sale, and soon attracted a goodly number of flute players to inspect and try it, but notwithstanding its saleable advantages in having belonged to so great a player, together with the reduced price it was to be sold at, still it was nearly eight months before a purchaser presented himself. This gentleman having heard of its (pretended) superiority over those in use by him, felt anxious to give it a trial; mark the sequel: about six months after the purchase the same gentleman waited upon me again, and was anxious for me to take it back to find him a customer, for he could make nothing of it.

I did not agree to this, and heard nothing more of this said Boehm flute for at least a year, when I was again solicited to try and dispose of it by another person. It was again placed in my window, but I could not succeed, and ultimately returned it to the owner.

Another instance came under my notice; a gentle man brought me a Boehm flute to repair, I did what was required, and concluded from the way in which he handled it, he must have had considerable experience upon it. I solicited his opinion, when he was candid enough to tell me that he had been originally instructed upon and played for some years on the flute now in use, but having met with a disciple of the Boehm system when in Paris, he was prevailed upon to give it a trial, which he said he exceedingly regretted, for after, having devoted an immense deal of time to its study, under the tuition of Cochi (when in that city), he then discovered it to be much more imperfect than the old system, and he would cheerfully retrace his steps to the old method, but for fear of mixing up the now confirmed habits of the new system with that of the original, and so depriving himself of the pleasure of using either effectively. 

Mr. C. among the many qualities he attaches to the Boehm flute, states, that perfection of tune is attained. How can this possibly be, when the same fingering must be used for the sharps as well as the flats? The effect such an instrument (with this imperfection) would produce, when played with stringed instruments, can easily be conceived. This defect alone shows the great superiority of the flute now in use over, that upon the Boehm principle, as in the former it can be remedied while in the latter it must remain; the beautiful effect produced by gliding must be excluded, and the facility of fingering attainable on our flutes, must of necessity be obstructed by the introduction of the rings round the holes.

This latter fact was apparent to many who were present at Mr. Carte's concert, and has been noticed in a report of the same by one of the musical periodicals; but the giant evil of all is that which has, I think, been satisfactorily proved by several of our greatest artists whose names have appeared upon this subject - I allude to its incapacity of being used effectually in any other keys than those of C, G, or F - thus excluding the beautiful keys of three or four flats, in the use of which our own flutes stand so pre-eminent, and in which most of our best compositions for the flute are written.  

There are other minor objections I might mention to show the futility of expecting that the Boehm flute can ever come into general use; but I fear, Sir, I have trespassed too much upon your time already, my object being simply thus to place before flute players a few important facts which have come under my immediate notice, together with my own practical knowledge as a maker, and supported by the living testimony of some of the most talented flutists of the present day; for I unhesitatingly admit, that if no other test was given than the extravagant praises which Mr. C. in his letter has lavished on the Boehm flute, it would be sufficient to create dissatisfaction among the performers on the instrument now in use, and probably lead them to abandon a beautiful and comparatively simple instru ment for one whose chief recommendation is that of novelty.

I would here remark what I wish to be thoroughly understood, that in detailing the above incidents to show the defects of the Boehm flute, I am actuated by no motives of prejudice against the instrument or its patrons, for I should hail with delight any invention calculated to simplify the difficulties, and remove the defects of that (now reviled) instrument, which, not with standing; in the hands of Drouet, Nicholson, Richardson, Frisch, and others, has made such a lasting impression, as, I fear, the performers on the Boehm flute will find it difficult to efface.

Dear Sir,-If you do not think the above remarks too lengthy and unimportant for the columns of your journal, I shall esteem your inserting them a great favour; and permit me to subscribe myself

Your very obliged Servant,



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