Who was the first maker to make keyed flutes? This was the question that was on my mind when two early keyed flutes by Schuchart came into the shop for restoration earlier this year. The first flute that came to my attention was made in dark-stained boxwood, with three keys (Bb, G# and short F) and was missing its foot joint. The owner was asking me to make a new foot joint in order to make it playable again. This sent both of us on a bit of a wild goose chase looking for any other keyed flutes by the same maker on which to base my reconstruction. A second keyed flute by Schuchart turned up in a private collection in Boston and after visiting the owner, I ended up with that flute in the shop for restoration as well.
It was fascinating to have these two flutes side by side in the workshop and to be able to closely examine and compare them. The two instruments shared some similarities, but were different on several levels. It was time to do some flute detective work and try and sort out who had made them and when.
The darker, three-keyed flute is stamped “SCHUCHART” on its head and right-hand joints, although the stain is so dark that the stamp can hardly be seen. There is no visible stamp on the left-hand joint, but it looks like it was made by the same hand as the rest of the flute. The second flute, is stamped “SCHUCHART/SENIOR” on all its joints. It is made in lightly stained boxwood with ivory mounts and has six silver keys.
Apart for the colour of the stain the two were very similar in style, although comparing the finer details of th turning of the two flutes made it obvious that they had been made by two different hands. Looking at the bores of both instruments, the two looked similar, especially the left-hand joints. The right-hand joints, however, differed somewhat, especially towards the end of the joint. It is unclear if this was because the two were made using slightly different reamers or if the extra conicity on the darker flute’s end was a part of its design and could perhaps indicate that it originally had a d rather than a c foot joint.
A 2010 Galpin Society Journal article by David Lasocki sheds some light on the history of the Schuchart workshop, its rise and fall, and helps disentangle the mystery of these two flutes.
The workshop was established in London by John Just Schuchart (fl. 1720-d. 1759). His son, Charles Schuchart (ca. 1720-1765) trained with his father, but for some unexplained reason has moved into his own workshop sometime after 1751. From that point, until sometime in the 1770s we have two Schuchart workshops active in London working in parallel, and possibly even competing for clients. In order to distinguish his instruments from that of his son, John Just started stamping his instruments “SCHUCHART SENIOR” instead of just “SCHCHART” which was used before the two separated. His son, on the otrher hand, used the stamp “SCHUCHART JUNIOR” on his instruments. John Just died in 1759, and his workshop was then taken over by his son-in-law, Henry John Muræus, not by his son Charles. On September 22nd, barely a week after his father’s death, Charles publishes the following ad in the Public Advertiser:
“SCHUCHART, Musical-Wind-Instrument-Maker, at the Two Flutes and Hautboy, in Chandois street, Covent-garden, humbly begs for the Favours of his late Father’s former Customers.”
On September 27th, five days later Muræus answers with his own ad in a different paper stating that John Just has left him all his instrument making tools and that he has been running the business on the two year’s prior to his father-in-law’s death. He urges John Just’s customers to continue favouring his workshop with their commands.
Clearly there was no love lost between Muræus and Schuchart Junior. It is conceivable that at that point Charles started stamping his instruments “SCHUCHART”, instead of “SCHUCHART JUNIOR”. He died in 1765, and was succeeded at the Two Flutes and Hautboy by Thomas Collier. Muræus continues making and selling instruments at the Schuchart shop until the 1770s although it is unclear how long he continues to use the Schuchart stamp. A three keyed flute (g#, eb and low c#) stamped “MURÆUS/(lion rampant)/SUCCESSOR TO SC(HUCHAR)T” turned up in a 1984 Sotheby’s auction, indicating that at least some of the instruments sold in his shop after Schuchart’s death were stamped by his name. The last we hear of Muræus is in 1774 when he is imprisoned for debt.
Getting back to the two flutes in my shop and the question of their dating and maker, we can try and make sense of the stamps and their dating. The six keyed flute stamped “SCHUCHART SENIOR” was probably made by John Just Schuchart in and date 1751-1759, between when the workshops split to his death. The darker flute stamped “SCHUCHART” could be attributed to Charles Schuchart, after his father’s death, when he stopped using the “SCHUCHART JUNIOR” stamp, between 1759 and 1765.
Placing the date of these two flutes between 1751 and 1765 makes them the earliest surviving keyed flutes I know of, predating instruments by Gadney, Collier and the Potters.
The next question was: how should I reconstruct the missing foot joint on the Schuchart Jr. flute. One option was to copy the C foot of the Schuchart Sr. flute, which I could now test directly on the original as I had both of them in the workshop. I was not as convinced by this option, especially because of the extra conicity at the bottom of the Schuchart Jr. right-hand joint. A second option was to copy a C# foot of a Collier flute in the Bate collection as that flute looked very similar to both Schucharts and was probably made using the same reamers as the Schuchart Jr. flute. The third option was to go for a d foot joint, but we could not find an original Schuchart of this period with such a foot. Earlier, baroque-style, surviving Schuchart flutes all have d foot joints, but the design of these earlier instrument is markedly different than that of the two keyed flutes: the bores are overly much wider, and the tone hole undercutting much more pronounced on the earlier instruments. Trying various foot joints from flutes I had in the workshop, I found that the best match was the bore profile of one of my Heinrich Grenser copies. Interestingly enough, the bore of Grenser’s C foot was almost identical to that of the Schuchart Sr. C foot.
Finally my client and I decided to reconstruct a d foot to start with and eventually make a longer foot if the flute proved worth the extra investment. I based the foot’s external dimensions, hole position and key on the Schuchart Sr. foot, and reamed it using my Grenser reamer. I turned it in boxwood with two ivory rings that had to be fit conically in order to be able to remove them for staining. I then faced the challenge of matching the original’s almost black stain to my blond, newly-turned foot. The dark stain on the original may have been achieved using some kind of iron oxide and vinegar combination, as described in some 18th century turning manuals. The idea was to “ebonize” simpler, less expensive woods like boxwood and give them a much more luxurious looks. I felt it would be difficult for me to get an exact match using this method, and finally decided to stain the foot using carefully matched hair dye. This involved taking a part of the original to the local drug store and debating whether “3N dark chestnut” or “3P chocolate brown” was more a more appropriate choice for this 250-year-old lady. Finally the ivory rings and the cap were stained to match the old, yellowed look of the other rings on the flute using my usual concoction of Earl Gray tea, vinegar and a dash of turmeric. The flute plays beautifully, at about a=430Hz with a lovely, elegant sound.
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