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The Classical Recorder Description Page

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Various recorders (second from the bottom disassembled into its three parts)

The English Flute or recorder[1] is a woodwind musical instrument of the family known as fipple flutes or internal duct flutes — whistle-like instruments which include the tin whistle and ocarina. The recorder is end-blown and the mouth of the instrument is constricted by a wooden plug, known as a block or fipple.[2] It is distinguished from other members of the family by having holes for seven fingers (the lower one or two often doubled to facilitate the production of semitones) and one for the thumb of the uppermost hand. The bore of the recorder is tapered slightly, being widest at the mouthpiece end and narrowest at the top on Baroque recorders, or flared almost like a trumpet at the bottom on Renaissance instruments.

The recorder was popular in medieval times through the baroque era, but declined in the 18th century in favour of orchestral woodwind instruments, such as the flute, oboe, and clarinet. During its heyday, the recorder was traditionally associated with birds, shepherds, miraculous events, funerals, marriages and amorous scenes. Images of recorders can be found in literature and artwork associated with all these. Purcell, Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi used the recorder to suggest shepherds and birds in their music, a theme that continued in 20th century music.[3]

The recorder was revived in the 20th century, partly in the pursuit of historically informed performance of early music, but also because of its suitability as a simple instrument for teaching music and its appeal to amateur players. Today, it is often thought of as a child's instrument, but there are many professional players who demonstrate the instrument's full solo range.[4] The sound of the recorder is remarkably clear and sweet, partly because of the lack of upper harmonics and predominance of odd harmonics in the sound.[5]

Musical instruments
String instruments


The name of the instrument

The instrument has been known by its modern name at least since the 14th century. Grove's Dictionary reports that the earliest use of the word 'recorder' was in the household of the Earl of Derby (later to become King Henry IV) in 1388: fistula nomine Recordour.[6] The name originates from the use of the word record, one meaning of which is "to practise a piece of music".[7]

Up to the 18th century, the instrument was called Flauto (flute) in Italian, the language used in writing music, whereas the instrument we today call the flute was called 'Flauto traverso'. This has led to some pieces of music occasionally being mistakenly performed on the Flauto traverso (transverse flute) rather than on recorder.[6]

Today, the recorder is known as flauto dolce in Italian (sweet flute), with equivalents in other languages, such as flauta doce in Portuguese and flauta dulce in Spanish. In those two languages, the name flauta is ambiguous, as it can mean any kind of transverse flutes, a recorder, or different other types of wind blown instruments, like the pan flute and some instruments used by the descendants of native peoples of the Central and South Americas (with varied degrees of influence of European instruments). In French the word flûte is similarly ambiguous (the French translation is "flute à bec", literally "beaked flute"). From the "block", in German the instrument is known as Blockflöte, while the modern flute is called Querflöte (literally from flauto traverso) or simply Flöte.

How the instrument is played

Cross-section of the head of a recorder

The recorder is held outwards from the player's lips (rather than to the side, like the "transverse" flute). The player's breath is compressed into a linear airstream by a channel cut into the wooden "block" or fipple (A), in the mouthpiece of the instrument, so as to travel along this channeled duct (B) called the "windway".[8] Exiting from the windway, the breath is directed against a hard edge (C), called the "labium" or "ramp", which causes the column of air within the resonator tube to oscillate at the desired frequency, determined by the bore length or open tone hole used.[8] The length of the air column (and the pitch of the note produced) is modified by finger holes in the front and thumb hole at the back of the instrument.

Types of recorders

Instruments in C Range Instruments in F Range
garklein Range GarkleinRecorder.png sopranino
Listen to it
Range SopraninoRecorder.png
descant (soprano)
Listen to it
Range SopranoRecorder.png treble (alto) Range AltoRecorder.png
tenor Range TenorRecorder.png bass
(bass in F)
Range BassRecorder.png
great bass
(bass in C)
Range GreatBassRecorder.png contra bass Range ContraBassRecorder.png
subcontra bass Range SubContraBassRecorder.png sub-subcontrabass
Range SubSubContraBassRecorder.png

Recorders are made in a variety of sizes. They are most often tuned in C or F, meaning that their lowest note possible is a C or an F. However, instruments in D, B flat, G, and E flat were not uncommon historically and are still found today, especially the tenor recorder in D, which is called a "voice-flute."[9] The table shows the recorders in common use, although the large ones are very rare. However, a still larger instrument, descending to sixteen foot C (the lowest C on the piano keyboard), exists and is known as an octosubcontrabass. This has an extended compass of 3 octaves and a third and is manufactured by Jelle Hogenhuis in Holland.[10]

The recorder most often used for solo music is the treble recorder (known as alto in the USA), and when the recorder is specified without further qualification, it is this size that is meant.[11] The descant (known as the soprano in the USA) also has an important repertoire of solo music (not just school music) and there is a little for tenor and bass recorders.[12] Classroom instructors most commonly use the descant. The largest recorders, larger than the bass recorder, are less often used, since they are expensive and their sizes (the contrabass in F is about 2 metres tall) make them hard to handle.[citation needed] An experimental 'piccolino' has also been produced which plays a fourth above the garklein. Although it might be considered that the garklein is already too small for adult-sized fingers to play easily and that the even smaller piccolino is simply not practical, the fact that the holes for each finger are side by side and not in a linear sequence make it quite possible to play.[13]

For recorder ensemble playing, the descant/soprano, treble/alto, tenor and bass are most common - many players can play all four sizes. Great basses and contrabasses are always welcome but are more expensive. The sopranino does not blend as well and is used primarily in recorder orchestras and for concerto playing.[citation needed] The larger recorders have great enough distances between the finger holes that most people's hands can not reach them all. So, instruments larger than the tenor have keys to enable the player to cover the holes or to provide better tonal response; this is also true of the tenor itself, over the last hole, and much more rarely the alto. In addition, the largest recorders are so long that the player cannot simultaneously reach the finger holes with the hands and reach the mouthpiece with the lips. So, instruments larger than the bass (and some bass recorders too) may use a bocal or crook, a thin metal tube, to conduct the player's breath to the windway, or they may be constructed in sections that fold the recorder into a shape that brings the windway back into place.[citation needed]

Today, high-quality recorders are made from a range of hardwoods: maple, pear wood, rosewood, grenadilla, or boxwood with a block of red cedar wood.[14] Plastic recorders are produced in large quantities. Plastics are cheaper and require less maintenance and quality plastic recorders are equal to or better than lower-end wooden instruments. Beginners' instruments, the sort usually found in children's ensembles, are plastic and can be purchased quite cheaply.

Most modern recorders are based on instruments from the Baroque period, although some specialist makers produce replicas of the earlier Renaissance style of instrument. These latter instruments have a wider, less tapered bore and typically possess a less reedy, more blending tone more suited to consort playing.[citation needed]

A recorder with German fingering. The fifth hole from the top is smaller than in a comparable instrument with modern so-called English or Baroque fingering

In the early part of the twentieth century, Peter Harlan developed a recorder which allowed for apparently simpler fingering. This is German fingering. A recorder designed for German fingering has a hole five which is smaller than hole four, whereas baroque and neo-baroque recorders have a hole four which is smaller than hole five. The immediate difference in fingering is for ‘F’ and ‘B♭’ which on a neo-baroque instrument must be fingered 0 123 4-67. With German fingering, this is becomes a simpler 0 123 4---. Unfortunately, however, this causes many other chromatic notes to be too badly out of tune to be usable.[15] German fingering became popular in Europe, especially Germany, in the 1930s, but rapidly became obsolete in the 1950s as the recorder began to be treated more seriously and the limitations of German fingering became more widely appreciated.[16] Despite this, many recorder makers continue to produce German fingered instruments today, essentially for beginner use only.[citation needed]

Some newer designs of recorder are now being produced. Larger recorders built like organ pipes with square cross-sections are cheaper than the normal designs if, perhaps, not so elegant.[17] Another area is the development of instruments with a greater dynamic range and more powerful bottom notes. These modern designs make it easier to be heard when playing concerti.[citation needed] Finally, recorders with a downward extension of a semitone are becoming available; such instruments can play a full three octaves in tune. The tenor is especially popular, since its range becomes that of the modern flute; Frans Brüggen has publicly performed such flute works as Density 21.5 by Edgar Varèse on an extended tenor recorder.[citation needed]

Standard pitch

Recorders are most commonly pitched at A=440Hz. However, among serious amateurs and professionals, two other standard pitches are commonly found. For baroque instruments, A=415Hz is the de facto standard,[18] while renaissance instruments are often pitched at A=466Hz.[19] Both tunings are a compromise between historical accuracy and practicality. For instance, the Stanesby Sr alto, copied by many contemporary makers is based on A=403Hz; some makers indeed offer an instrument at that pitch.[20] Some recorder makers offer 3-piece instruments with two middle sections, accommodating two tuning systems.[21]

The 415 pitch has the advantage that it is an exact semitone lower than 440Hz; there are harpsichords that can shift their keyboard in a matter of minutes.[22] The A=392Hz pitch, is similarly another semitone lower.

Sheet music notation

Sheet music for recorder is nearly always notated in 'concert key,' meaning that a written "C" in the score actually sounds as a "C." This implies that the player must learn two different sets of similar fingerings, one for the C recorders and another for the F recorders. However, many sizes of recorder do transpose at the octave. The garklein sounds two octaves above the written pitch; the sopranino and soprano sound one octave above written pitch. Alto and tenor sizes do not transpose at all, while the bass and great bass sound one octave above written (bass clef) pitch. Contrabass and subcontrabass are non-transposing while the octocontrabass sounds one octave below written pitch.

Sizes from garklein down through tenor are notated in the treble clef while the bass size and lower usually read the bass clef. Professionals can usually read C-clefs and often perform from original notation.

Alternative notations which are only occasionally used:

  1. Bass recorder in F may be written in treble clef at real pitch, so that the low F is written a fifth below middle C with three ledger lines.
  2. Bass recorder in F may be written in treble clef an octave above real pitch (i.e. sound an octave below written pitch), so that its fingerings are completely octave-identical to the alto in F.
  3. Great bass recorder in C may be written in treble clef. If so, it would probably be written up an octave to match the fingering régime of the tenor in C.
  4. Tenor recorder in C may be written in bass clef one octave below real pitch in order to read choral parts for tenor voice.
  5. Alto recorder in F may be written down an octave to read alto vocal parts.
  6. All recorders may be transposed by both octave and key so that the lowest note is always written as middle C below the treble clef. In this system, only the tenor is non-transposing while all other parts would transpose up or down in fourths, fifths and octaves as appropriate.
  7. Urtext editions of baroque music may preserve the baroque practice of writing treble(alto) recorder parts in the Violin clef (G clef on the bottom line of the stave). From the player's point of view, this is equivalent to using bass(et) recorder fingerings on the treble(alto) recorder.

As a rule of thumb, recorders sound one octave above the human voice after which they are named (soprano recorder is an octave above soprano voice, alto an octave above alto voice, etc.) The recorder's mellow tone and limited harmonics allows for the seemingly deeper sound.[23]

Recorder fingering

Recorder fingerings (baroque): Lowest note through the nominal range of 2 octaves and a tone
Note First Octave Second Octave Third Octave
in F
in C
F C X X X X X X X X X O X O O O O O / X O O X X O O
F# C# X X X X X X X / O X X O O O O O / X O X X O X X1,2
G D X X X X X X X O O O X O O O O O / X O X X O X
G# D# X X X X X X / O O O X X X X X O / O X X O X X O
A E X X X X X X O O / X X X X X O O
A# F X X X X X O X X / X X X X O X O
B F# X X X X O X X O / X X X O X O O
C G X X X X O O O O / X X X O O O O
C# G# X X X O X X / O / X X O X O O O
D A X X X O O O O O / X X O O O O O
D# A# X X O X X O O O / X X O X X X O
E B X X O O O O O O / X X O X X O O

Note 1: The bell must be stopped to play this note.
Note 2: Individual recorders may need this hole to be closed (X), half closed(/), or open (O) to play the note in tune.
Note 3: See the section Types of recorders concerning recorders tuned in C or in F.

How the fingers and holes are numbered
The fingers The holes
Numbered finger holes.jpg

x mean to cover the hole. 0 means to uncover the hole.

The range of a modern recorder is usually taken to be about two octaves except in virtuoso pieces. See the table above for fingerings of notes in the nominal recorder range of 2 octaves and 1 whole tone. Notes above this range are more difficult to play, and the exact fingerings vary from instrument to instrument, so it is impractical to put them into the table here.[24] The numbers at the top correspond to the fingers and the holes on the recorder, according to the pictures. In the table, "X" signifies a closed hole, "O" signifies an open hole, and "/" signifies a half-closed hole.

The note two octaves and one semitone above the lowest note (C# for soprano, tenor and great bass instruments; F# for sopranino, alto and bass instruments) is difficult to play on most recorders. These notes are best played by covering the end of the instrument (the "bell"); players typically use their upper leg to accomplish this. Some recorder makers added a special bell key for this note — newer recorder designs with longer bores also solve this problem and extend the range even further. The note is only occasionally found in pre-20th-century music, but it has become standard in modern music.[15]

The lowest chromatic scale degrees — a semitone and a minor third above the lowest note — are played by covering only a part of a hole, a technique known as "half-holing." Most modern instruments are constructed with double holes or keys to facilitate the playing of these notes; such double holes are occasionally found on baroque instruments, where even the hole for the third finger of the left hand can be doubled. Other chromatic scale degrees are played by so-called "fork" fingerings, uncovering one hole and covering one or more of the ones below it. Fork fingerings have a different tonal character from the diatonic notes, giving the recorder a somewhat uneven sound. Budget tenor/bass recorders might have a single key for low C/F but not low C#/F#, making this note virtually impossible to play. Double low keys allowing both C/F and C#/F# are more or less standard today.[15]

Most of the notes in the second octave and above are produced by partially closing the thumbhole on the back of the recorder, a technique known as "pinching". The placement of the thumb is crucial to the intonation and stability of these notes, and varies as the notes increase in pitch, making the boring of a double hole for the thumb unviable. To play the notes in the second octave, the player must tongue somewhat harder in order to excite the second and third harmonics of the instrument.[15]

A skilled player can, with a good recorder, play chromatically over two octaves and a fifth. Use of notes in the 3rd octave is becoming more common in modern compositions; several of these notes require closure of the bell or shading of the window area [25] (i.e. holding the palm of the hand above the window, partially restricting the air emerging from it). In the hands of a competent player, these upper notes are not especially loud or shrill.

The renaissance recorder had a range of two octaves and a sixth ,[26] though writers on woodwind instruments in general from that period, e.g. Praetorius, often give shorter ranges. This might reflect a distinction between skilled and unskilled players in the renaissance or the differences in instruments made in one region versus another or over time. Modern reproductions of renaissance instruments, especially those from middle of the last century, often have a range as little as one and a half octaves[27] but more recent makers now produce reproduction renaissance instruments with the full range and Ganassi's fingerings. Consequently many publishers of recorder music refer to 'music for Ganassi recorder', or a similar phrase, when they mean recorder music with a range greater than two octaves and a tone.

Changes in dynamics are not easy to achieve on the recorder if the player is accustomed to other wind instruments. The general belief is that if the player blows harder to play louder, or more softly to play softer, the pitch changes and the note goes out of tune, and unlike the transverse flute, the player cannot change the position of the mouth in relation to the labium in order to compensate, and that therefore the recorder is not capable of dynamic changes. This is misleading. It is true that in the hands of a skilled player changes in dynamics by simply blowing harder or softer are possible provided the instrument is of a high quality and the player knows the instrument well. Subtle changes in wind pressure are possible if the player has a good ear for tuning and knows how hard the instrument can be pushed before pitch changes become noticeable. But this is not the correct approach to recorder dynamics.[15][28] On the recorder it is better to think of the breath controlling pitch, and the fingers controlling dynamics; for example by resting the fingers lightly on the holes breath leaks around them, lifting the pitch; and the resulting instinctive change in breath pressure to bring the pitch back also drops the volume. Advanced players use alternative fingerings to enable changes in dynamics.[29] The recorder is notable for its sensitivity to articulation; in addition to its obvious use for artistic effect skilled players can also use this sensitivity to suggest changes in volume.[28]


Early recorders

Internal duct-flutes have a long history: an example of an Iron Age specimen, made from a sheep bone, exists in Leeds City Museum.[30]

The true recorders are distinguished from other internal duct flutes by having eight finger holes (in use - see below); seven on the front of the instrument and one, for the upper hand thumb, on the back, and having a slightly tapered bore, with its widest end at the mouthpiece. It is thought that these instruments evolved in the 14th century, but an earlier origin is a matter of some debate, based on the depiction of various whistles in medieval paintings. To this day whistles -as used in Irish folk music- have six holes. The original design of the transverse flute (and its fingering) was based on the same six holes, but it was later much altered by Theobald Böhm.[citation needed]

One of the earliest surviving instruments was discovered in a castle moat in Dordrecht, the Netherlands in 1940, and has been dated to the 14th century. It is largely intact, though not playable. A second more or less intact 14th century recorder was found in a latrine in northern Germany (in Göttingen): other 14th-century examples survive from Esslingen (Germany) and Tartu (Estonia). There is a fragment of a possible 14th-15th-century bone recorder in Rhodes (Greece); and there is an intact 15th-century example from Elblag (Poland).[3]

The earliest recorders were designed to be played either right-handed (with the right hand lowermost) or left-handed (with the left hand lowermost). The holes were all in a line except for the lowest hole, for the lower hand little finger. This last hole was offset from the center line, and drilled twice, once on each side. The player would fill in the hole they didn't want to use with wax. It is this doubled hole (not to be confused with the later double holes for semitones) which accounts for the early French name flute à neuf trous In later years, the right-hand style of playing was settled on as standard and the second hole disappeared.[citation needed]

Renaissance recorders

The Renaissance

The recorder achieved great popularity in the 16th and 17th centuries. This development was linked to the fact that art music (as opposed to folk music) was no longer the exclusive domain of nobility and clergy. The advent of the printing press made it available to the more affluent commoners as well. The popularity of the instrument also reached the courts however. For example, at Henry VIII's death in 1547, an inventory of his possessions included 76 recorders.[31] There are also numerous references to the instrument in contemporary literature (e.g. Shakespeare[32] and Milton[33]).[34]

During the Renaissance musical instruments were principally used in dance music and as accompaniment for voices. There are many vocal works with non-texted lines, which possibly were written for instruments. In addition, some vocal music was easily playable with instruments, chansons, for example. Nevertheless, composers also produced more and more works exclusively for instruments, often based on dance music. (e.g. the Lachrimae Pavans by John Dowland). Often they did not specify the instruments to use although some, such as Anthony Holborne, indicated that their music was suitable for the recorder.[35] However, even when the composer specified, for instance, viols, the music could successfully be played on recorders. A taste for ensembles of like instruments developed in this era, and so arose "consorts" (groups of musicians playing the same type of instrument) and the families of instruments of various sizes. The diversity of sizes in an instrument family allowed the consort to play music with a very large pitch range. Some of the well known Renaissance composers who wrote instrumental music, or whose vocal music plays well on recorders, were:[36]

Polyphony was the dominant music style of the Renaissance, but composers also began to write chordal pieces. The Medieval custom of juxtaposing 2 or 3 different melodies coexisted with "imitative polyphony". Imitative polyphony uses only one melodic line, but breaks it in pieces and divides it among the different parts. One part plays the melody, then the other parts play it in their turns. The music of this epoch was characterized by complex improvised ornamentation.[37]

Many instruments survive from this period, including an incomplete set of recorders in Nuremberg which date from the 16th century and are still partially playable.[citation needed] Similar to the Medieval recorders, and unlike the Baroque style recorders typically used today, Renaissance recorders have a wide, more or less cylindrical bore. They have powerful low notes (much more so than the Baroque recorders). The wide bore means that a greater quantity of air is required to play the instrument, but this makes them more responsive.[38] Many reproduction instruments, especially from the middle of the last century, can only be played reliably over a range of an octave and a sixth; but more and more makers are producing recorders capable of the full range that Ganassi[26] reports, and with his fingerings in tune throughout. When modern music is written for 'Ganassi recorders' it is this type of recorder which is intended. Historically there was, in truth, no such thing as the 'Ganassi' recorder as a distinct type; it was simply the ordinary Renaissance recorder played by a good player who understood the instrument.[39]

Baroque recorders

Several changes in the construction of recorders took place in the seventeenth century, resulting in the type of instrument generally referred to as Baroque recorders, as opposed to the earlier Renaissance recorders. These innovations allowed baroque recorders to possess a tone which was regarded as "sweeter" than that of the earlier instruments,[40] at the expense of a reduction in volume, particularly in the lowest notes, and a slightly reduced range.

In the 18th century, rather confusingly, the instrument was normally referred to simply as Flute (Flauto) — the transverse form was separately referred to as Traverso. In the 4th Brandenburg Concerto in G major, J.S. Bach calls for two flauti d'echo. The musicologist Thurston Dart mistakenly suggested that it was intended for flageolets at a higher pitch, and in a recording under Neville Marriner using Dart's editions it was played an octave higher than usual on sopranino recorders. An argument can be made that the instruments Bach identified as flauti d'echo were echo flutes, an example of which survives in Leipzig to this day. It consisted of two recorders in f' connected together by leather flanges: one instrument was voiced to play softly, the other loudly. Vivaldi wrote three concertos for the flautino and required the same instrument in his opera orchestra. In modern performance, the flautino was initially thought to be the piccolo. It is now generally accepted, however, that the instrument intended was some variant of the sopranino recorder.[41]

The decline of the recorder

The instrument went into decline after the 18th century, being used for about the last time as an otherworldly sound by Gluck in his opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Many reasons have been put forward for this decline. One possible reason is that the main flute innovators of the time, Grenser and Tromlitz et al., extended the transverse flute's range and evened out its tonal consistency, making it more appealing than the recorder. Also, the fixed relationship of the windway to the labium limits the range of dynamics and expression of the recorder, when compared with the transverse flute.[42] Another possible reason was the fact that music as an amateur pastime was declining in favour of the "professional" musician combined with the fact that composers began writing exclusively for professional ensembles. Other possible reasons include an apparent lack of sufficient professional players; a change in musical tastes; a lack of appreciation of the true nature of the recorder by composers; the high pitch of the instrument; the problems (for makers and players) of utilising the full chromatic range; and a perceived "bad reputation" of the instrument based on all these factors.[43]

By the Romantic era, the recorder had been almost entirely superseded by the flute and clarinet. One variant of the recorder survived into the 19th Century concert halls, however: the keyed recorder known as the czakan or flute douce.[citation needed]

The art of recorder making never completely died, though. Berchtesgaden Fleitl continue to be made to this day by Bernhard Oeggle, whose great-grandfather Georg learned his craft from Paul Walch (ca 1862-1873), the last of three generations of the Walch family of recorder makers.[44] Similarly, the careers of the Schlosser family of woodwind makers from the towns of Oberzwota and Zwota can be traced over five generations. Their founder was Johan Gabriel Sr who was active in the early 19th century; Rüdiger, who seems to have been the last maker, died in 2005. Heinrich Oskar (1875–1947) made instruments sold by the firm of Moeck in Celle and helped to design their Tuju series of recorders.[45]

Modern revival

The recorder was revived around the turn of the 20th century by early music enthusiasts, but used almost exclusively for this purpose. It was considered a mainly historical instrument. Even in the early 20th century it was uncommon enough that Stravinsky thought it to be a kind of clarinet, which is not surprising since the early clarinet was, in a sense, derived from the recorder, at least in its outward appearance.

The eventual success of the recorder in the modern era is often attributed to Arnold Dolmetsch in the UK and various German scholar/performers. Whilst he was responsible for broadening interest beyond that of the early music specialist in the UK, Dolmetsch was far from being solely responsible for the recorder's revival. On the Continent his efforts were preceded by those of musicians at the Brussels Conservatoire (where Dolmetsch received his training), and by the performances of the Bogenhauser Künstlerkapelle (Bogenhausen Artists' Band) based in Germany. Over the period from 1890-1939 the Bogenhausers played music of all ages, including arrangements of classical and romantic music. Also in Germany, the work of Willibald Gurlitt, Werner Danckerts and Gustav Scheck proceeded quite independently of the Dolmetsches.[46] Thus the revival, far from being the work of one man, was the result of several strands coming and working together.

Among the influential virtuosos who figure in the revival of the recorder as a serious concert instrument in the latter part of the twentieth century are Ferdinand Conrad, Kees Otten, Frans Brüggen, Roger Cotte, Hans-Martin Linde, Bernard Krainis, and David Munrow. Brüggen recorded most of the landmarks of the historical repertoire and commissioned a substantial number of new works for the recorder. Munrow's 1975 double album The Art of the Recorder remains as an important anthology of recorder music through the ages.

Another famous and popular performer is Michala Petri, who has toured extensively, recorded many discs of old and new pieces, and had quite a number of works written for her, including concertos by Malcolm Arnold and Richard Harvey.

Carl Dolmetsch, the son of Arnold Dolmetsch, became one of the first virtuoso recorder players in the 1920s; but more importantly he began to commission recorder works from leading composers of his day, especially for performance at the Haslemere festival which his father ran. Initially as a result of this, and later as a result of the development of a Dutch school of recorder playing led by Kees Otten, the recorder was introduced to serious musicians as a virtuoso solo instrument both in Britain and in northern Europe, and consequently modern composers of great stature have written for the recorder, including Paul Hindemith, Luciano Berio, Jürg Baur, Josef Tal, John Tavener, Michael Tippett, Benjamin Britten, Leonard Bernstein, Gordon Jacob, Malcolm Arnold, Steven Stucky and Edmund Rubbra.

The recorder is surprisingly often used in popular music, including that of groups such as [Tthe Beatles]],[47] the Rolling Stones(See, for example, "Ruby Tuesday"), Yes_(band), for example, in the song "I've Seen All Good People", Jefferson Airplane (See Personnel, as well as Grace Slick.), Led Zeppelin (Stairway to Heaven), Jimi Hendrix,[48] Siouxsie and the Banshees,[49] Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention, and Mannheim Steamroller.

Some modern music calls for the recorder to produce unusual noises, rhythms and effects, by such techniques as fluttertonguing and overblowing to produce multiphonics. David Murphy's 2002 composition Bavardage is an example, as is Hans Martin Linde's Music for a Bird.

Among late 20th-century recorder ensembles, the trio Sour Cream (led by Frans Brüggen), the Flanders Recorder Quartet and the Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet have programmed remarkable mixtures of historical and contemporary repertoire.

Use in schools

Plastic recorder

In the mid 20th century, manufacturers were able to make recorders out of bakelite and more modern plastics which made them cheap and quick to produce. Because of this, recorders became very popular in schools, as they are one of the cheapest instruments to buy in bulk.[50] They are also relatively easy to play at a basic level as they are pre-tuned. It is, however, incorrect to assume that mastery is similarly easy—like other instruments, the recorder requires significant study to play at an advanced level.[citation needed]

The success of the recorder in schools is partly responsible for its poor reputation as a "child's instrument". Although the recorder is ready-tuned, it is very easy to warp the pitch by over or under blowing, which often results in an unpleasant sound from beginners.

Although it is usually associated with younger school children, some middle and high schools use them during music courses such as music theory.[citation needed]

Early music re-enactment

Another area where the recorder has gained popularity is history re-enactment. Since the recorder is a very old instrument, it is extremely suitable for playing Medieval and Baroque music. It is easy to carry, has a reasonably loud sound, and can be played both indoors and outdoors. Since many history re-enactors have learned to play recorder already in school, it can be easily adapted in early music.[citation needed]


The evolution of the Renaissance recorder into the Baroque instrument is generally attributed to the Hotteterre family, in France. They developed the ideas of a more tapered bore, bringing the finger-holes of the lowermost hand closer together, allowing greater range, and enabling the construction of instruments in several jointed sections. The last innovation allowed more accurate shaping of each section and also offered the player minor tuning adjustments, by slightly pulling out one of the sections to lengthen the instrument.

The French innovations were taken to London by Pierre Bressan, a set of whose instruments survive in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, as do other examples in various American, European and Japanese museums and private collections. Bressan's contemporary, Thomas Stanesby, was born in Derbyshire but became an instrument maker in London. He and his son (Thomas Stanesby junior) were the other important British-based recorder-makers of the early eighteenth century.

In continental Europe, the Denner family of Nuremberg were the most celebrated makers of this period.

Many modern recorders are based on the dimensions and construction of surviving instruments produced by Bressan, the Stanesbys or the Denner family.[51] Well-known larger contemporary makers of recorders include Angel (South Korea), Aulos (Japan), Moeck (Germany), Dolmetsch (England), Mollenhauer (Germany), Fehr, Huber, Küng (Switzerland) and Yamaha (Japan). Smaller workshops include names such as Takeyama, Von Huene, Rohmer, Adrian Brown, Prescott, Marvin, Cranmore, Amman, Beaudin, Blezinger, Boudreau, Netsch, Coomber, Grinter, Ehlert.[52]

Recorder ensembles

(From top to bottom) Bass, tenor, alto, descant (soprano) and sopranino recorders

The recorder is a very social instrument. Many amateurs enjoy playing in large groups or in one-to-a-part chamber groups, and there is a wide variety of music for such groupings including many modern works. Groups of different sized instruments help to compensate for the limited note range of the individual instruments. Four part arrangements with a soprano, alto, tenor and bass part played on the corresponding recorders are common, although more complex arrangements with multiple parts for each instrument and parts for lower and higher instruments may also be regularly encountered.[citation needed]

One of the more interesting developments in recorder playing over the last 30 years has been the development of recorder orchestras.[citation needed] They can have 60 or more players and use up to nine sizes of instrument. In addition to arrangements, many new pieces of music, including symphonies, have been written for these ensembles.[citation needed] There are recorder orchestras in Germany, Holland, Japan, the United States, Canada, the UK and several other countries.[53][unreliable source?]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Grove Music Online recommends that use of the word fipple should be abandoned because its meaning is confused. However, other sources (eg the Oxford Dictionary of Music) continue to use it.
  3. ^ a b Lander, Nicholas. "The Recorder Homepage". 
  4. ^ For example, Eve O'Kelly describes how Frans Brüggen "achieved worldwide recognition as a recorder virtuoso" in her book The Recorder Today, Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-521-36681-X. p.62
  5. ^ Jean Marc Bonard, "The Physicist's Guide to the Orchestra", 2001, Eur. J. Phys. 22 89-101
  6. ^ a b Grove's Dictionary of Music(online Edition): 'Recorder' article, part 1: 'Nomenclature'
  7. ^ E. Partridge: Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, New York, 1958
  8. ^ a b Bolton, Philippe. "How Recorders Work". Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  9. ^ Edgar Hunt, "Fitting the Instrument to the Music"; Recorder and Music 7, no. 9, March 1983: pp227-228
  10. ^ Jelle Hogenhuis, flute and recorder maker
  11. ^ Anthony Baines: Woodwind Instruments and their History, Music Sales Ltd, 1991, ISBN 9780486268859, p.74: "The classic recorder is the treble. 'Flutes' and 'Flauti', in the works of Bach, Handel and their contemporaries, do not mean just 'recorders'; they mean 'treble recorders'"
  12. ^ Andrew Mayes: "Carl Dolmetsch and the Recorder Repertoire of the 20th Century", Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2003, ISBN 0754609685: p.241: "Prompted by the scarcity of solo music for bass recorder, Carl Dolmetsch has written this lively gavotte..."; p.248: "There appears to be so small a repertoire for tenor recorder that I decided to write this 'plaint'."
  13. ^ Hampshire Recorder Sinfonia guide to the recorder family
  14. ^ Trevor Robinson, The Amateur Wind Instrument Maker, University of Massachusetts Press, 1981. ISBN 0-87023-312-2. See chapter 2, "Wooden instruments, materials and methods"
  15. ^ a b c d e A Rowland-Jones, Recorder Technique ISBN 0-907908-75-6
  16. ^ Edgar Hunt, The Recorder And Its Music
  17. ^ Dolmetsch "Millennium" square-section recorders
  18. ^ Anthony Rowland-Jones: Playing Recorder Sonatas: Interpretation and technique, Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0198790015, 9780198790013. p.20: "Today's makers of 'Baroque' instruments mostly seem content to compromise at a'=415"
  19. ^ John Mansfield Thomson, Anthony Rowland-Jones (editors): The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder, Cambridge University Press, 1995; ISBN 0521358167. p.178: "renaissance recorders [...] are typically built at high pitch (a'=466 ...)"
  20. ^ Jacqueline Sorel, Baroque Alto Recorder after Stanesby, Sr
  21. ^ Jacqueline Sorel: Renaissance Recorders after Ganassi:
  22. ^ David Jacques Way: Harpsichord Pitch and Transposition
  23. ^
  24. ^ Kenneth Wollitz, The Recorder Book, Knopf, 1984. ISBN 0-394-47973-4. See Chapter 1, "Technique"
  25. ^ Recorder fingering charts
  26. ^ a b Ganassi, Opera intitula Fontegara, available in many modern facsimile editions
  27. ^ Recorder fingerings
  28. ^ a b A Rowland-Jones, Playing Recorder Sonatas Clarendon Press ISBN 0-19-879001-5
  29. ^ Walter van Hauwe, The Modern Recorder Player, Volume III, Schott, 1992. ISBN 0-946535-19-1. See Chapter 3, "Alternative Fingerings"
  30. ^ Oxford Companion to Music. See section 1 of "Recorder Family" article
  31. ^ Oxford Companion to Music. see section 2 of the article on "Recorder Family"
  32. ^ Hamlet, Act III scene ii, Hamlet: "Ah, ha! Come, some music! Come, the recorders!"
  33. ^ Paradise Lost, Book I: "Anon they move/ in perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood/ flutes and soft recorders"
  34. ^ For an extensive database of literary references to the recorder see here
  35. ^ Anthony Holborne, Pavans, Galliards, Almains and other short Aeirs, both grave and light, in five parts, for Viols, Violins, recorders or other Musicall Winde Instruments, published in 1599
  36. ^ Kenneth Wollitz, The Recorder Book, Knopf, 1984. ISBN 0-394-47973-4. See Chapter 8, "Repertory of the Recorder" by Colin C. Sterne.
  37. ^ The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder, p.15: "By far the largest amount of space in [Ganassi's treatise published in 1535] is devoted to details about ornamentation, which suggest a high level of extravagant embellishment in a remarkably rhythmically free manner..."
  38. ^ Trevor Robinson, The Amateur Wind Instrument Maker, University of Massachusetts Press, 1981. ISBN 0-87023-312-2. See chapter 4, which includes a description of the construction and sound of Renaissance recorders.
  39. ^ Adrian Brown, The Ganassi recorder: separating fact from fiction., American Recorder 47(5): 11-18, 1984.
  40. ^ Jonathan Wainwright and Peter Holman, From Renaissance To Baroque: Change in Instruments and Instrumental Music in the Seventeenth Century, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, 2005. ISBN 0-7546-0403-9
  41. ^ Eleanor Selfridge-Field, Vivaldi's esoteric instruments, Early Music 6 (1978), 332-339. (RV443 and RV444 have a compass c' - f''', while perplexingly RV445 has lowest note e.)
  42. ^ Donald Murray et al. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music, Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0198165048. p.122
  43. ^ Waitzman, Daniel: The Decline of the Recorder in the 18th Century. Published in American Recorder 8 no. 2 (Spring 1967). pp.47-51
  44. ^ MacMillan, D. (2007). The Recorder 1800-1905. Recorder Magazine 27(4): 126-131.
  45. ^ Tarasov, N. (2005). Bahn frei! Kreative Blockkonstruktionen in 19 Jahrhundert. Windkanal 4: 14-17.
  46. ^ Eve E. O'Kelly, The Recorder Today, Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-521-36681-X. Chapter 1: The Revival
  47. ^ For example, in Fool on the Hill, according to and it is also used by Dido. The Recorder Home Page maintained by Nicholas S. Lander
  48. ^ For example, in the song If 6 Was 9, according to The Recorder Home Page maintained by Nicholas S. Lander
  49. ^ For example in the song Green Fingers, according to's page on the album A Kiss in the Dreamhouse
  50. ^ Margo Hall, Teaching Kids Recorder, iUniverse, 2005. ISBN 0-595-36743-7
  51. ^ Information about makers is summarised from sleeve notes of David Munrow's The art of the Recorder, 1975, written by Edgar Hunt, then Head of Renaissance and Baroque music at Trinity College of Music, London
  52. ^ A comprehensive database of current recorder makers worldwide is available here.
  53. ^ See, for example, Dutch Recorder Orchestra Praetorius, Recorder Orchestras in Japan, Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra, Scottish Recorder Orchestra and SRP National Youth Recorder Orchestra

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Recorder". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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