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A "Lot" of Love:
A Love Story Forever Preserved at the NMM

By Deborah Check Reeves
Curator of Education and Woodwind Instruments

In the mid 1950s, shortly after completing a music degree at UCLA, Victor T. Piltch, Jr. (1930-1994) met, fell in love with, and married Edith. After playing his Louis Lot flute throughout college in school and studio orchestras, chamber music groups, recitals, and even in the 1952 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Victor enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on the advice of the Los Angeles Musicians Union. He soon found himself assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe Band (USAFE). Together, the young couple left for Germany. There, in late 1955, the USAFE Band's Woodwind Quintet was formed. Staff Sergeant Victor T. Piltch, Jr. was not only the flutist in the ensemble, but he also was the non-commissioned officer in charge of the unit. One of the first successful appearances of the new Woodwind Quintet took place in 1956, when they toured Koblenz, Kaiserslautern, and Marburg. Local newspapers were quite enthusiastic about their performances and praised their musicianship. To this day, the "Winds Aloft" Woodwind Quintet remains a premier component of the USAFE Band.

USAFE Band, 1955

The USAFE Band's Woodwind Quintet was formed late in 1955 by five members of the band. Left to right: Staff Sergeant Victor T. Piltch, Jr., flutist and non-commissioned officer in charge of the unit; Airman First Class William J. Hilferty, clarinet; Airman First Class Robert A. Northern, French horn; Airman First Class Cedric N. Gay, bassoon; and, Staff Sergeant William D. Harrod, oboe.

Upon their return home from Germany, Victor and Edith settled into life in California. Tragically, in 1957, Victor suffered a series of stroke-like episodes. This left his facial muscles—necessary for playing the flute—disabled. Sadly, Victor retired his Louis Lot flute, but continued to teach and play recorder, and was involved in music until his death in 1994.

In August 2010—the same month that would have been her husband's 80th birthday—Edith donated Victor's Louis Lot flute to the NMM in his loving memory.

NMM 14491. Flute in C by Louis Lot Workshop, Paris, 1898

Piltch's silver flute belongs to an elite group of instruments manufactured in the workshop established by Louis Lot, one of the most famous Boehm flute makers in history. By 1847, Lot and his partner, Vincent Hypolite Godfroy, had purchased the exclusive rights to the manufacture in France of Theobald Boehm's new cylinder flute. Unlike other manufacturers of Boehm flutes (including Boehm himself, who introduced many variations), Godfroy and Lot standardized the cylinder flute model.

Following the dissolution of the eighteen-year partnership between Godfroy and Lot in 1854, Lot began to produce flutes bearing his own mark. Although he continued to produce wood flutes, he concentrated on the production of metal cylinder flutes. By 1860, the Paris Conservatory, which a mere twenty years earlier had rejected any idea of introducing the Boehm flute to its students, contracted with Lot to be their official flute supplier. As a result, the year 1860 is acknowledged by many to be a turning point in the history of the French school of flute playing. During the next seven years, Lot made several small, yet significant, changes to his flute design. His new model was more durable and could produce a bigger sound. (It was this same model that was copied in the 1920s by the Boston firm of William S. Haynes and its director, Vern Q. Powell.) After Lot retired in 1876, the firm passed through a couple of different hands until 1889, when it was purchased by E. Barat. It was under Barat's ownership of the Lot workshop that Piltch's flute was produced in 1898.

The NMM is fortunate to have two other Louis Lot flutes in its world-class collections: NMM 3232 and NMM 3515. All three superb examples will continue to be a significant resource for research about one of the world's most important Boehm flute makers.

NMM 14491

Front view

Left side of flute

Back of flute

Right side of flute

Signature on head

Signature on body, below socket

NMM 14491. Transverse flute in C by Louis Lot (1807-1896) workshop (during E. Barat's ownership), Paris, 1898. Serial no. 6412. Model 5 silver cylinder flute with C foot. Stamped on head:  L. L. / LOUIS LOT / PARIS / 6412 / BREVETÉ. Stamped on body, below socket:  L. L. / LOUIS LOT / PARIS / BREVETÉ. Silver head joint, body, and foot joint (all joints bearing hallmarks). Seamed tubing. Boehm system with closed G-sharp key and five open finger holes. Total length, 667 mm. Sounding length, 599 mm. Gift of Edith C. Piltch, Novato, California, in memory of her husband Victor T. Piltch, Jr. (1930-1994).

Piltch's flute is characteristic of Lot's modified 1867 model. Several aspects of its construction are still evident on flutes made today, including: the embouchure plate, representative of Lot's "unified embouchure" style; a duplicate G-sharp key; and, a two-piece mounting plate or strap (a replacement for Lot's original, single mounting plate). The body of this particular flute is made from seamed tubing, a construction technique used by Lot in his early metal flutes. Many players contend that it is this seamed construction that gives Lot flutes their highly desirable and distinct sound. NMM 14491 is made entirely from French silver, a type of metal that has a slightly higher percentage of pure silver than sterling. As a result, it is stamped with very small hallmarks on all three sections of the flute—head, body, and foot—as well as on several of the keys.

Flute and case

Piltch's silver flute will continue to thrive, under careful shelter and nurturing at the NMM, as a lasting tribute to the love story between Victor and Edith that began nearly sixty years ago.

Go to Annotated Checklist of Flutes by Louis Lot

Return to NMM Newsletter Index (December 2010)

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