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“Rive Reunion – Hearing Nine Claude Rive Flutes”

On this rare occasion of nine Rives gathered together, I carefully studied, photographed and played them side by side, hoping to gain some insight into the maker’s world. These flutes are in excellent playing condition and come from the private collections of Andrew Sterman, Robbie Lee, Fred Marcusa, Alan Weiss and the author. I am grateful for their generosity and spirit in keeping, as well as playing, these old things.

In this set, the earliest example is a silver Rive #200, that once belonged to Thomas Nyfenger, now owned and played professionally by Andrew Sterman of New York. There are also three other silver flutes, #356, #361 and #362. The rest are silver plated instruments, I will refer to them as “tin” flutes: two from the 200 series, one each from the 300’s and 400’s and the last one from the 700’s. Flutes by Rive’s successor, Alexandre Robert, are not represented here.

(From top to bottom, Rive #200, 223, 241, 356, 361,362, 396, 425, 736)

Serial Number

Material

Year Made (Estimate*)

#200

Silver

1881

#223

Tin

1881

#241

Tin

1882

#356

Silver

1884

#361

Silver 

1884

#362

Silver 

1884

#396

Tin

1885

#425

Tin

1885

#736

Tin

1892

* Estimate is based on the average of 48 flutes produced per year. It is understood that output may differ from year to year. 

All the flutes in our group are marked CR (monogram) / C. Rive / Paris / serial number. They represent about the middle ten years, from 1881 to 1892, of Claude Rive’s career when his workshop was located on 93 Rue du Temple, Paris. The address was at the edge of Le Marais, the Jewish Quarter, in the 3rd arrondissement – not far from the shops of Louis Lot and Godfroy. Rive made about 800-900 flutes before Alexandre Robert, his successor, took over in 1895. The later flutes are distinguished by their mark: CR (monogram) / C. RIVE / Paris / serial number / A. Robert SR. The headjoint logo does not include the name A. Robert. These flutes are often referred to as Rive-Robert, and were officially endorsed by Georges Barrère .

Before establishing his shop in 1877, Rive, living at 16 Rue de Charonne, worked as a jeweler and a key maker for Vincent Hypolite Godfroy, Louis Lot’s brother-in-law. It is unclear whether Rive worked for Godfroy as an employee or an outside worker. His home was some distance from Godfroy’s workshop. The length of his employment at Godfroy is also difficult to determine, but he had certainly become a skilled flutemaker by 1868, the year Godfroy died. This is reflected by the level of pay Rive received at that time. Godfroy’s estate owed 90 francs to Rive. The sum amounts to about 9 to 10 days pay for a skilled worker in the musical manufacturing business in Paris who, at the time, would earn about 9 francs or more per day. An unskilled worker in the same trade would be paid about half to one third as much. It is not likely that an unskilled worker would wait longer than a month to get paid.

Our nine Rive flutes all share the same specifications: French open hole, pointed arms, in-line G, soldered tone holes, Bb shake, C-foot. They are comparable to the famous Model No. 5 in Louis Lot’s sales catalogue for 525 francs. The ratio of an accomplished worker’s annual pay at a flute company to the price of the very best flute made at the end of the 19th century is about the same as it is today, about 5:1.

It is feasible that Rive continued to work for Madame Godfroy when she took possession of her husband’s business after his death in 1868. Auguste Bonneville, another fine flutemaker, was also employed by Godfroy during Rive’s tenure. Bonneville was the finisher. The two would be credited for making many of Godfroy’s flutes.

"There is a significant reduction in [Godfroy's] production around 1879 which corresponds with about no. 1480.  The flutes do seem to change a bit after that point, also. So the c. 1877 date for Rive and Bonneville’s departure makes good sense to me.  Also, I feel like the Rive flutes in particular are remarkably modern in construction, even for 1877." – Gary Lewis

Here is a link to Gary Lewis’ research on Godfroy Cylindrical Flute Serial Numbers.

The reduction of Godfroy’s production around 1879 from about 40 flutes a year to 14 amounts to the annual output of about one key maker who may also have other duties such as making parts and preparing bodies. In a small shop, there may not be a fine line of division of labor as in a large factory. During his tenure at Godfroy, Rive must have already learned the entire process of making a flute, from fabricating parts, body, keys and even headjoints. Otherwise, he would have less incentive to form his own flute business and a greater chance of failure.

Auguste Bonneville, Claude Rive and Henri Villette, three of the most important Parisian flutemakers after Louis Lot and Godfroy, established their prominence within one year of each other. Villette took control of the Lot workshop in 1877, Rive and Bonneville started their own in 1877 and 1876 respectively. Their shops were within walking distance of each other. One can assume that they shared some of their suppliers and outside workers, such as tube makers, silver merchants, padders, plating and engraving services, etc. Information would have traveled back and forth between the shops easily.

Shortly after he set up his workshop, Rive showed his “flûtes cylindriques” at the Exposition universelle de Paris in 1878 for the first time and received a silver medal. The only three other flutemakers of Boehm metal flutes presented were Villette,  Madame Godfroy, and Floretin Barbier, all receiving silver medals as well. The next Paris Exposition was eleven years later, from May to October in 1889, Rive exhibited along with no fewer than six other flute companies including Bonneville and Millereau. Millereau was the only entry in the woodwind category to receive a gold medal while Rive and Bonneville received silver. Louis Lot, under the new ownership of Emile Barat, did not participate and Godfroy had already closed shop a year earlier.

There is a fair consistency in Rive’s flutes that prevailed through 1885. For instance, the shape of the touches and back connectors, the use of a one-piece rib and the way its bevels were finished, the use of two lugs in the right hand keys, the pinned footjoint, the shape and width of the pointed arms and many other small details. These are the signs of a well-run shop benefiting from Rive’s own mastery as a key maker and a well-trained workforce. To achieve an annual production of about 50 flutes, Rive would not need to hire more than 4 people in addition to himself. At the start, he would have understood the inner-workings of a small flutemaking concern from working for Madame Godfroy.

(Rive #356)

"Rive has become a cult flute-maker. Very few of his instruments are to be found; when they land in a player's hands who connects with Rive, they tend to stay there. If you play this flute, and do not think that you are entering an endless, beautiful and undiscovered forest path, you are unlikely to join the cult." – David Shorey on Rive #356

(Rive #356)

“…as my life took me to France over many years, I would often rush off  to one of the few remaining dealers in old instruments and ask if there were any ‘interesting flutes’.  Many times the dealer brought out a Louis Lot or Bonneville, which I bought or didn't, based upon quality, condition and price.  But in all these years, I never saw or was offered a Rive, the rarest of the fabled 19th Century French flutes.

When Rive No. 356  became available to me years later, I saw, even before removing it from its case, the  extraordinary elegance and grace of its artisan-maker. After playing it briefly it seemed different from other French (and non-French) flutes in the way it felt,  responded and sounded.  The sound was for me  a little warmer, darker and perhaps richer than that of most other French flutes.  Because the feel is different, the more one  plays a Rive  the more it teaches about how to play French music as it was heard in its time.”  – Fred Marcusa

The foundation of a solid key mechanism lies in the ribs. Rive took cues from both Godfroy and Louis Lot in designing his flutes. First-generation Louis Lot and Godfroy both used a one-piece rib for the left hand and the trills. Rive followed that tradition and created perfectly pointed and beveled ribs for his flutes. They were mounted directly on the seam of the tube, reinforcing the weakest part of the flute. Villette, on the other hand, changed his rib configuration to using separate ribs for the trills and left hand. His design has been universally adopted for the flutes made today, and used by Powell and Haynes as early as the 1920’s. Bonneville continued to use the one-piece rib design until around 1888 before switching to the separate trill rib format. From a flutemaker’s standpoint, it is much easier to make a separate trill rib, otherwise, modern manufacturers would still be using the one-piece design.

(Rive #223)

The beauty of Rive’s ribs can be found in the transition from the trill section sweeping up to the mainline section. The beveled inside and outside curves are difficult to execute convincingly. (Notice single spring on the trill post, which would be modified to double spring later.)

           

(Top Rive #200, bottom first-generation Louis Lot)               (Rive #241)     

To appreciate the artistry of Rive as a key maker, one needs to just look at these back connectors. They are elegant, aesthetically pleasing and functional. The asymmetrical third division creates a narrow F tail and hides its mass which provides the necessary strength to extend sideways to meet the other two connectors. The rounded shape with its continuous bevels fits perfectly under the mechanism tubing. It is beautiful to look at but quite complicated to make. This is one of the traits of first-generation Louis Lot and I think Rive took it to the next level.

           

(Top Rive #425, bottom #396)

Both the Bb shake and G# lever are very strong but graceful. The D# teardrop on the footjoint is set very close to the body. It is very comfortable for the pinky to reach all the low notes.

            “The aesthetics and feel of a Rive is very similar to a Louis Lot.” – Alan Weiss

 

(Rive #361)

Following Godfroy’s practice, Rive proudly marked each joint of his flutes with a serial number and logo.

 

(Rive #396)

“There is a lot of love in this flute. There is nothing flashy here, just competence and quality; not even a quality of finishing like Godfroy had, but rather the quality of putting soul into a flute. This instrument would make a wonderful companion. It is not so perfect that you are afraid to touch it, yet there are wonderful visual surprises here and there, and a rich, compelling tone, with depths it will take years to plumb, and one's life may well change in the process.” – David Shorey on Rive #396

The engraving on the footjoint in particular distinguished his flutes from Louis Lot and Bonneville which are not marked.

Rive’s engravings were probably done by different outside engravers as they are slightly different from one to another over the years.

The shape and form of the crowns have exactly the right balance to please the eye.

Here is a very well executed and functional adjusting screw on the footjoint of #200. This is the only time I have seen an adjusting screw anywhere on a Rive.

       

(Rive #736 back connectors)

As time went on, small changes took place, as in the shape of the back connectors of #736. The footjoint was also restyled to the bridge instead of pin construction.

(Rive #736 double spring)

Other structural modification included the use of a single lug in the right hand section. This change took place as early as #578. Also by this time, double trill springs on a single upper trill post appeared.

The mark DEUX RUBIS / DEPOSE NO 2078 was stamped on both the right and left hand ribs of Rive #736. There are other 700’s Rives that have the same stamp. This was a design registration that Rive filed with the France trademark office. It is possible that rubies were used for bearings. Jewel bearings have been used on mechanical watches since 1704 and the application would not be dissimilar to the pivots on the king post of a flute. However, I was not able to see any rubies on #736. With or without special bearings, Rive’s mechanism is made with precision, very reliable and comfortable to hold. It does not feel fragile or frail, yet looks extremely graceful.

“What I love about Rives is that while the other makers (Bonneville, Lebret, Barbier, and even Louis Lot) were making their flutes progressively more modern (open and powerful) with each passing year, Rive seemed to hold on to Godfroy's original tradition of the French flute.  So while some people might describe the flutes as “conservative”, I find them to be the most colorful, sensitive, and soulful of all flutes made in that era. Just extraordinary!” – Robbie Lee

 

(Top Rive #361 with small cups, bottom  #425 with regular size cups)

There are two distinct styles of Rive flutes, one with small mainline key cups (for both left and right hand keys) and one with regular size cups. From the table below, the size of the cups does not show any correlation to early or late flutes. Footjoint cups are the same for both styles of flutes, 1 mm larger than the regular cups.

Small Cups

Regular Cups

#200

#223

#361

#241

#396

#356

#736

#362

 

#425

The small cups are 1 mm smaller than the regular cups. These smaller size cups are also used by Louis Lot, Godfroy, Bonneville, and: Millereau. There could be others, but I have not come across them. Early Louis Lot and most Godfroy flutes usually have small size cups, sometimes even all the way down to the footjoint. Some Villette and Bonneville flutes have small left hand cups and large right hand cups to accommodate for the larger right hand tone holes. After about 1888, most flutes have settled on the regular size cups. Rive #736 is possibly one of the last flutes made with all small mainline cups.

On Rive’s flutes with regular size cups, the tone holes of the left and right hand are of different sizes, larger in the right hand, providing vents for the notes, G, F#, F and E. Flutes with small cups only have one mainline tone hole size and the scale is adjusted accordingly. The preciously few Godfroy silver and wood flutes I have seen all have small cups and single size tone holes. Rive used a slightly shorter scale than that of Godfroy’s, somewhat similar to Villette’s scale but with a slightly longer footjoint and other small variants. These small variations in a scale contribute to the characteristics of the flute as they affect the harmonics of each note, making them similar or different to their adjacent notes. The idea of equality of notes was the central concept of Boehm and was taken further by the French school. The Paris Diapason at this time was still A=435, lowered from A=448 since 1859. Godfroy’s flutes play very well at the lower A=435 pitch level. It is curious that Louis Lot, Bonneville and Rive all built flutes that would play slightly sharper than Godfroy’s. But it is no surprise then as now that many modern makers today build flutes that err on the high side.

(Rive #200)

“To me, Rive 200 will always be Tom[Nyfenger]'s flute, but I love playing it. It has infinite depth of color and is wonderfully honest in intervals and response. Rive 200 is like playing an alto flute built in the C flute range, it does everything but features an 'ooey' sound that captivates the ear and heart at once.” – Andrew Sterman

The table below shows the embouchure hole measurements of eight Rives. The lipplate of #362 has been replaced, thus omitted. For visual simplicity, the measurements are represented without decimal points or units. 0.400” is written as 400 – the measurements of the embouchure hole from front to back. The wall or chimney height is rather difficult to measure accurately so a range is given for the deviation between the left and right side.

Serial Number

Front x Side

Wall Height

#200

402x471

187-192

#223

400x469

196-203

#241

394x465

198-200

#356

400-465

190-189

#361

402-467

184-188

#396

402x465

187-189

#425

405x465

186-192

#736

400x480

185-191

From front to back, the above measurements hover around the .0400+” (10.2 mm) mark, a classic size for an embouchure hole. At 0.394”, #241 is the exception. It is very small by any standard yet the flute produces an extraordinary creamy tone in all registers. In our examples, the side to side values mainly spread between 0.465” and 0.470” – less than the 12 mm (0.472”) number often given as a foundation for comparison. #736 has the widest side to side dimension. Until there are more examples with the same data point, #736 would just be an outlier. The wall height measurements are most varied. The walls of #223 and #241 would be considered high in Rive’s time. The rest correlate with his contemporaries. A typical modern headjoint has a higher wall which necessitates a fair bit of undercutting to compensate. The art and willingness to bring about low wall headjoints is not prevalent today. 

It does not take much effort to cite the obvious embouchure measurements. They are used only as a preliminary assessment of what Rive made. There are many other questions to consider when studying an embouchure hole on a headjoint, such as the shape and internal curvature which are difficult to quantify, as well as the ultimate balance of all the parameters deemed important to a headjoint maker. These may include the diagonal measurements of the hole, under and over cutting, sharpness of blowing edge, surface finish, outside curvature of the lipplate, the taper of the headjoint, the placement of the lipplate on the taper, the material and its hardness, tubing and lipplate thickness, construction, the cork position, size and material, the overall weight, headjoint fit, etc.

The thickness of the flute body tubing can vary from one  place to another due to original manufacturing inconsistency, polishing, sanding, filing, or just wear. Subjective attributes are often assigned to thin wall and thick wall flutes. Why a player prefers one to the other is a complicated topic for another time. Since the tubing thickness affects the weight of a flute, it is easy to weigh it and make some general  assumptions about the thickness. The following table shows the weights of the flutes in both grams and ounces, sorted by material and then from heavy to light. Since they are all from the same maker and have the same specifications, it is a worthwhile comparison.

Serial Number

Material

Weight in grams

Weight in ounces

Tubing Thickness

#362

Silver

403

14.22

.014”

#200

Silver

397

14.00

.014”

#356

Silver

395

13.93

.014”

#361

Silver

390

13.76

.014”

#241

Tin

424

14.96

.019”

#425

Tin

388

13.69

.017”

#223

Tin

386

13.62

.018”

#396

Tin

381

13.44

.017”

#736

Tin

360

12.70

.016”

French vintage tin flutes usually have thicker tubing (0.016” – 0.018’) than silver flutes (0.014”). The extra thickness compensated for the lighter metal. Other than #241 (the heaviest at close to 15 ounces) and #736 (the lightest at much less than 13 ounces), the 7 remaining flutes deviate no more than 12 grams from the average of 391 grams (13.79 ounces). Many first-generation Louis Lot and Godfroy flutes weigh in at less than 13.5 ounces. My impression is that most Rives are rather heavier and more robust than the earlier French flutes.

The tonal palette of Rive flutes is very close to that of Louis Lot’s. The colors have depth and nuances, especially in the silver specimens. These flutes engage and encourage the flute player to explore the hidden possibilities. The tin flutes are not always brighter as one would expect from the lighter, less malleable and noble material. Rive #241, with heavy gauge tin tubing, elicits a compelling dark sound that confirms the authenticity of a metal less precious than silver. On the opposite side of the spectrum, tin Rive #736 sings the song with the breadth of a coloratura soprano. My favorite has to be Rive #200, an early silver flute with a provenance and a broad sound. The others are not far behind, as each one has a voice, a gift, to offer up for those who would listen in silence.

Here is an excerpt of Thomas Nyfenger playing on Rive #200 - Leclair Sonata. The tone of the silver Rive is impeccably reflected in the artistry of the late Thomas Nyfenger.

 

“When I began seriously exploring old French flutes while studying and socializing with Tom [Nyfenger], we would line up Lots and Bonnevilles and this Rive[#200] for long weekend afternoons or evenings of French flute playing. The color offerings were just unbelievable. Tom spoke about the idea of making a record of them, playing different pieces suited to each, as the great violinist Riccardo Ricci did with Strad's, Guaneri's and Amati's (very interesting recording, if you can find it). He never made that recording, but he played the Rive often. 

 

Once, Rampal visited Tom at Yale, and Tom showed Jean-Pierre the Rive. Rampal didn't know that much about them, either, but Tom reported that Rampal said Rive only made a few hundred beautiful flutes before going out of business. Rampal picked up 200, reportedly played a ridiculously amazing rip from low C to the top of the flute and back, blew a couple of piece excerpts and handed it to Tom glowing and saying ‘Magnifique!!’” – Andrew Sterman

Nyfenger’s Rive #200 was housed in this exotic leather case, his initials on the straps proudly announce his ownership.

 

It was a joy to have nine Rives together. Playing them one after another reminded me of the days I worked as a flute tester for various Boston flute companies. I wonder who did the testing for Rive, or whether he was a flute player himself. The goals of a flutemaker and a flute player are very different. Nevertheless, there is much convergence and dependency on each other. Next year will mark the 170th anniversary of the invention of the Boehm cylindrical flute. The style of music has changed much but less so with the style of flute playing, and still less in the flute itself. The magic of the sound is in the subtleties. The feel and balance is another matter that exist only in the reality of the player’s awareness. After taking all the measurements and sorting out whatever needs sorting out, at the end of the day, I just want to pick one flute and play until it’s time to go to bed.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 David Chu


For more information please email Alan Weiss at alan@vintagefluteshop.com