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Charles Nicholson (1795-1837)

A native of Liverpool, Nicholson made a career in London from the second decade of the 19th century. He became first flutist of the principal theater orchestras and of the prestigious Philharmonic Society Concerts, where he appeared regularly as a soloist from 1816-36. He also traveled all over Britain (though not, it appears, to the Continent), gave lessons, and wrote tutors for the flute that were reprinted and revised throughout the 19th century.

Nicholson played on a flute by George Astor (fl c1778-c1831) that his father, also a renowned flutist, had modified by enlarging the embouchure and toneholes. It is usually incorrectly stated that the younger Nicholson made these changes himself, and some people have claimed that they were meant to 'improve' the flute's intonation. In fact, he specified the reasons as follows:
1) they made the flute's tone more powerful and still capable of delicacy,
2) they permitted the accustomed fingerings to be used in the third octave,
3) they made glides ( a fashionable kind of glissando), more effectively, and
4) the 'vibration', another fashionable ornament, a vibrato produced by the finger, was clearer because of the flute's clearer tone.

Once his highly individual playing style had become popular in London and his special flute had attracted notice, Nicholson licensed his name for use by several London flute makers, who marked their instruments 'Nicholson's Improved'. These flutes were built to favor flat keys such as E flat, A flat, and F and C minor. Nicholson's famous variations on 'Roslin Castle', in F minor (1836), are an example of the 'National Melodies' in the Adagio style in which he excelled. Though some continental critics thought both music and performance style were in bad taste, they remained prominent features of English flute-playing into the recording era (after 1890).

Today Nicholson is rememberred less for the special quality of his own personal style of music-making than for the fact that Theobald Boehm, on a visit to London in 1831, was impressed enough with his powerful tone that he felt he needed to build a new flute. The immediate result was Boehm's model of 1831, which provided the earliest recognizable acoustical model for the modern flute.

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