Recorder (musical instrument)

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This article is about the recorder as a developed musical instrument. For the recorder as an introduction to learning music, see Recorder (educational uses). For other uses of the word recorder, see Recorder (disambiguation).
Various recorders (second from the bottom disassembled into its three parts)
Musical instruments
String instruments

The recorder is a family of woodwind musical instruments of the group known as fipple flutes or internal duct flutes—whistle-like instruments that include the tin whistle. The recorder is end-blown, and the mouth of the instrument is constricted by a wooden plug, known as a block or fipple.[1] 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 can be tapered slightly, being widest at the mouthpiece end and narrowest towards the foot on Baroque recorders. Renaissance-era instruments also taper, but generally have more nearly cylindrical bores. Recorders can be made out of wood, plastic, or ivory.[2]

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 pastoral scenes, miraculous events, funerals, marriages, and amorous scenes. Images of recorders can be found in literature and artwork associated with all of these. Purcell, Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi used the recorder to suggest shepherds and imitate 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 sometimes 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]

Name of the instrument[edit]

The instrument has been known by its modern name at least since the 14th century. David Lasocki reports 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] By 1530 the word had transferred into English: Of recorders fond fyrst the melodies.[7] The name is apparently derived from the verb to record (senses 2 & 3) with the suffix -er.[7] To record in this sense is uncommon in modern English; it originally meant to practice and learn, literally by heart from the Latin corda. In 1413 the Pilgr. Sowle (Pilgrim Soul, printed by Caxton in 1483) includes: When they hadde these instrumentes they recorded songes besyly tylle that they were ... parfyte ynowe in al maner musike.[8]

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

The instrument maker Thomas Stanesby, Junior called the recorder the "common English flute" and also used the French name flûte à bec.[9]

Today, the recorder is known as flauto dolce in Italian (sweet flute), with equivalents in other languages, such as flauta doce in Brazilian Portuguese (or flauta de Bisel in European 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 flûte à bec, literally "beaked flute"), and it is also called flauta de pico in Spanish, meaning the same. In German the fipple block is called the Block and hence the German name is Blockflöte, while the modern flute is called Querflöte (literally from flauto traverso), Große Flöte (great flute) or simply Flöte. Naming in Dutch and the Scandinavian languages follows the same convention as in German. In Dutch, for example, the recorder is called blokfluit and the flute is dwarsfluit, and in Swedish the corresponding names are blockflöjt and tvärflöjt.

Types of recorder[edit]

Recorder family
In C Range In F Range
garklein in C6 (c''')
or sopranissimo
Range GarkleinRecorder.png sopranino in F5 (f'')
or flautino
Range SopraninoRecorder.png
soprano in C5 (c'')
or descant
Listen to it
Range SopranoRecorder.png alto in F4 (f')
or treble
Range AltoRecorder.png
tenor in C4 (c') Range TenorRecorder.png bass in F3 (f) Range BassRecorder.png
great bass in C3 (c)
or quart-bass
Range GreatBassRecorder.png contrabass in F2 (F)
or great bass
or sub-bass
Range ContraBassRecorder.png
sub-great bass in C2 (C)
or contra-great bass
or contrabass
Range SubContraBassRecorder.png sub-contrabass in F1 (FF)
or double contrabass
Range SubSubContraBassRecorder.png


Recorders are made in a variety of sizes and each has its own register.[2] They are most often tuned in C or F, meaning 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 alto (treble) recorder in G, the standard Renaissance alto recorder,[10] and the alto recorder in D, called a "voice flute".[11] The table shows the recorders in common use, though the large ones are very rare.[vague]

The recorder most often used for solo music is the alto (America) or treble (UK) recorder. Sometimes and when the recorder is specified without further qualification, it is this size that is meant.[12] The soprano (America) or descant (UK) also has an important repertoire of solo music (not just school music) and there is a little for tenor and bass recorders.[13]

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 mouthpiece closer to the player..


Today, high-quality recorders are made from a range of hardwoods: maplewood (Acer pseudoplatanus, specific gravity 0.63), pearwood (Pyrus communis, specific gravity 0.65), plumwood (Prunus domestica, specific gravity 0.79), Castello "boxwood" (Calycophyllum multiflorum, specific gravity 0.8), Zapatero "boxwood" (Gossypiospermum praecox, specific gravity 0.8), olivewood (Olea europaea, specific gravity 0.85), European boxwood (Buxus sempervirens, specific gravity 0.95), rosewood (including tulipwood (Dalbergia decipularis, specific gravity 0.95), palisander (Dalbergia retusa, specific gravity 1.05), kingwood (Dalbergia cearensis, specific gravity 1.2), etc.), ebony (Diospyros perrieri, specific gravity 1.1), or grenadilla (Dalbergia melanoxylon, specific gravity 1.2), with a block of red cedar wood.[14][15][16][17][18][19] Plastic recorders are produced in large quantities. Plastics are cheaper and require less maintenance and quality plastic recorders can be as good as lower-end wooden instruments. Beginners' instruments, the sort usually found in children's ensembles, are plastic and can be purchased quite cheaply.

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.[20] 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 concertos. Finally, recorders with a downward extension of a semitone are becoming available; such instruments can play a full three octaves in tune.[21]

Recorder with German fingering. Note that the 4th finger-hole is larger than the 5th.

German fingering[edit]

In the early part of the 20th century, Peter Harlan (de) developed a recorder that allowed for apparently simpler fingering, called 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 becomes a simpler 0 123 4 – – –. Unfortunately, however, this causes many other chromatic notes to be too badly out of tune to be usable.[22] 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.[23] Despite this, many recorder makers continue to produce German fingered instruments today, essentially for beginner use only.

Notation and pitch[edit]

Recorders are most commonly pitched at concert pitch (A=440 Hz). Increasingly, they are pitched at A=442 Hz[citation needed] as are pianos and orchestral instruments. However, among serious amateurs and professionals, two other standard pitches are commonly found. For baroque instruments, A=415 Hz is the de facto standard,[24] while Renaissance instruments are often pitched at A=466 Hz.[25] 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=403 Hz; some makers indeed offer an instrument at that pitch.[26] Some recorder makers offer 3-piece instruments with two middle sections, accommodating two tuning systems.[27] At 415 Hz, a semitone lower than 440 Hz, recorders can play with those harpsichords that are also tuned to that pitch.[28]

The recorder family is non-transposing, which means that sheet music for recorder is nearly always written in the key in which it is played. A written C in the score actually sounds as a C. (The higher members of the family (soprano and above) transpose at the octave, as do the bass instruments (bass and great bass)). Recorders are referred to as "D-fingered", "C-fingered", "G-fingered", "F-fingered", etc., depending on the lowest note, fingered with all holes closed ("C-fingered" and "F-fingered" instruments being the most common). This implies that the player must learn two different sets of similar fingerings, one for the C recorders and another for the F recorders. A player may go from one C-fingered instrument to another easily, and from one F-fingered instrument to another easily, but switching between the two requires knowing both sets of fingerings, or the ability to transpose the music at sight.

Most recorders do transpose at the octave. The garklein sounds two octaves above the written pitch; the sopranino and soprano/descant sound one octave above written pitch. Treble (alto) and tenor sizes do not transpose at all, while the bass and great bass sound one octave above written (bass clef) pitch. In modern scores, these transpositions are indicated by adding a small figure "8" above the treble or bass clef on sopranino, soprano or bass recorder parts, but in the past and still commonly today, the transpositions are not indicated and instead are assumed from context. Contrabass and sub contrabass 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 so that the low F is written 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.
  2. 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 of the tenor in C.
  3. Tenor recorder in C may be written in bass clef one octave below real pitch in order to read choral parts for tenor voice.
  4. Treble (alto) recorder in F may be written down an octave to read alto vocal parts.
  5. 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.
  6. Urtext editions of baroque music may preserve the baroque practice of writing treble (alto) recorder parts in the French 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.[29]

How the instrument is played[edit]

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".[30] 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 with standing waves. Unlike simple whistles where holes are progressively unstopped, the recorder uses half-holing and forking (see below) to modify the position of the nodes.[30]

It is easiest to consider the pressure nodes rather than the displacement nodes. A half hole or a fork fingering does not allow all the pressure to escape, like a leaky valve, and so the pressure under the (half) open hole is higher than expected, leading to the node being displaced down the tube. The analysis of the higher registers will produce a series of closely (but not identically) spaced nodes down the tube but which, since they are coupled, modify each other to produce a single pitch.

Basic fingering[edit]

See also: 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
G D ●²

Note 1: The bell must be stopped to play this note.
Note 2: Individual recorders may need this hole to be closed (●), half closed (◐), or open (○) to play the note in tune.
Note 3: See the section Types of recorders concerning recorders tuned in C or in F.
● means to cover the hole. ○ means to uncover the hole. ◐ means half-cover.

How the fingers and holes are numbered
Fingers Holes
Numbered finger holes.jpg

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.[31] The numbers at the top correspond to the fingers and the holes on the recorder, according to the pictures.

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.[22]

Recorders with Ganassi fingering have, for a tenor C recorder, the bottom hole open for the lower f, no holes covered at all for the d above that f, and shaded fingering for the upper f. The upper a has holes covered below. The upper e flat is fingered like the f above it, with hole 5 covered.[10]

Some fonts show miniature glyphs of complete recorder fingering charts in TrueType format.[32] Because there are no Unicode values for complete recorder fingering charts, these fonts are custom encoded.

Half-holing, forking, and shading[edit]

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.[22]

Ganassi's (1535) fingering for the note an octave and fourth above the lowest note shades hole 6.[10] These fingerings are thus both forked and half-holed. They are not chromatic notes as they are B for a bass recorder, F for a tenor recorder, and C for a Renaissance G alto. The note one whole tone below is fingered the same, but with hole 5 covered.


Most of the notes in the second octave and above are produced by partially opening the thumbhole on the back of the recorder, a technique known as "pinching". There are two basic methods for achieving this: a) drawing the thumb away from the hole, and b) bending the thumb.[33] The first method uses only the skin of the thumb to define the opening, while the second method uses also the nail edge. The latter technique enables better feel and thus control of the size of the opening.[33] The placement of the thumb is crucial to the tone, 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 register and above, the player must generally blow more air into the instrument and/or tongue somewhat harder to excite the second or upper harmonics of the instrument.[22] This is, however, not universally true; it is possible for example to slur piano between and in the second and third registers.[34]

Notes in the third octave[edit]

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[35] (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 normal range of one octave and a perfect fifth, though exceptional players could extend the range upward by one or two notes, and Ganassi found fingerings that would work for five further notes—though they varied according to the maker of the instrument.[36] In 1619, Michael Praetorius explained that the larger sizes of recorders are only normally able to manage 13 notes (an octave and a fifth), and the better-made smaller ones can reach one more note. However, especially skilled instrumentalists are able to add four more "falsetto notes", reaching two octaves and a third.[37] Modern reproductions of Renaissance instruments, especially those from the middle of the last century, often have a range as little as one and a half octaves.[38]


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.[22][39] 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.[40] 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.[39]


Earliest recorders[edit]

Internal duct-flutes have a long history: an example of an Iron Age specimen, made from a sheep bone, exists in Leeds City Museum.[41]

The true recorders are distinguished from other internal duct flutes by having eight finger holes; 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.

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), Tartu (Estonia), and Nysa (Poland). There is a fragment of a possible 14th- or 15th-century bone recorder in Rhodes (Greece); and there is an intact 15th-century example from Elblag (Poland).[42]

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.


Renaissance recorders

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.[43] There are also numerous references to the instrument in contemporary literature (e.g. Shakespeare[44] and Milton[45]).[46]

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.[47] 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:[48]

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.[49]

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.[50] 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 Ganassi reported a larger range is possible.[10] 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.[51]

Baroque recorders[edit]

Alto recorder

Several changes in the construction of recorders took place in the 17th 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,[52] at the expense of a reduction in volume, particularly in the lowest notes.

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.[53]

Decline of the recorder[edit]

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, first performed in 1762. Many reasons have been put forward for this decline. One possible reason is that the main flute innovators of the time, Grenser, Tromlitz, and others, 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.[54] Another possible reason was that music as an amateur pastime was declining in favour of the professional musician and 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.[55]

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 (c. 1862–1873), the last of three generations of the Walch family of recorder makers.[56] Similarly, the careers of the Schlosser family of woodwind makers from the town of 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.[57]

Modern revival[edit]

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.

The eventual success of the recorder in the modern era is often attributed to Arnold Dolmetsch in the UK and various German scholar/performers. While 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.[58] 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 20th 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 notable performer is Michala Petri, who has toured, recorded discs of old and new pieces, and had several 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 often used in popular music, including that of groups such as The Beatles;[59] the Rolling Stones (see, for example, "Ruby Tuesday"); Yes, 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;[60] Siouxsie and the Banshees;[61] Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention; Dido (e.g. "Grafton Street"); and Mannheim Steamroller.

New-age music performed on the recorder. 03:08 minutes

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Some modern music calls for the recorder to produce unusual noises, rhythms and effects, by such techniques as flutter-tonguing 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 and early 21st-century recorder ensembles, the trio Sour Cream (led by Frans Brüggen), Flautando Köln, the Flanders Recorder Quartet, Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet and Quartet New Generation have programmed remarkable mixtures of historical and contemporary repertoire. Piers Adams, Maurice Steger or Dorothee Oberlinger are recorder player who have toured and recorded widely, as well as being involved in education.

In the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year a recorder player, Charlotte Barbour-Condini, reached the final. This was the first time that a recorder player had got that far in the competition. In the 2014 competition another recorder player, Sophie Westbrooke, also reached the finals.[62]


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 18th century.

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

From top to bottom: bass, tenor, alto/treble, soprano/descant and sopranino recorders

Many modern recorders are based on the dimensions and construction of surviving instruments produced by Bressan, the Stanesbys or the Denner family.[63] Well-known larger contemporary makers of recorders include Angel (South Korea), Aulos (Japan), Dolmetsch (England), Fehr, Huber, Küng (Switzerland), Moeck (Germany), Mollenhauer (Germany), and Yamaha (Japan). Smaller workshops include names such as Ammann, Blezinger, Boudreau, Adrian Brown, Coomber, Cranmore, Ehlert, Grinter, Marvin, Meyer, Netsch, Prescott, Rohmer, Takeyama, and Von Huene.[64]

French maker Philippe Bolton created an electroacoustic recorder[65] and is among the last to offer mounted bell-keys and double bell-keys for both tenor and alto recorders. Those bell-keys extend easily the range of the instrument to more than three octaves.[66] Invented by Carl Dolmetsch in 1957, he first used the bell-key system publicly in 1958.[67]

Recorder ensembles[edit]

The recorder is a very social instrument. Many recorder players participate 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.[68]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grove Music Online[where?] recommends that use of the word fipple should be abandoned because its meaning is confused; however, other sources (e.g. the Oxford Dictionary of Music[full citation needed]) continue to use it.
  2. ^ a b Espie Estrella. "Profile of the Recorder". Music Education. Retrieved 2012-05-26. 
  3. ^ Nicholas S. Lander The Recorder Homepage (1996-). Last accessed 30 June 2014.
  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. ^ Bonard, Jean-Marc (January 2001), "The Physicist's Guide to the Orchestra", European Journal of Physics 22 (1): 89–101, arXiv:physics/0008053, doi:10.1088/0143-0807/22/1/309 
  6. ^ a b David Lasocki, "Recorder", §I. 1: Nomenclature, Grove Music Online, edited by Deane Root, Oxford Music Online (subscription required).
  7. ^ a b "recorder". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1989.  "... recorders sound foremost the melodies". Note that the OED citation gives "fond", but this may be a modern misprint for "ſond", that is "sond".
  8. ^ "record". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1989. "When they had these instruments they busily practised songs until they were perfect enough [proficient] in all types of music".
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c d Sylvestro di Ganassi dal Fontego, Opera Intitula Fontegara, Laquale isegna a sonare di flauto cho tutta l'arte opportuna a esso istrumento massime il diminuire ilquale sara utile ad ogni istrumeno di fiato et chorde et anchora a chi si dileta di canto (Impressum Venetiis: per syluestro di ganassi dal fontego Sonator dalla illustrissima signoria di Venetia hautor pprio., 1535). Facsimile reprint, Collezione di trattati e musiche antiche edite in fac-simile ([Milan]: Bollettino bibliografico musicale, 1934). Facsimile reprint of the 1542 edition, Bibliotheca musica Bononiensis 2:18 (Bologna: Arnaldo Forni Editore, 1969; reprinted 1980 and 2002). Facsimile reprint, edited by Luca de Paolis, Prattica di musica, Serie A 3 (Rome: Società italiana del flauto dolce: Hortus Musicus, 1991).[page needed]
  11. ^ Edgar Hunt, "Fitting the Instrument to the Music"; Recorder and Music 7, no. 9, March 1983: pp. 227–28
  12. ^ Anthony Baines: Woodwind Instruments and their History, Music Sales Ltd, 1991, ISBN 978-0-486-26885-9, 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'"
  13. ^ Andrew Mayes: "Carl Dolmetsch and the Recorder Repertoire of the 20th Century", Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2003, ISBN 0-7546-0968-5: 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'."
  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. ^ Mollenhauer. "Wood types". Mollenhauer. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  16. ^ Moeck. "The different woods". Moeck. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  17. ^ von Huene. "The different woods". von Huene Workshop. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  18. ^ Lazar. "The different woods". Bill Lazar's Early Music. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  19. ^ ASW. "The different woods". Antique Sound Workshop. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  20. ^ Dolmetsch "Millennium" square-section recorders
  21. ^ Mollenhauer, Conrad. "Modern Alto mit E-foot". Mollenhauer. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  22. ^ a b c d e A Rowland-Jones, Recorder Technique ISBN 0-907908-75-6
  23. ^ Edgar Hunt, The Recorder And Its Music[full citation needed]
  24. ^ Anthony Rowland-Jones: Playing Recorder Sonatas: Interpretation and technique, Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-19-879001-5, ISBN 978-0-19-879001-3. p. 20: "Today's makers of 'Baroque' instruments mostly seem content to compromise at a'=415"
  25. ^ John Mansfield Thomson, Anthony Rowland-Jones (editors): The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder, Cambridge University Press, 1995; ISBN 0-521-35816-7. p. 178: "Renaissance recorders [...] are typically built at high pitch (a'=466 ...)"
  26. ^ Jacqueline Sorel, Baroque Alto Recorder after Stanesby, Sr
  27. ^ Jacqueline Sorel: Renaissance Recorders after Ganassi: and
  28. ^ David Jacques Way: Harpsichord Pitch and Transposition
  29. ^
  30. ^ a b Bolton, Philippe. "How Recorders Work". Retrieved 2009-05-30. 
  31. ^ Kenneth Wollitz, The Recorder Book, Knopf, 1984. ISBN 0-394-47973-4. See Chapter 1, "Technique"
  32. ^ Recorder fonts
  33. ^ a b Walter van Hauwe, The Modern Recorder Player, Volume I, Schott, 1984. ISMN 979-0-2201-1382-6. See Part II, Chapter 5, "The Left Thumb"
  34. ^ Gudrun Heyens, Advanced Recorder Technique, Volume I, Schott, 2005. ISBN 3-7957-0516-9. See Chapter 3, "Scales/Arpeggios/Chromatic Scales", p. 8
  35. ^ Recorder fingering charts
  36. ^ Ganassi 1535, chapt. 3–4 (fol. 2r–4r).
  37. ^ Michael Praetorius, Syntagmatis Musici Michaelis Praetorii C. Tomus Secundus De Organographia (Wolfenbüttel: Elias Holwein, in Verlegung des Autoris, 1619): 33.
  38. ^ Recorder fingerings
  39. ^ a b A Rowland-Jones, Playing Recorder Sonatas Clarendon Press ISBN 0-19-879001-5
  40. ^ Walter van Hauwe, The Modern Recorder Player, Volume III, Schott, 1992. ISBN 0-946535-19-1. See Chapter 3, "Alternative Fingerings"
  41. ^ Oxford Companion to Music. See section 1 of "Recorder Family" article
  42. ^ Nicholas S. Lander, "A Memento: The Medieval Recorder" (Recorder Home Page, 1996-2014). Last accessed 30 June 2014.
  43. ^ Oxford Companion to Music. see section 2 of the article on "Recorder Family"
  44. ^ Hamlet, Act 3, scene 2, Hamlet: "Ah, ha! Come, some music! Come, the recorders!"
  45. ^ Paradise Lost, Book I: "Anon they move/ in perfect phalanx to the Dorian mood/ flutes and soft recorders"
  46. ^ Nicholas S. Lander, "Literary References", Recorder Home Page (1996-2014), last accessed 30 June 2014.
  47. ^ 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
  48. ^ Kenneth Wollitz, The Recorder Book, Knopf, 1984. ISBN 0-394-47973-4. See Chapter 8, "Repertory of the Recorder" by Colin C. Sterne.
  49. ^ 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..."
  50. ^ 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.
  51. ^ Adrian Brown, The Ganassi recorder: separating fact from fiction., American Recorder 47(5): 11–18, 1984.
  52. ^ 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
  53. ^ 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.)
  54. ^ Donald Murray et al. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music, Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-816504-8. p. 122
  55. ^ Waitzman, Daniel: "The Decline of the Recorder in the 18th Century". Published in American Recorder 8 no. 2 (Spring 1967). pp. 47–51
  56. ^ MacMillan, D. (2007). "The Recorder 1800–1905". Recorder Magazine 27(4): 126–131.
  57. ^ Tarasov, N. (2005). "Bahn frei! Kreative Blockkonstruktionen im 19 Jahrhundert". Windkanal 4: 14–17. (German)
  58. ^ Eve E. O'Kelly, The Recorder Today, Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-521-36681-X. Chapter 1: The Revival
  59. ^ For example, in Fool on the Hill, according to The Recorder Home Page maintained by Nicholas S. Lander
  60. ^ For example, in the song If 6 Was 9, according to The Recorder Home Page maintained by Nicholas S. Lander
  61. ^ For example in the song Green Fingers, according to's page on the album A Kiss in the Dreamhouse
  62. ^ BBC (2014), BBC Young Musician, retrieved 25 November 2014 
  63. ^ 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
  64. ^ Nicholas S. Lander, "Contemporary Makers", Recorder Home Page (1996-2014), last accessed 30 June 2014.
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^
  68. ^ "Recorder flute definition of Recorder flute in the Free Online Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2013-08-21. 


  • Richard Griscom and David Lasocki. The Recorder: a Research and Information Guide 3rd ed. (Routledge Music Bibliographies) New York & London: Routledge, 2012. ISBN 978-0-415-99858-1 (print) ISBN 978-0-203-87502-5 (e-book) "A guide to the writings about the recorder for players and researchers" (preface)

External links[edit]