PHILIPPE BOLTON, RECORDER MAKER

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Medieval, pre-baroque, and baroque recorders


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THE "GANASSI RECORDER"


flûte à bec sam
© KHM

The "Ganassi" recorder came into fashion during the last twenty or thirty years of the XXth century. It was the result of both musicians' and instrument makers' speculations on the instrument that could use the high note fingerings given in Silvestro Ganassi's treatise, La Fontegara, published in 1535.

Ganassi's high note charts

The instrument that became the main object of these speculations is today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, an alto in g, made from boxwood, tuned to a=466 Hz, with a nearly cylindrical bore that flares out at the bell, and unusually large finger holes. It is no longer in good playing condition. It may be on account of these somewhat unusual features that some makers thought that it might be the missing link leading to Ganassi's fingering charts, and with a few modifications to the design an instrument was made that could play a range of more than two octaves with fingerings similar to those of La Fontegara.

It was then generally thought that this recorder n° SAM 135 was a solo instrument made specially to play over a larger range of most of the other recorders of its time using the high note fingerings shown in these charts. This is probably how the so called "Ganassi recorder" came into being. Since it was the first solo recorder to arrive on the market with a different sound quality from that of baroque instruments, it was very quickly adopted as being the ideal instrument for playing all the pre-baroque repertoire. Many makers soon started to build it.

Its cylindrical bore enables the construction of one or more extra lower joints at different pitches, each with its own specific tone colour.

The term "after Ganassi" often used when referring to this instrument is incorrect, since Silvestro Ganassi was a musician and probably never made any instruments.

New information has been brought to light in the last few years about the original SAM 135 recorder.

  • Its range is no wider than that of other consort instruments of the time, an octave and a sixth. This has been verified on the instrument itself, and also confirmed on exact copies built by some makers
  • There is a case for a consort of recorders in the museum made of several wooden tubes,bearing the same maker's mark as that on the instrument, in which it fits perfectly. This would suggest that it was just part of a set of recorders and not meant for solo playing.
  • Close examination of Ganassi's high note charts show differences that would lead us to believe that there is no real system behind them, but that they are simply the result of the author's experiments on three of his instruments from different makers. For more information on this point click here or on the reproduction of the charts above.

Complete technical information on this recorder, including its range and fingerings, can be found in the museum catalogue.

With regard to the sound quality, the spectrum produced by a cylindrical bore is not quite the same as that from the choke bore typical of later recorders which is richer in harmonics. The use of this type of instrument could therefore give a different tone colour to that which 17th composers of the 17th century might have had in mind.

After 1550 no fingering charts indicate Ganassi's high notes which had probably become obsolete. Renaissance consort recorders being tuned a fifth apart the "Ganassi soprano" (or descant) in c would probably not have existed at the time. A descant in d would have been more appropriate.

However the Ganassi recorder has become widely adopted by many players today who may like its characteristic tone, and its "honking" lowest note. It should be however considered as a modern invention, rather than a historical instrument and its present day use is largely a matter of taste. Many contemporary composers have written pieces for it.

a modern Ganassi recorder with 2 extra lower joints
a modern Ganassi recorder at 466 Hz
with 2 extra lower joints at 440 Hz and 415 Hz


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a detailed analysis of Ganass's high note fingerings

the Ganassi recorders page

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Philippe BOLTON,
22 Le Grand Portail, F-84570 VILLES-SUR-AUZON, France
TEL : +33 4 90 61 86 11

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