Jean-Baptiste Lépine - 3 flutes

Three flutes owned by Jean-Baptiste Lépine, Seine (1784 - 18xx?) 

Instruments by Triebert, Noé Freres, and Hérouard

Three flutes from my collection were very likely owned by flautist Jean-Baptiste Lépine of Seine, France. My current information comes from Jean Dubrun of Cahors, France, from who I acquired these 3 flutes. Jean did some great detective work to figure this all out and I am quite convinced it is accurate. Jean purchased these flutes from an junk/antique dealer who had no knowledge of flutes. Jean, of course, immediately wanted to know where they had come from - a question that usually has no answer. After quite a bit of persuasion the seller finally told him that they came from a family named “Lépine” which is a fairly common family name in France. The thing that makes this start getting interesting is that the Noé Freres flute as the initials J.B.L carefully embossed in gold lettering, on each joint. Knowing the initials and the strong likelihood that the “L” was Lépine, as that was the family name from which they came, Jean set about looking for a flutist matching those initials and last name. I have tried similar exercises myself with books and instruments with a monogramed key or cover and have seldom been able to track down anyone. Jean, however had the last name.

Jean-Baptiste Lépine, 1784 - ? was a well-known flutist and student of Antoine Hugot (1761 - 1803 ) at the Conservatoire de Musique de Paris. Hugot was in the first group of Professors hired by the Paris Conservatoire upon its founding in 1795. His Méthode de Flûte was published posthumously in 1804 and became the standard teaching document for the Conservatoire until the 1840s.  In 1798 Lépine won second prize and in 1799 (at age 15?) he won the first prize from the Conservatoire. That year, Jean-Louis Tulou and Giullou came in 2nd! He was a flutist at the Paris Opera from at least 1808 into the 1820s. I will continue to gather research on Lépine - if anyone runs into anything, please let me know.

The three flutes are interesting in a number of ways. The earliest of the three is by Thomas Hérouard (active 1760 - 1799) so it dates from the late 18th century. It is in very much original condition and is pitched at A=439-440. It has no extra features. The other two flutes, however, both have additions to them to help bring them more up to date. These additions do not really effect the acoustics of the instruments but are to accomplish “better” tuning and “better" sound for various notes. The pitch of A=440 seems rather unusual and I would assume it is the shortest of a set of corps de rechange. See for instance: Noblet and Noé Freres. This flute is, in fact, quite similar to the François Noblet with its shortest joint.

Herouard 1-key 3.jpg

Link to Hérouard

The flute by Noé Freres is also a 1-key flute of very similar materials and design to the Hérouard - boxwood, horn rings, and brass key. This flute likely dates from around 1800. Information is very much lacking on Noé Freres. In Langwill, he posits "Paris ?second quarter of the 19thc, ?Dealers.” All of these three flutes use the earlier wooden key mounting and simple design of the D# key, in 18th century style. This flute is certainly not from the 2nd quarter of the 19thc and my own collection which contains 4 Noé flutes, spread over at least 35 years, very much makes me doubt him as just a dealer. This flute has an added b-flat key in the shield mount style which I would guess at c. 1825. In 1800 when the flute was originally made, the 1-key design was still standard in France although by 1825 many players were investing in 4 or 5 key flutes. To bring his Noé more up-to-date, he added the b-flat. The works just as well as a b-flat built originally into a flute. The Noé is at A=435, a fairly typical pitch in the time-frame.

Noe 1+1 key 1.jpg

Link to Noé Freres

The final flute is by Triebert (probably Guillaume who began building in 1810. The Triebert firm became quite important, especially in the manufacture of oboes. This flute would date before the firm became large, probably 1811-15 or so. Like the others it started off as a 1-key flute, but made of Madagascar Rosewood  - that itself is extremely rare at this time. It has ivory rings and a silver key. At some point it had a surface mounted G# key added - which also had a silver mount. The key itself does not survive and the hole is currently plugged with a cork. The key mount is shown on the page about this instrument. There are two further additions which I find extremely interesting, and rare. Two thumb holes have been added to the flute to allow playing b-flat and f-natural. Thus it was a sort of 4-key flute - adding the most common extra notes but using thumb holes rather than a key mechanism. The holes are currently plugged. The f-nat hole is brass lined while the b-flat does not appear to be. They are nicely drilled holes and seeming ergonomically placed for the thumbs. This flute plays at A=420.

Link to Triebert

Triebert 1-key 9.jpg

These 3 flutes demonstrate what a professional flutist might do to give his beloved older flutes some features of newer flutes. Hugot favored the 4 or 5 key flute as opposed to the other main Flute Professor at the Conservatoire at the time, Devienne, who preferred the 1-key flute. The different pitches of these three flutes is another factor worth considering. Did Lépine acquire these flute specifically because he needed to cover these three pitch areas. That is possible, although certainly any of three flutes could have originally had multiple corps-de-rechange as is the case with one of my other Noé flutes, which has three. I also find it interesting, how ever it happened, that the oldest flute (late 18th century) is at the highest pitch and the newest flute (Triebert) is at the lowest pitch. My other Noé flutes, although later, do seem to favor A=435 but perhaps the high pitch of the Herouard is because it was the shortest joint of a set.

Other flutes by Noé Freres and Hérouard in my collection:

Herouard 4-key

Noé 1-key

Noé 1-key II

Noé 6-key

© Michael Lynn, 2014 - 2023 - some of these flutes are available for purchase - please contact me for further information