April 12, 1924-January 25, 2011
Albert Cooper’s legacy is that he was the greatest influence on our instrument since Theobald Böhm. He set a standard for mechanical excellence, redesigned our scale allowing us to be more expressive, gave makers new ideas and suggested additional keys to make our performing lives easier, and set an example of generosity. Albert was naturally big-hearted and would share anything with anyone. This humble but great man showed that we are merely caretakers of knowledge we acquire in our lives. He set the example that we should pass on our knowledge freely to anyone who wants it.
Albert Kendall Cooper was born in Hull, England in 1924. He apprenticed at the famous London flute makers, Rudall Carte & Co until the outbreak of WWII, when he was called up to join the army. After the war, he returned to Rudall Carte, married Olive McLewee, and after a time, the couple moved to 9 West Rd., Clapham, where he remained for the rest of his life and where he built his now famous workshop. This workshop was in reality a small shed in the garden where he sat working whilst a visitor only had room to stand at the door to watch him.
Elmer Cole and William Bennett both contributed to Albert’s search for a true scale on which to build the modern flute and were in fact largely responsible for the calculations that resulted in what became known as the Cooper Scale. As ‘the Scale’ developed, and players offered their opinions, Cooper updated his figures and gave the latest revision to anyone who asked for it. Over time, he gave different scale figures to different makers.
Just a few years ago, he said: “Cooper’s Scale? What’s that? There isn’t a scale. There is a constant revision taking place so that, at any one time, there is a set of figures which you can use to design your flute, but these will change in the light of experience. I altered the scale a little as the years went by, mostly according to certain criticisms levelled at it. I now feel that I have more or less reached the end of the road scale-wise.”
His constant search for excellence and his dogged determination to give flute players a reliable scale resulted in a mounting reputation until his skills became legendary. Albert could often be seen at flute conventions discussing the latest in key design or mechanism with flute makers all over the world. He was always willing to help, advise, or offer figures to anyone who asked for them, often to the astonishment of his flute making rivals.
A couple of days after Albert’s 80th birthday, he was told, “You are such a famous man. There is hardly a flute player anywhere who hasn’t heard the name of Albert Cooper.” “Well,” he commented, “I dunno why. All I’ve done all my life is tinker about with flutes.”