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by Tim Lane
A number of years ago I purchased an antique 1867 Carte system flute. I was curious
to know more about the 1867 system, to understand why so little about it is known
today and to know why it is no longer in use. Patented in 1866, Carte labeled the flute,
“Carte and Boehm’s Combined (1867 Patent)” and he considered it to be an
improvement over the two flute designs that he had combined in order to “create” it:
his own 1851 flute system and Boehm’s flute system.
Three Areas of Improvement
Carte’s improvements over Boehm’s design fall into three broad categories: first, the
1867 system is more logical and more consistent than Boehm’s system, second, it is
more comfortable to use and it allows for increased finger fluency, and third, the
acoustic qualities of the 1867 flute are better than those of the Boehm flute.
The First Area of Improvement
The 1867 fingering system is organized so that in the lower two octaves lifting and
right-to-left sliding finger motions (shortening the tube) always raises the pitch and
lowering and left-to-right sliding finger motions (lengthening the tube) always drops
the pitch. The low octave motion between D-D# is the only exception to this
principle. (Using the open D one octave higher conforms with Carte’s design
Boehm’s fingering system is not similarly organized. As it is most commonly
configured today, fingering motions that facilitate changing from D-D#, F-F#, G#-G
(when using a closed G# mechanism), A#-B, and C#-D all involve contrary and/or
opposing simultaneous finger motions that either raise the pitch while moving left to
right (down the tube) or lower the pitch while moving right to left (up the tube).
While Boehm’s original design for the B-Natural and Bb keys was the same as Carte’s design, since 1849 Boehm flutes have almost exclusively been made with a Bb lever commonly called the Briccialdi (Giulio) thumb key. In this design the left hand (l-h) thumb moves up the tube (right to left) when the pitch is moving down from B-Natural to Bb.
When using Carte’s system, the l-h thumb moves down the tube (left to right) as the
pitch moves down.
When using Boehm’s system the forefinger in the right hand (r-h) lifts as the ring
finger (same hand) is lowered (down the tube) to move up in pitch from F to F#
When using Carte’s system the forefinger r-h moves up the tube (right to left) to the
When using Boehm’s (closed G#) system the little finger l-h is raised to lower the pitch from G# to G.
When using Carte’s system the little finger l-h is lowered.
Carte’s system incorporates a more intuitively obvious, logical and consistent set of
relationships between pitch change, tube length, lifting and lowering finger motions,
and sliding left-to-right or right-to-left finger motions that are not present in Boehm’s
system. As a further result, it easier to recognize how the third octave fingerings have
been derived from their lower counterparts.
The Second Area of Improvement
The 1867 system flute is easier to hold and there are many more fingering choices
that can be made to facilitate trills and difficult passage work in comparison to
When playing C in the second and third octaves, the 1867 system does not require a
completely open hand position in the left-hand (l-h) so the flute does not roll back
towards the r-h palm and is more stable. As a result, over-gripping is more easily
avoided when using Carte’s system.
Over-gripping with the r-h is also more avoidable in the lower two octaves because
the r-h index finger does not need to be depressed when playing any of the notes
Also, when the r-h index finger is raised the wrist is much more flexible and this, in
turn, makes reaching to low C#, C or B with the little finger much easier. (see above)
Fingering patterns are more intuitive in comparison to the Boehm system, fewer
fingers are used, the patterns do not include as many simultaneously-contrary finger
motions, and there are more fingering choices that can be made. (See Appendix I for a comprehensive, chromatic fingering chart.)
Pitches that have multiple fingerings between low C and the third octave F# are:
Multiple fingerings result in added fluency throughout the flute range. Here are a few
● The “back” F fingering facilitates moving in half-steps between E, F, and F#. In
Debussy’s “Flute de Pan” the triplet passages are easier to play using the “back” F.
The same is true for for the Gb Major passage work in Dvorak’s “Humoresque”.
● When using the open D fingering there are no simultaneously-opposing fingering
motions when moving to or from D natural (2nd & 3rd octaves) as in the following
passage work taken from Sonata II in Bb by Carl August Pesch.
● Ascending passages that include C# /Db are more facile when using the l-h thumb,
while descending passages that include C /D are more facile when using the l-h
from J. S. Bach Sonata in E Major
(This is also an example in which using the open D fingering is quite convenient.)
● The touch for B or for C# (index finger l-h )is also useful for ascending and
descending passage work. See the the Bach example (above) per C# and the
opening solo passage in Mozart’s D Major Concerto (below).
● All motions between F or F# to G# use only the right-hand index finger.
from J. S. Bach Viola da Gamba Sonata in D Major
● Moving from A to G only uses the left-hand ring finger. (This is also the case for
open G Boehm system flutes.)
from W. A. Mozart Concerto in D Major
● Keeping the r-h index finger raised when moving to and from high Eb and E
natural in the third register also increases fluency.
● In the third register moving from A# – B involves sliding the index finger r-h to the
● In the third register moving from F-Bb only involves lifting the 4th and 5th fingers
● In the third register moving from F# – B only involves lifting the ring finger l-h.
Because Carte’s design facilitates moving up and down the tube in all keys, it follows
that trill fingerings also use fewer fingers, do not include any simultaneously-opposing finger motions, and/or have multiple choices. (See Appendix II)
The Third Area of Improvement
In terms of acoustics, the 1867 system is better vented, more colorful, and more in-
tune than the Boehm system.
●The 1867 fingering system is fully vented throughout its range; there are always
two or more open vents following every closed vent.
●The r-h index-fingering for F# (acoustically problematic when followed by two
open vents on the Boehm system) has three open vents following its last, closed
vent on the Carte system.
●Since the open G# does not require a second (redundant) vent placed in the tube,
problematic “wolf tones” between the upper and lower octave parts of the
fundamental octave are eliminated.
●The third octave notes Bb and B-natural only use full-sized vents (the trill keys are
●The second and third octave C vent is doubled which lessens resistance within
the tube and enriches the sound of both C# and D-Natural ( in those octaves).
●Partially due to the doubly vented C, the second and third octave C# s are in-tune
and do not have to be adjusted as needed when using the Boehm system.
●The open D natural in the second and third octave produces a very rich color.
●In the first two octaves the color and resonance of F#, G, G#, A, and A# can all
be enhanced by opening the “back F natural” vent (further venting the tube’s
●Players can use a single or a double vent when playing the third octave E natural,
i.e, as if the mechanism had an on-off “split E” mechanism.
●Changing from one register to another is easier to do when using the 1867 sys-
tem in comparison to the Boehm system. The additional number of vents (C
and F) and their positioning along the length of the tube in Carte’s system causes
the internalized air column to be less resistant and more sensitive to energetic
● As with any closed hole flute air turbulence is minimized, causing the air column
to be less resistant and more responsive to energetic changes.
● In the third octave the G to A trill is possible (because of the open D fingering
a P5 lower).
● All of the trill fingerings are fully vented, meaning both notes in any trill are
equal in tone quality.
In spite of its advantages to the Boehm system the Carte’s 1867 system fell into disuse during the twentieth century. There are, undoubtedly, many contributing factors that led to this. I would like to credit Robert Bigio, Arthur Haswell, and David Wilde for their thoughts on these matters.
Manufacture and Cost
● Very few 1867 system flutes were made by makers outside of England, limiting the
amount of exposure that Carte’s design received beyond Britian and the
● Carte 1867 system flutes are more complex and difficult to make, causing their cost
to be higher.
● Following the demise of R&CC during World War II the company was sold to the
Boosey and Hawkes Co. and the R&CC craftsman that specialized in making 1867
system flutes may not have stayed on as a result.
● The R&CC often converted A=452 wooden and ebonite Boehm system flutes to
A=440 by refitting the key work on longer tubes. However, they did not convert
metal, high-pitched 1867 system flutes because of the difficulty in doing so.
● Players may have been unwilling to use an open G# system. (This was the reason
that Boehm’s original open G# system design was converted to a closed G# system.)
● Similarly, players may have been unwilling to use the B-natural, Bb key configuration on Carte’s system. (This is the reason that the Boehm system is manufactured today
using the Briccialdi thumb system.)
● It can be difficult to fit one’s fingers over a Carte system piccolo and players may
not have wanted to use one system for flute playing and another for piccolo playing.
● Maintenance of 1867 system flutes is more specialized when compared with Boehm system flutes so there would have been fewer repairman interested in the work, and when the work was undertaken, it would have been more costly.
● Perhaps the French open-hole system (Boehm) was more popular in Britian simply
because it was not “home-grown”.
If a consortium of individuals created an order to make a large number of 1867 Carte
system flutes, an enterprising flute maker would most likely undertake that work. A
renewed interest in and demand for the Carte 1867 system flute would be valuable in
today’s flute-playing “world.” As done when it was first introduced, using Carte’s 1867
system would immediately increase the range of fluency and acoustic possibilities on
the flute. Furthermore, widespread exposure to the Carte 1867 system flute would
most likely revitalize the quest for additional mechanical and acoustic innovations on
*Photographs are copyrighted by Robert Bigio.
Richard Carte’s 1867 Schema (Vents)
For further reading see:
Bigio, Robert. Rudall, Rose & Carte: The Art of the Flute in Britain. London: Tony Bingham, 2011
Trill Fingerings Unique to the 1867 System
Tim Lane is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where he taught from 1989 – 2020. Prior to that he was a faculty member at Eastern Illinois University, the Interlochen Arts Camp, and the Cleveland Institute of Music Preparatory Department. He has been a member of the Orquestra Sinfonica de Veracruz, Mexico, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, and the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra. He currently serves as the principal flute player with the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra and operates “Paper Route Press” which specializes in unique and innovative flute-related publications. Mr. Lane attended high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy and earned his Bachelor of Music from Cleveland Institute of Music. He later earned his Masters and Doctoral Degrees from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a college-age student he studied the flute with Maurice Sharp, Harold Bennett, Alexander Murray, and Claude Monteux.
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