Nicholson-influenced makers

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Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by stiofan »

Besides Olwell, who else makes flutes with a Nicholson design, or adapted version of a Nicholson?

I'm considering a new flute next year, and curious about the Nicholson-influenced flutes out there by modern makers.

Thanks for any info/insight.

S
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Re: Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by Terry McGee »

In a certain sense, almost all of us do. Nicholson's father (also Charles) ushered in the Improved era by allegedly opening up the finger holes on his Astor flute. The effect must have been staggering (I'll come back to that), and pretty soon every man and his dog were offering "Improved flutes". I have a number of originals including one that is otherwise anonymous, but boasts being "Improved, London". Enough said, clearly! I also have a Clementi flute stamped Nicholson's Improved but it's not - it has the earlier small holes and is truly awful to play! Misleading advertising isn't a recent phenonomen!

So to get back to your question, any of us making copies of Rudall's, etc from Nicholson's time to the middle of the 19th century are making "Improved era" flutes. The next big thing to happen was Pratten bringing out his Perfected, really a reworking of Siccama's 10-key design back to an 8-key.

As I said above, the effect of Nicholson the Elder's changes are legendary, and can be easily felt when comparing a pre-Improved flute, eg a Clementi or Potter with an Improved Era flute such as a Nicholson's Improved, a Rudall Rose, etc.

One of the effects you mightn't want replicated is the very flat foot that ensues when you take a small hole flute and increase the finger holes, but not shorten the foot. Nicholson joked in the preface of one of his books that many people claimed he was the only person who could play one of these flutes in tune!

I'm not aware of many makers literally basing their modern design on an original Nicholson's Improved, but I'll be interested to see. They have rather a lot of idiosyncrasies that need overcoming. As the man said when asked directions, "If I were going to Dublin, I wouldn't leave from here...."
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Re: Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by Terry McGee »

Now, I didn't mean to stop the conversation there, or is this an indication that there are no makers other than the Olwell's working from Nicholson originals? Come on forward, don't be shy!

Oh, and I went looking for Nicholson's comments about other people struggling to play his flute, and found them, on my website, of course!

http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/nicholson.html

And here are two examples of flute bearing the Nicholson's Improved label. The first, by Clementi, clearly not Improved (small holes). But with other Nicholsonian features, such as the decorative combing on head and barrel, and no Long F key.

Image

And an actual Nicholson's Improved flute, by Prowse, large holes, top flattened around the RH holes, has a Long F key but the touch turns up to allow the RH section to be rotated forward.

Image

Note both have their heads thinned a little around the embouchure hole. Probably to assist nimbleness, but probably at some loss of fullness of tone. But Old Leather Lungs had plenty of tone!
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Re: Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by Nanohedron »

Terry McGee wrote: Thu Oct 28, 2021 4:16 pm ... or is this an indication that there are no makers other than the Olwell's working from Nicholson originals? Come on forward, don't be shy!
I am under the impression that Peter Noy hews close to the originals, but how much and in what way are beyond my ken. In fact I think I heard it straight from the horse's mouth, but no doubt he judiciously adds his own ideas, too. He doesn't shy away from crediting what he studies, referring to such things as Rudall or Nicholson style in his parts, and my impression is that he pursues an identifiably stylistic continuity, while giving the patron the impurist's option to mix or match. And with nary a rebuke!
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Re: Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by stiofan »

Thanks, Terry! I'm always in awe of your knowledge pertaining to such things in the continuing history of these windblown wonders. (side note: as a semi-retired editor, I really hope you put your wealth of knowledge to the printed page someday! :) )

My impetus for posing this question has to do with considering the comparative differences as well as similarities in the continuum of Pratten -- Nicholson -- Rudall designs. I realize that leaves out other historical makers who continue to have an influence on modern flutemaking - Clementi, Rudall & Carte, Hawkes & Son, etc.

The Olwells (using the plural, as it's now both Patrick and Aaron) categorize their models as Pratten/large, Nicholson/medium, and Rudall/small, referring to "the relative measurements of the bore, as well as the size and spacing of the finger holes". Regarding the Nicholson model, their website describes it as: "Nicholson (Medium) This model is my modification of the so-called “Nicholson” flute, developed around 1820, of which I find Rudall-Rose flutes to be the best examples. It is a good design for players withsmaller hands, or those who are simply uncomfortable with the larger finger holes. The tone is similar to the larger model, with just a little less volume."

FWIW, I consider my hands fairly average/medium, so my rationale for looking into Nicholson-influenced flutes has less to do with being able to manage the hole size, but more to do with a question of whether or not the Nicholson-influenced flutes made today can be thought of as fitting in between the big, bold sound of a Pratten and the more subtle character of a Rudall. Blayne Chastain (of the Irish Flute Store) swears by his Olwell Nicholson, and has got me thinking about all this.

For context, my experience in flute types so far have been with Copleys, Casey Burns, and presently, David O'Brien.

Thanks for listening, and I welcome any comments, particularly to clarify any misunderstanding or gaps in my rather limited knowledge!
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Re: Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by tstermitz »

@stiofan. You've reported clearly what the Olwells mean by their naming categories, basically Large, Medium and Small which correspond to Pratten, Nicholson and Rudall, but they are mostly just naming conventions. I think their Small category only goes down to the original R&R medium-sized holes. They define size by measuring the G-hole (hole #4) - basically 8.0mm, 9.0mm and 9.6-10mm. I think sizing is about all you can get out of that without trying a particular flute in person, as most modern makers have added their own ideas or improvements that might or might not be considered "nicholson".

Here is the interesting Olwell discussion:

A Taxonomy of Tone Holes
We use this system to describe our own flutes, and on our price list the 8.0 is referred to as Small, the 9.0 mm is Medium, and the 9.6 is Large (we realize that a Baroque musician might call the 6.0mm “normal’ and the 9.0mm “gigantic.”) We don’t currently make a flute with anything smaller than the 8.0 above, as most of our customers are playing traditional music and want the more “open” sound. I do own many antique flutes (including two by Rudall-Rose) with smaller holes that I think have a beautiful tone.
For the player trying to decide on a flute, categorizing by Small, Medium & Large is pretty helpful.

I've never played a Pratten style flute (waiting on my Abel Siccama to be repaired), but I've played medium and large R&R style flutes: R&Rs, Gallagher, and American (Firth, Pond or Hall) sized from hole #4 sized 9.0 to 8.0 to 7.5. In my opinion, the 8-9mm category is much more nimble for the fingers to play articulations. The volume changes a bit, but the quality of my embouchure makes the most difference. Even my smallest hole flute, the 7.5mm Firth, Pond and Co, puts out good volume, especially when I handed it to someone better than me. My experience with R&R originals is that they play extremely well (easily, sweetly and powerfully) in the second and third registers. The low D is strong enough, but getting a strong low-D has required me to work hard (several years and counting) at improving my embouchure. Again, when I hand my R&R to a good player, there is no apology needed regarding volume.
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Re: Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by kmag »

Peter Noy states on his website that his flutes are based on Nicholson.
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Re: Nicholson-influenced makers

Post by Terry McGee »

stiofan wrote: Thu Oct 28, 2021 11:11 pm Thanks, Terry! I'm always in awe of your knowledge pertaining to such things in the continuing history of these windblown wonders. (side note: as a semi-retired editor, I really hope you put your wealth of knowledge to the printed page someday! :) )
Arrghhh! You mean a book? I'm not sure I'm up for that!

I did receive an email from a chap expecting a week in hospital. He'd printed out my entire website in anticipation. He reported it ran to around 500 pages! I do hope my stuff wasn't worse for him than the presenting ailment...

And I don't think we are anywhere near finalising the story on the 19th century instruments. I feel I've perhaps "opened the batting" (as our English cousins would have it), but have only really identified where more work is needed. This is a very big topic!
My impetus for posing this question has to do with considering the comparative differences as well as similarities in the continuum of Pratten -- Nicholson -- Rudall designs. I realize that leaves out other historical makers who continue to have an influence on modern flutemaking - Clementi, Rudall & Carte, Hawkes & Son, etc.
Of these, Hawkes is one I haven't really gotten into, probably for the simple reason I haven't come across a Hawkes original. (Down here at the bottom of the world, on the edge of the Pacific rim, we don't see that many Hawkes originals...) It's not so easy to see who were the influences on Hawkes. Which makes them interesting...
The Olwells (using the plural, as it's now both Patrick and Aaron) categorize their models as Pratten/large, Nicholson/medium, and Rudall/small, referring to "the relative measurements of the bore, as well as the size and spacing of the finger holes". Regarding the Nicholson model, their website describes it as: "Nicholson (Medium) This model is my modification of the so-called “Nicholson” flute, developed around 1820, of which I find Rudall-Rose flutes to be the best examples. It is a good design for players with smaller hands, or those who are simply uncomfortable with the larger finger holes. The tone is similar to the larger model, with just a little less volume."
Interesting. Remember I mentioned above the (Clementi) Nicholson's Improved that clearly wasn't, and the (Prowse) Nicholson's Improved that clearly was. I have on my repair desk a (Clementi) Nicholson's Improved that I might describe as intermediate between the two. So, we should regard Nicholson's Improved as a bit of a moveable feast, at least until we can document and understand its development further.
FWIW, I consider my hands fairly average/medium, so my rationale for looking into Nicholson-influenced flutes has less to do with being able to manage the hole size, but more to do with a question of whether or not the Nicholson-influenced flutes made today can be thought of as fitting in between the big, bold sound of a Pratten and the more subtle character of a Rudall. Blayne Chastain (of the Irish Flute Store) swears by his Olwell Nicholson, and has got me thinking about all this.
And of course, we have to remember that we are not just dealing with Nicholson's Improvements, but the Olwells improvements on the Nicholson's Improvements. This is getting complicated!
For context, my experience in flute types so far have been with Copleys, Casey Burns, and presently, David O'Brien.

Thanks for listening, and I welcome any comments, particularly to clarify any misunderstanding or gaps in my rather limited knowledge!
I think the first thing we should all recognise is our rather limited knowledge on all of this! I'm in the lucky (?) position of getting to see a lot of these instruments. But of course, I'm not seeing them at their best. They usually limp in the door, hardly playable, if that. And I do the best I can to bring them back to life. Some things are testable. I can measure if the keys leak or if there are leaking cracks I haven't found yet. But some things are less testable. Supposing an embouchure is worn - how do I test for that? I do substitute my test head and barrel, but is that a fair test, given I'm coming at this maybe up to 200 years later? What is freshness, and what is further development? Arghhh!
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