Albisiphon Baritono by L. Vanotti
Barrel Engraving
Barrel Engraving

Albisiphon Baritono (bass flute)
L. Vanotti, Milano; c.1920; silver plate, soldered, B footjoint
; 1888g; .025"h .025"b.

Abelardo Ernesto Albisi (1872-1938) was principal flute at La Scala, Milan, in 1910 around the time he developed the Albisiphon baritone flute in C.  By 1913 Albisi had joined forces with Luigi Vanotti, an established maker of woodwind instruments in Milan, to produce his novel, T-shaped vertical flute.  Albisi went on to become flute professor at the Geneva Conservatoire in 1919.
Body Engraving
Body Engraving

The novel sound of this large-bore flute caught the ear of composers such as Puccini and Mascagni, giving the instrument a brief era of popularity.  When Dayton C. Miller acquired an Albisiphon he was delighted to have a "real" bass flute for his collection.

The very size of the 1.5" bore -- much larger than the modern bass flute -- proved its downfall.  Flute players found that it required an incredible volume of air to speak.  Mechanical aids such as the Aerophor were developed to pump additional air though the player's mouth, but failed to keep this instrument in the orchestral arsenal.

Essentially a standard Boehm flute on steroids, the Albisiphon allowed the player to manage its size by using a neck strap and playing it vertically in front of the body like a clarinet.  This was accomplished by mounting the embouchure onto the end of a tube with a slightly conical bore which tapers in diameter throughout the run of a complete spiral before meeting the receiver barrel of the main flute body.  This kept the player's arms in a reasonably comfortable position without need for an inordinately intricate key mechanism.

Disassembled Embouchure

To allow for the proper distance from the blow hole to the crown cork in a T-shaped headjoint, Albisi places two corks, one on each end of the bar.  (My fluid dynamics friend Masahiro Ishibashi informs me that acoustically only one end needs to be use for third octave correction, so perhaps the "T" shape was just aesthetically more pleasing than the "L" shape.)  I detect no taper across the bar piece.  This assembly is inserted into a split-cylinder atop the tapering headjoint tube, which allows for some rotation of the embouchure plate to accommodate the player's preference.  When assembled to one's liking, two ring clamps are used to lock it into position and seal the join, and crowns / end caps are spun into place.

Left hand
This specimen has a single normally closed G# tonehole on the back of the body opened with the G# touch. The Albisiphon in the Miller collection also has a single G# tonehole, but it is inline with the main string of toneholes and operates from an outboard longitudinal axle next to the long rod operating the low B. I freely admit to being one of the most wretched living Albisiphon players, but I detect no problem with this configuration.  With toneholes this size, leaving the G# closed doesn't appreciably muffle the sounding of A.

Thumb Keys
Right StackThere are a few other interesting observations about the mechanism.  The thumb keys are attached to a pinned longitudinal rod, achieving the modern Briccialdi Bb action.  The R1 shake duplicates the L3 motion by closing the G key.  The R3 touch essentially duplicates the motion of L2 by closing the A key -- to what purpose, I have no clue.

Footjoint Clutch
Note also the long foot tenon perforated for the D# tonehole to accommodate the massive B-footjoint. At left you can see the clutch between the L4 touch and the low B key.  When assembled, the L4 rod arm slides under the footjoint coupling so that when L4 is pressed down, the coupling is lifted and this motion in turn closes the low B.  (There is no duplicate touch in the R4 key cluster.)

Winchester case

I modified a Winchester case for break-down shotguns to store and transport the Albisiphon.  Now I can wear my camoeflage vest and take this to a gig -- and just DARE anyone to heckle the flute player....
Vertical Flute
This monster flute was picked up from a Boston dealer who acquired it from a midwestern music store that was going out of business. 

(Oh, if you notice littlle "wings" around the embouchure, they are not original to the instrument.  I was too lazy to remove for the photos and replace them.  I've been experimenting -- rather unsuccessfully -- with hot melt glue, seeing if I can better channel my limited lung capacity to fill this hollow leg of a flute....)

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