Pratten – The Man Behind the Traditional Irish Flute Style
You’ll often hear the name Pratten or term ‘Pratten-style’ when talking about Irish wooden flutes but who exactly was Pratten and what exactly was his influence on modern Irish flute making?
Robert Sidney Pratten was born in England in 1824 into a musical family and by all accounts was somewhat of a child prodigy with a natural gift for music.
He taught himself to play flute with help from his older brother, Frederick. By the age of twelve he was beginning to become noticed for his playing style, in particular his excellent intonation.
In fact, critics were quick to point out his superiority to the then celebrated flutist, Joseph Richardson. All the more extraordinary considering Pratten’s lack of formal training.
Pratten was a large man with bags of charisma and was a popular personality, eventually going on to become first flute of the Theatre Royal at Covent Garden in 1845. A solo performance he gave in Covent Garden was deemed ‘a monster concert’ due to his powerful playing style.
Although, notably (for Irish audiences) his first formal position was with the Theatre Royal in Dublin from the age of twelve.
Pratten’s flute of choice during this phase was a much praised but oft forgotten diatonic flute produced in 1842 by Abel Sicamma.
Among its key characteristics was its vibrant and pure tone, and its improved intonation over other models at the time.
It seems that Pratten was very much taken with his Sicamma but felt he could improve upon it even more.
Pratten’s Perfected Flute
Accordingly, he set about designing his now famous, and legendary among Irish flute players, Pratten’s Perfected flute.
Pratten, with his large hands, massive stores of breath and full-tone playing style proposed an enlarged bore, a bigger embouchure and larger-holed simple system flute to produce the ‘big’ flute sound he is now so famously associated with.
Boosey & Co. Flute Makers
In tandem with John Hudson, foreman for renowned flute makers Boosey & Co. and previously involved with Sicamma, he commissioned his first flutes in the mid 1850s.
Boosey & Co. continued to produce so-called Pratten Perfected flutes well into the early 1900s. Pratten himself passed away at the young age of 44 in 1868.
Little could he have guessed that his name would become so synonymous with the traditional Irish style of flute making and playing that continues unabated to this day.