Book Review – Robert Bigio: Rudall, Rose & Carte: The Art of the Flute in Britain
July 17, 2017 (No Comments) by Peter Westbrook

Bigio-Rudall-CarteRudall, Rose & Carte: The Art of the Flute in Britain by Robert Bigio (London: Tony Bingham, 2011) is a meticulously researched, wonderfully crafted, beautiful book. In it Bigio examines the history of British flute makers George Rudall, John Mitchell Rose and (Rudall’s student) Richard Carte, and the innovations and art they brought to flute-making in the mid-nineteenth century. Bigio begins the book by essentially setting the stage with an introduction that outlines the Rudall, Rose and Carte business and the sources that he consulted before launching into fascinating biographies of the three makers. In and of itself, the introductory chapter is a fascinating look at the sources for researching the Rudall Rose and Carte business, and I was slightly surprised by how much of the business correspondence and records had been preserved. Both primary and secondary sources, including early flute journals, appear to be a fascinating collection, and Bigio includes photographs of documents and excerpts of advertisements, correspondence and debates in this chapter.

Each biography chapter is a fascinating, occasionally scandalous, and a surprising read. (For example, I did not know that Richard Carte was the father of Richard D’Oyly Carte of the famous D’Oyly Carte Opera company). Bigio delves into their familial backgrounds, how they became musicians, and how they came to be flute makers. He also investigates how they all came to be in London, where they lived, what their financial circumstances were, and more interesting minutiae of their daily lives, loves, fortunes and misfortunes. As with the introductory section, these chapters are accompanied by an impressive collection of photographs and primary documentation in the form of letters, diaries and so forth.

RC FlutesFollowing the biography chapters, Bigio begins to delve into flute making in Britain and Rudall, Rose and Carte’s combined efforts in this area. These chapters are as detailed as any flute fanatic could wish for, tracing the rise of Rudall, Rose and Carteas flute-makers, their innovations, the expansions of their business, and their unfortunate decline. This section also details their British competitors, the innovations of Rockstro and Boehm and how Rudall, Rose, and Carte experiments, innovated, and improved aspects of the Rockstro and Boehm designs. These chapters include some fascinating close-up photographs and schematics of mechanisms and maker stamps, which amply demonstrate Bigio’s attention to detail and thoroughness in research.

     Robert Bigio

Robert Bigio

While the first half of the book examines the makers and their business, the second half investigates the flutes themselves, with galleries filled with all the glorious photographs that any flutist could want! The eight galleries of Rudall, Rose and Carte’s flutes are organised broadly by chronology and system type. Each flute is notated with as much information as Bigio has found and they are photographed in portrait and profile. The appendices are equally informative, filled with beautiful and fascinating photographs of the workshops, flute details and ephemera of price lists, fingering charts, and other lists.

RC fluteThis book falls under the category of: go, buy, now! It is engrossing, filled with fascinating information and beautiful photographs, a must read for every flutist, especially if you are interested in the history of the instrument. It is also an excellent resource for anyone researching flute-making or the history of the music business in 19th century Britain.

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Review by Aleisha Ward:

      Aleisha Ward

Aleisha Ward

Flutist Aleisha Ward is Flute Journal assistant editor for Australia and New Zealand. She holds an MA in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University, USA with her thesis focusing on the early history of jazz flute under the supervision of Dr Lewis Porter. She holds a BM in Jazz Performance and a PhD in music from the University of Auckland where her thesis was on Jazz in New Zealand 1920-1955, and where she now works as music librarian.. She is a freelance writer and editor, occasionally lectures and tutors music history courses, and writes about Jazz in New Zealand at her blog

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