Medieval flute

The Medieval flute I make is a result of collaboration with Claudio Santambrogio, who has done a great deal of research about the transverse flute in the middle ages, both in iconography as well as in literature. Claudio is also an inspiring player who is active in several groups performing music of the late middle ages. The idea of experimenting with constructing a mediaeval flute came from Claudio's search for an instrument suitable for the performance of this music. We were looking for an instrument that would be more flexible and open in the lower register than the renaissance flute, as well as being tuned in d Dorian in Pythagorean tuning. Inspiration for the design came from a very unusual original in the Musikinstrumenten Museum in Berlin, made in maple, with two horn rings. The instrument, which at first glance looked like a renaissance flute, has several features which are not found on originals made in the sixteenth century.
The most striking is its wide bore and thicker walls - more than on any surviving tenor renaissance flute. Another interesting feature is the grouping of its holes, not two groups of three holes, but a single group of six holes, more or less equally spaced. The first reconstruction of this original showed another difference, namely that the fingering for B and C# (1----- and ------) gave sounding B flat and a C natural. We found the sound of the instrument very appealing, it had a wonderful low register and was capable of a large range of colors and dynamics. We decided to base my medieval flute on this original, but to alter the hole positions, so that it would play with in D Dorian in Pythagorean tuning with renaissance fingerings.

Copies are available in two sizes: a tenor in d and a descant in g, at A=440 and 465.
 

Schnitzer consort

The Schnitzer flutes are copied after three originals in the Biblioteca Capitolare in Verona. The library, which belongs to the city cathedral, owns a small collection of instruments, all of which are known to have been donated to the cathedral in 1631. Among these are eight renaissance traversos, three of them (two tenors and a bass), marked with the brand mark "AA". This mark is attributed to either Sigmund or Arsazius Schnitzer, both of whom belonged to the Schnitzer family of woodwind and brass instrument makers, active in Nuremberg. Although it was donated relatively late to the Cathedral, the instruments can probably be dated to the second quarter of the sixteenth century. The originals play at A=428 and are made in maple.
I have scaled them up to play at 440, keeping all of the measurements in proportion so that the copy will be as close to the original as possible. This model has a slightly larger bore then the Bassano instruments and a unique embouchure which is overcut to enhance the volume and response of the instrument. This special overcut, masterfully executed, is found on all three instruments and is, in my opinion, original. Copies are available in maple and in a variety of fruit-woods: pear, plum or cherry. The bass is made with two horn rings as is the original.

I offer complete consorts (a or g descants, d tenor, G bass) at 440 and 428.
 

Bassano consort

The Bassano flutes are copies of originals found in the Musée Instrumentale in Brussels and the Biblioteca Capitolare in Verona. They are marked '!!' and are attributed to the Bassano family of woodwind makers and players. There are over sixty different instruments found throughout Europe; cornets, recorders, flutes and crumhorns, all of which are stamped with this mark, or variants of it. This mark has been identified by David Lasocki as moth wings and associated with the Bassanos, who were of Jewish origin and were active in Venice and London during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Brussels consort is composed of two tenors and a bass. Of the latter, only the headjoint has survived. These flutes are made of boxwood and are pitched at approximately A=408.
The Verona consort is pitched half a tone higher, about A=425, and is also composed of two tenors and a bass, all made of boxwood. Having measured these two consorts with their half tone difference, I used the relationship between them to re-calculate the instruments to play at 415, keeping all of the measurements in proportion, so that the copies will be as close to the originals as possible. I offer complete consorts (a or g descant, d tenor, G bass) at 415 and 408.

Copies are available in boxwood, as well as in a variety of soft woods including maple, pear plum or cherry.
 

Lissieu

 

This unusual model is a copy of an original in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, made by the French maker Lissieu, active in Lyon during the second half of the seventeenth century. Little is known about his life, but his instruments appear to have been well known for their quality and fine workmanship. One of the references to this maker is found in the Musette method of Piere Borjon de Scellery (Lyon, 1672):

"Le sieur Lissieux, qui depuis quelques anneé s'est étably à Lyon, en construit [des musettes] avec beaucoup de propreté et de justesse, aussi bien que toute sorte d'utres instruments à vent. Je n'en connois point qui approche davantage de l'adresse des sieurs Hotteterre."
("Mr. Lissieux, who has been established in Lyon for a few years, makes them [musettes] with great accuracy and good intonation, as well as all sorts of other wind instruments. I don't know any other maker who approaches him in quality of work, apart for the Hotteterres")
Apart from this flute there are only two other surviving instruments by Lissieu: a small recorder in a private collection in Boston, MA, and a beautifully made musette de cour surviving in the collection of Moreph Chantry Bagpipe Museum in England. The musette can be dated to the 1670's.

This flute is a high pitched instrument, playing at A=460 and is, acoustically speaking, of a renaissance design. With a cylindrical bore and six finger holes, it works well with renaissance fingerings. The wall thickness is slightly larger than an average renaissance flute, which, combined with the higher pitch, give this instrument a sweet, clear sound, reminiscent of a mute cornet.

As for the instrument's repertoire, it is difficult to say what French flutists during this time period would have played on such an instrument. The high pitch, and the type of sound and response are, however, most suitable for playing earlier seventeenth century repertoire, such as Italian Canzonas and early Sonatas, and combines well with other wind instruments at high pitch such as cornets, dulcians and trombones.

This model is available at the original pitch, A=460, as well as with an extra body for A=465.

Special projects

I have been making and researching renaissance flutes for more than fifteen years now, and apart for the regular copies I offer (Schnitzer, Bassano and Lissieu) I have made copies of other originals for research purposes and as part of some special projects. Here are a few examples:

  • • Military renaissance flutes: This has been the subject of a long research and of a paper I gave at the Munich renaissance flute days. I made copies of the “$” flutes in Graz and Merano, of the flutes at the Rijksmuseum in Stockholm, and other instruments.
  • • The Nova Zembla flute (part of the Barendsz collection in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)
  • • Fifes reconstructed for the “Music at the Grande Écurie” project in Basel, 2007-2009
  • • Low pitch tenor flutes after the Brussels C. Rafi. This very special original plays at A=375Hz, and is made of a single piece of boxwood. It has a very rich sonority and seems to favour a lower range then the typical renaissance tenor. I have made copies at the original pitch as well as a scaled version at A=392Hz.


If you are interested in a copy of any of the models mentioned above please contact me for more details.