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The Replica Hotteterre Flutes in Berlin and St Petersburg

by Ardal Powell

See also: Jacques Martin Hotteterre "Le Romain" (1674-1763)

Word count:2600. Download size (text only) 19,000 bytes. This article first appeared in TRAVERSO, Vol. 8 No. 3 (July 1996).

© 1996, 1997, Ardal Powell. First Published 1996.

The credo of today's baroque flutists holds that three "Hotteterre" flutes, in museums in Berlin, St Petersburg and Graz, are the earliest baroque flutes in existence. But I have recently discovered--to my great surprise--that two of these three flutes belong to a group of six replicas made during the past hundred years or more, all based on an original lost in or before the 1870s.

I present the evidence for this view in an article published in the summer issue of the Journal of the American Musicological Society (Vol. 49 (1996), pp. 225-263). This shows how in the past fifty years a myth has grown up that the three-joint, conical-bored "baroque" flute was invented all of a sudden by members of the Hotteterre family connected with the French court. In fact, there has never been any real evidence for this view, and we now know enough to make the supposition seem highly unlikely. Nevertheless, the three "Hotteterre" flutes have made their own snowballing contribution to the myth, even though the only original one is the Graz example, which only became widely known in the 1970s. In my JAMS essay I show how claims on behalf of the Hotteterres have grown, illustrating the ways in which collectors, scholars and instrument-makers interpreted and wrote about the replicas and their supposed makers. I discuss the verifiable history of eight "Hotteterre"-type flutes, including the six copies (Table I), and by comparing their provenance, design and manufacture, I describe the chain of replication and re-replication linking the copies together (Table II). Finally, I propose that the evidence we have about seventeenth-century developments in the flute sketches out a far more complex picture than we previously imagined, in which northern Italy, southern France and the Netherlands are seriously under-represented by current knowledge.

As everyone can find a copy of my JAMS article in their nearest music library, I do not propose to repeat that material here. Instead I shall try to answer the more personal question flutists are asking me most frequently these days: How did you come to make this surprising discovery? The answer covers a period of fourteen months, during most of which I had the great good fortune to hold a study Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This allowed me to take a leave of absence from my everyday work as a flutemaker to travel and work in the library.

The story begins in March 1993, when Cathy Folkers and I were in Germany to show Folkers & Powell flutes at an exhibition in Frankfurt. At the time, I was interested in the flutes used by players in Bach's circle (see Ardal Powell with David Lasocki, `Bach and the Flute: The Players, the Instruments, the Music', Early Music 23.1 (February 1995), 9-29). These three-joint and early four-joint flutes are rare, and so we had decided to go on to Leipzig after the show to study the unique flute by Eichentopf in the Bachmuseum there (TRAVERSO 5.3 (July 1993), 3). I had known since the previous fall that my NEH Fellowship would begin later in 1993. The grant, to study the surviving flutes by Tromlitz and make a translation of his 1800 keyed flute tutor, would take me to St Petersburg, Russia, home to the surviving Tromlitz flute most like the one described in the tutor. I realised that I would have the chance at the same time to see the St Petersburg Hotteterres (one signed, the other unsigned), and furthermore that in between points on my "Tromlitz" tour it might be possible to study most if not all of the other three-joint flutes in existence. So our visit to Germany that March semed like a good time to re-visit the Staatliches Institut für Muskforschung, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, and begin by examining their Hotteterre flute.

Cathy and I had seen the flute only through a glass case before, and were looking forward to the opportunity to inspect it more closely. We already had a number of questions to answer. Its rather large, oval embouchure seemed like that of a nineteenth-century French flute--but was there any chance it was original? If not, had all traces of the original work been destroyed, or could we find clues to help reconstruct the dimensions? In a measured drawing made ten years before, Canadian maker Jean-François Beaudin had expressed the opinion that the embouchure ought to be 9.1mm. round, with straight walls. But we had recently seen the unaltered Anonymous flute in a Stuttgart private collection, and become aware that not all three-joint flutes should necessarily have a straight-walled embouchure; while drawings, photographs and moldings sent us by the owner of a Leclerc flute in a private collection in Brazil convinced us that the embouchure need not be particularly small either. Had Beaudin formed his opinion from evidence in the instrument, or was it just a guess? Notes by previous students of the flute in the museum's files provided no answers: indeed the very authenticity of the flute had been questioned by one researcher before us.

Our skepticism was therefore already aroused when the curator, Tom Lerch, brought the instrument into the study room where we were waiting. We are always conscious of the privilege of working with rare originals in institutions like the Berlin museum, but all is not reverence and seriousness on these occasions--with Tom especially there was usually a two-way traffic of good-natured banter. So I thought Cathy was joking when I heard her tell Tom, "Take this away and bring us the real Hotteterre flute"--but as usual her instincts had gone right to the heart of the matter. Concrete observations confirmed the sense that everything was not as it seemed: the unusual shiny varnish on the outside surface; the fact that even under magnification the embouchure gave no indication that it had ever been altered, its edges all in perfect condition and equally worn. We noted that the flute came from the Belgian collector César Charles Snoeck in 1902, and left Berlin feeling puzzled.

I traveled alone to St Petersburg in October 1993, allowing nearly a month in the city to study the Musical Instrument Museum's flutes (see TRAVERSO 5.4 (November 1993), 1-4). I noted of No. 471, the flute marked HOTTETERRE, its shiny varnish and sharp edges, and the fact that the mark was scratched in the wood, not stamped. The most disturbing fact was that the area around the D# tonehole, where the key closes on the wood, was not the usual rectangular shape, but had a curved vertical wall at the lower end, and concentric circular scratches in the key-seat. There could be only one interpretation: that the key-seat had been made with a machine tool, not with a file in the normal way. No. 472, an unstamped and unmounted fruitwood flute, had the same feature. I observed that this flute "looks and smells about a year old . . . [with] no wear anywhere." The key-flaps of No. 472 had been bent over a cross-cut file instead of a vise jaw or bending jig. I had little doubt that this flute was a copy, but when I discussed the matter with Felix Ravdonikas, who as a St Peterburg resident and flutemaker had known both instruments for many years, he was conviced that No. 472 was genuine and No. 471 was the copy!

Still in an undecided frame of mind, I spent some time early in 1994 in the Dayton C. Miller Collection at the Library of Congress, Washington DC. One of the 74 flutes I studied during that visit was Miller's Hotteterre replica. In 1924, Miller, a keen enthusiast for all aspects of the flute, had arranged for a copy to be made for his collection of No. 3131 in the Brussels Musical Instruments Museum. As Miller knew, The Brussels flute is itself a copy of the Hotteterre flute that belonged to Snoeck, which, according to the Berlin museum catalog, that institution had purchased in 1902. Or had it? In the same year another group of Snoeck instruments had been sold to St Petersburg--among it, according to then Brussels curator Victor-Charles Mahillon, the instrument that was the model for Brussels 3131--now known as St Petersburg 471. Upstairs from the Miller Collection in the Music Division reading room, I finally got my hands on a copy of Snoeck's own catalog of his collection (1894), which had been removed from the stacks for repairs at my "home" library, the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. If I hoped the catalog would help untangle the question of how many "Hotteterre" flutes Snoeck had owned, I was disappointed: it listed only one, No. 670, the one duly listed in Berlin as No. 2670. Yet somehow, both Berlin and St Petersburg had acquired what they believed to be a genuine original instrument.

Miller's correspondence files about his Hotteterre copy contained interesting clues to the apparent mix-up. I wrote to Ignace De Keyser, First Assistant at the Brussels museum, to make an appointment to visit and to ask for clarification of some points in a letter from Mahillon to Miller. His reply provided, as an added bonus, the name of the man who had made Brussels 3131: Franz De Vestibule.

At this stage I was still not sure whether or not Snoeck, Mahillon and I had ever seen an original Hotteterre flute, and if we had, how we would know the difference. In the month following my Miller Collection visit, on the way to Vienna for more Tromlitz studies, I broke my journey in Graz to inspect the Hotteterre flute there. Although the instrument had been measured before and the museum's policy forbade repeating the work, I convinced the authorities of my need to answer certain specific questions about the flute, and was allowed to proceed. It was immediately clear that everything about this flute was different from the others: materials, turning style, finish, acoustical design, tonehole and embouchure undercutting, key and spring design and materials, and most notably for me as a flutist, playing qualities. Re-visiting the anonymous three-joint flute of "Hotteterre" type in a private collection in Stuttgart later the same month, I was struck by its similarities to the Graz flute even though its measurements differed in several important respects.

By April 1994 I had seen all the "original" Hotteterre flutes and read every authoritative word ever written about them and their supposed or actual makers. I had also investigated some early replicas, found out who had made them, when, and from what models. But although I had gathered a great deal of information I felt it was still too soon to try to unpick the knot of problems still unresolved. Two more replicas remained: Brussels 3131 (the model for Miller's copy), and the one in the museum at La Couture-Boussey, Normandy. In conversation with the woodwind expert Dr Albert R. Rice of the Claremont Colleges in California, I had learned of a document at the La Couture museum which contained the history of the collection. This indicated that most of the instruments in the museum were copies made by La Couture craftsmen in the late nineteenth century.

When in April I studied the Hotteterre replica Brussels 3131, made by Franz De Vestibule at the direction of Mahillon, its quality of workmanship did not lead me to expect a very high standard from the La Couture instruments. However the Brussels flute provided more grist for the mills: its key-seat was made with a machine tool, and its finish and edges were quite similar to those of the St Petersburg and Miller instruments. Continuing on to La Couture, I was joined by Parisian flutist and maker Philippe Allain-Dupré. The craft of woodwind-making has been the lifeblood of La Couture for centuries, and the administration of its museum is a sort of department of the town government. The genial M. Nedé showed us around: the Hotteterre flute was plainly a copy--as its mint condition, sharp edges and shiny varnish attested--but it was remarkably similar to the Berlin flute, particularly in the quality of the wood, the style of the ivory turning, and the rectangular, flat key-seat. According to M. Nedé it had been believed original and used as the nucleus of the museum when it was formed in 1888. The document on the museum's history Dr Rice had told me about was a gold-mine of information, indicating that La Couture workmen had borrowed instruments from Snoeck to copy for the museum, of which Snoeck, Mahillon and other significant figures had been founder-members.

With that, I had gathered all the pieces I knew the puzzle contained, and it was time to see if they would fit together. Later, in the seclusion of my train compartment, I turned on my trusty laptop computer and assembled a chronology of the facts I had discovered, noting its gaps. I could confidently finger only two instruments as originals: the Graz and Stuttgart flutes, of which the latter was unmarked. Among the replicas, there were two kinds: those made in Brussels (by De Vestibule for Mahillon and by Albert for Miller) and La Couture. The La Couture copies likewise fell into two groups, each with shared characteristics of finish and workmanship: one group contained the La Couture and Berlin flutes, the other the two St Petersburg examples. Combining this information with what I had read about the growing myth of the "Hotteterre flute", I gradually formed a hypothesis as to what had happened.

At some time around the middle of the nineteenth century an original Hotteterre flute, in boxwood with large ivory mounts, became known to one or more of the woodwind-makers of La Couture. At least two copies (Berlin and La Couture) were made, before all three instruments disappeared. During the 1870s Snoeck heard of one (the Berlin example), and managed to buy it for his collection in the belief that it was original. The flute soon became known in the close circles of those interested in historical woodwinds, and in 1877 Mahillon had a copy of Snoeck's flute made for the new Brussels museum. About a decade later the other copy resurfaced in La Couture and sparked the creation of the museum there. A wave of copying activity followed, doubtless including the making of more replicas of Snoeck's instrument, some of which (St Petersburg 471 and 472) remained in his collection. When he died his collection was found to contain three "Hotteterre" flutes, two of them signed. Either by accident or design whoever dispersed it sent one signed flute to Berlin and the other to St Petersburg. Finally a copy of the Brussels copy was made for Miller in 1924.

This theory fit all the known facts and provided plausible bridges over areas where my knowledge did not amount to much. My next task was to explain it so that others would be able to follow the argument and be convinced by the line of reasoning I had taken. I invite you to read the article and judge for yourself. Members of the American Musicological Society will see the summer issue of JAMS in their mailboxes soon. Non-members can find it in the music library by the end of the summer. For those who don't know where the nearest music library is--there is still time to find out in the next few weeks!

Author's Note: Since this article was published, another original Hotteterre flute has come to light. See the Hotteterre home page for details.


Graz, Landesmuseum Johanneum No. 08447*1384
Ebony, ivory, silver Ex coll. Hans Sowinsky, 1935
Stuttgart, Private Collection
Rosewood, ivory, silver Present owner from London dealer Tony Bingham, 1980
Berlin, Staatliches Institut fr Musikforschung, No. 2670
Boxwood, ivory, silver Ex. coll. Snoeck, 1902 [Copy, La Couture, c.1850)
La Couture, Museum of Musical Instruments, No. 11
Boxwood, ivory, silver Copy, La Couture, [c.1850]
Brussels, Museum of Musical Instruments
Light wood, ivory, silver Copy by De Vestibule, c.1877
St Petersburg, Musical Instruments Museum, No. 471
Boxwood, ivory, silver Ex coll. Snoeck, 1902? [Copy, La Couture, c.1890]
St Petersburg, Musical Instruments Museum, No. 472
Fruitwood, silver Ex coll. Snoeck, 1902? [Copy, La Couture, c.1890]
Dayton C. Miller Collection, Library of Congress, Washington DC, No. 428
Light wood, ivory, silver Copy by Eugne-Joseph Albert, 1924

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