Instrument maker family Lot
by Anja Weinberger
The Lot family of instrument makers – French flute making at the highest level and with a long tradition
To this day, flutists speak of the “french model”, i.e. the “French system”, for certain flutes. Where does that actually come from? Didn’t Theobald Böhm, a German, revolutionize the flute and make it into what we all play today? Yes, in any case. But a French flute maker was also involved when it came to further perfecting the flute which is now played all over the world. By “french model” we mean a Bohemian flute with specific characteristics, which was favored especially in the French-speaking world. How did this come about? Read it yourself.
We start at the beginning…
Modern research assumes that a Grande Écurie transverse piper at the court of the French king Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) used a traversière with a key for the first time.
The tradition of French flute making that has continued ever since is unimaginable without the merits of the rather widely spread Hotteterre family. Already in the early 17th century that name appears in this context in Normandy, i.e. in the north of today’s France. The family was in the service of the royal court and its members had an extraordinary reputation as composers, virtuosos and also as instrument makers. The refinement and improvement of the traversière flute of that time can be clearly seen in many of the surviving instruments. The flutes of that time were made entirely of wood, had at most one key and were drilled the other way round. They had a relatively strong tone due to the wide bore and wall thickness.
The sons of the Hotteterre family have been given the same names over and over again for several generations, so it is not easy for us to keep the many jeans, Martins, Jaques, Louis’ and Nicolas’ apart. This was probably also the reason why the most famous of the Hotteterres to this day – Jacques Martin Hotteterre (1674 – 1763) – gave himself the nickname “Le Romain”, meaning “the Roman”.
By the way, we do not know for long that he called himself that because he was actually employed as “maestro delli flauti” by Prince Ruspoli in Rome from 1698 to 1700. Until recently, research assumed that he did so because he simply preferred the Italian style, which was quite modern at the time. In 1707, he published his textbook “Principes de la flûte”, which thus came into being almost 50 years before Quantz’ “Versuch einer Anweisung die Flute traversiere zu spielen” and perhaps showed him the way forward. In it, Hotteterre describes the different fingerings, addresses the difficulties of trilling and explains how the tongue strikes. For us musicians today, however, Hotteterre’s principles are far less interesting than Quantz’s instruction. For Hotteterre restricts himself almost exclusively to technical instructions, which with the structural changes to the flute in the course of the following years are simply no longer applicable to the flutist. In the second half of the small volume he deals with the recorder and the oboe, presumably in order to reach a wider readership.
In 1708 his collection “Pièces pour la flûte traversière” was published. These pieces were only the second works actually composed for the instrument transverse flute, and in contrast to his school, probably every flutist knows them. Only a few years earlier, Michel de la Barre had published a similar collection, but without inspiring other composers. Hotteterre’s pieces, however, won the favor of the public and were a first step towards an enlarged and self-sufficient literature for flute.
In the same year – 1708 – Thomas Lot was born. His birthplace La Couture is not far from the royal castles of Versailles and Anet. Around 1722 he began his apprenticeship in the then very famous Naust flute workshop in Paris. In 1734 he married Antoine Delerablée’s widow, Jeanne, a born Naust: Now he was a partner and from then on called himself “Maître faiseur”. The general respect he enjoyed could also be seen in the composition of the wedding party: Michel Blavet, Joseph Boismortier, Philippe Chédeville and several Hotteterres, with whom the Lot family was related by marriage, as well as many other Parisian instrument makers.
Famous flute virtuosos of the time commissioned instruments. For example, Johann Baptist Wendling, the first flutist of the Mannheim court orchestra. A friend of Mozart, Wendling composed a flute concerto for him, which is unfortunately lost today. Wendling taught Karl Theodor of the Palatinate and followed him to Munich in 1778. Or Jaques-Christophe Naudot, leading flutist, composer and teacher of the second generation of flutists, which had emerged in France as a result of the development of the single key flute.
The instruments of Thomas Lot stand historically between the one-keyed Hotteterre instrument and the four-keyed transverse flute. Most of the instruments he built belonged to the four-key flute type and were sold with several interchangeable middle pieces. In 1787 Thomas Lot died a wealthy and respected man.
The profession of “flute maker” was also passed on in the Lot family, and in 1807 Louis Lot saw the light of day in La Couture. His father probably infected him with the instrument making virus.
We know nothing about his early years. But from 1827 his name appears in the workshop of Clair Godfroy in Paris. In 1833 he married Caroline Godfroy, the master’s daughter, and together with his brother-in-law Vincent Hippolyt Godfroy he acquired the French Bohemian flute patent. In 1855 the two separated and Louis Lot opened his own workshop.
Now began what has made him famous up to our time. For Louis Lot was a master of metalworking, a gifted flute maker and always open to new, revolutionary ideas. He was able to work with any material and built flutes according to all three predominant systems at that time (old system, Boehm’s ring key system with conical bore, cylinder flutes according to Boehm). His customers revered him above all because he was a master in the treatment and design of materials. The harmony of all the factors that determine the sound, i.e. the construction of the headjoint, the size of the tone holes, the choice of material for the padding, the wall thickness and the quality of the tube, made his instruments little marvels that flutists still marvel at today.
Especially the flutes according to the latest cylindrical Boehm system were further improved by Louis Lot. The most momentous change occurred when he perforated 5 of the large keys of the Boehm flute. From now on the holes thus created must be covered again directly with the fingers – two on the left and three on the right. The feeling of playing became more direct and the airflow can be better perceived. He has also smoothed out some mechanical stumbling spots. This is how the Boehm flute of today was created, which is played by professional musicians all over the world.
By the way, Theobald Böhm had Lot deliver pre-drilled wooden pipes for his own workshop. The quality was convincing and Böhm was able to concentrate on the mechanics and process the large mountain of orders. The great flutists of the time visited the workshop of Louis Lot. These were Dorus, Altès, Demersseman, Taffanel, LeRoy, Gaubert – in other words, the who-is-who of the French flute world. From 1860 the Conservatoire de Paris became a regular customer, because the winners of the annual competition received a Lot flute.
And even the great French flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922 – 2000), one of the most important flutists of the 20th century, still played a golden original Louis-Lot flute with the no.1375, which was built in 1869 (in the following link Rampal plays an Incantation by Jolivet on his Lot flute).
Bohemian flutes from the Louis-Lot workshop are still legendary today.
Today, in the 21st century, flute making is internationalized. Most flutes are a mixture of the original Bohemian mechanics and the “french model”. Most professional musicians play flutes with perforated keys, for which the name “ring keys” has become generally accepted today – erroneously, in fact.
The modern orchestral sound demands instruments with a large and sustaining tone. However, there is also a kind of return to sound ideals of earlier epochs. On the one hand, wooden flutes are being played again – with Bohemian mechanics, of course – and on the other hand, modern flute making has spectacular new approaches to offer. But that would be worth a separate article.
And although the proportion of completely handmade flutes is very low, there are a large number of smaller workshops in Germany and France which, despite the mass of machine-made instruments, mainly from America, Japan and China, are able to hold their own on the world market with their good name and convincing quality.