Prowse Nicholson Improved

Prowse Nicholson Improved

Hi
Is anyone using a Prowse/Nicholson flute ( 19th C Flute Makers ) in Irish tune playing ?
Whats your experience in terms of these instruments with:
The low D ( flat? hard to sound, need to "lip" it into tune… )
Intonation ie the scale of the instrument at A440 ( They might have been intended to play at a lower pitch )
Any comparison with Rudalls, or the modern cohort of makers.

Thanks
Pat

Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

I am not 100% anymore, because it’s been 2 years now, but I think I played another flute players Nicholson ebonite (I think it was ebonite and no wood…) for a set or two. It had pin mounted keys and a Boehm style c foot. However, it was a mighty and loud player! It felt quite a bit similar to my Lejeune Pratten flute - strong tone, big volume and in particular a strong low d.

Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

> the scale of the instrument at A440 ( They might have been intended to play at a lower pitch )

If you own an instrument made in Britain before the 1890s it was not made to play at 440Hz, and that’s about the one thing you can be certain of. If it was made in Europe, possibly, depending on when the French 439 standard was adopted.

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Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

Those were London-made flutes, and the pitch standard in London in the 19th century was HIGHER not lower.

A=452 was the standard orchestral pitch in England until after 1900.

So you have to pull out the headjoints of many/most of those flutes to play at our flatter modern A=440.

Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

In Nicholson’s time (1820s-1830s) pitch was indeed lower. Probably somewhere near 425-430 and the flutes from that time bear this out in my experience.
My own Monzani from roughly this time certainly is and the Blackman flute I played though made somewhat later was as well.
I expect higher pitch English flutes the later one gets into the 1800s.

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Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

Mine is a best-guess 1856 London flute, and was clearly made with something a good bit above A=440 in mind. I haven’t tried it at 452, but it would make sense.

Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

My restored 1857 Metlzer was I think designed for A:453. I had to pull the slide out about an inch to get it to play at A440. I finally had Hammy Hamilton build a matching custom headjoint for it at A:440 and never used the original again.

Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

Haven’t played my Prowse flutes for a while but they both played A440 ok with the head joint was pulled out about 1/2-3/4s of an inch give or take. I found the A needed to be lipped down a wee bit and one had a sharp bottom D which had beeswax in to lower it a bit. One of them had been tweaked in the past and I believe the embouchure had been worked on by Chris Wilkes. I’m no great shakes on flute and other people may have different results.

Re: Prowse Nicholson Improved

Heh heh, we have above claims that these flutes were intended to play above 440 and below 440. The crazy reality is that both claims are right.

Pitch at the start of the 19th century was low, around 410 or so. It slowly crept up to around 430, then the young bucks in the Philharmonic movement ran amok and pushed it up to around 452-455 to brighten up their performances.

Flute players were expected to be able to handle both ends of the range, hence the very long tuning slides those flutes had. And which gave rise to desperate workarounds like Potter’s calibrated stopper and slides, and Rudall & Rose’s Patent Head. None of which addressing the real problem, that the scale of the body needed to change. That problem wasn’t addressed until Siccama’s time (as far as I’ve been able to determine).

Indeed, I suspect this is what really happened back then. We come out of the start of the century with small hole flutes (eg Astor, Potter, Clementi) with body scaling suited to around 410-430Hz. Then Charles Nicholson Senior starts fooling around with the size of the holes. Enlarging the finger holes dramatically ups the performance, an immediate attraction. It also drives the body notes sharper, but of course leaves the foot notes way down where they had been. Flat Foot Syndrome had been invented. And we have Nicholson (Junior) confirming, in the preface to his tutor, that other players at the time reckon that only he can play them in tune.

We’ve now worked out how Nicholson (and more recent Irish players) dealt with this gap in the scale. It’s not possible to "lip up" notes that flat. "Lipping up" is a linear process based on uncovering more and more of the embouchure hole to drive the recalcitrant note sharper. But there are serious limits to how far you can push this. Once you have uncovered most of the embouchure, there’s nothing left to uncover.

But there is another way - a totally different approach. You can redirect the energy away from the flat fundamental into the second and higher harmonics, which fortunately are pretty much in tune. Although the dominant partial is now the 2nd harmonic, the ear’s magical Fast Fourier Transform capacity assures us that we are still playing low D, because of the "missing-fundamental" effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missing_fundamental). We call it Hard D, after the piper’s trick.

You can learn to do this, but some people seem to do better than others. This might help:
http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/Getting_the_hard_dark_tone.htm

The important thing to recognise is that, if you can’t do the Hard D trick, you can’t play those flutes in tune. If you can’t play it in tune, better to get a flute that you can play in tune. Which pretty much means a modern flute, or perhaps a period Prattens. Developed from the Siccama.