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baroque alto (treble) recorder after Bizey

Tenor recorder after Stanesby Junior, his "True Concert Flute"

section view of a baroque recorder



The recorder can be identified by 2 main characteristics found together:

1- a mouthpiece comprising a windway and a labium
2- an octave hole (thumb hole) behind the instrument

A block or fipple inserted in the top of the mouthpiece forms the "floor" of the windway.

The recorder has 8 holes (including the thumb hole). The bottom two are often double. It is a chromatic instrument. Because there is no key mechanism, nearly all the semitones are played with fork or cross fingerings.
The left hand is normally placed above the right hand on the instrument, but this has not always been the rule..
Most recorders, have a range of two and a half octaves. However renaissance consort recorders usually have a smaller range of less than two octaves.
The most common sizes used today are the soprano (or descant) in c, the alto (or treble) in f, the tenor in c and the bass in f. The alto has become the main solo recorder.
How recorders work

the recorder in Diderot & d'Alembert's 'Encyclopédie'


The origin of the recorder goes back to the Middle Ages. Few medieval recorders have survived, but one of the oldest known ones was found in the moat surrounding a castle built in the 14th century near Dordrecht, in the Netherlands.
The instrument has continually evolved over the centuries. During the Renaissance it was mainly used for consort music and different sized recorders were made and played together.
From the 17th century onwards the recorder became a solo instrument. The soprano was the dominant recorder in Northern Europe, whereas the g alto continued to be used in Italy.
At the beginning of the Baroque period, the design of the recorder changed considerably, giving it a wider range and more virtuoso possiblities. From then on recorders were made in three pieces to make precise boring of more complex internal profiles easier. There is an interesting article on the recorder of this time in Diderot & d'Alembert's Encyclopédie
After the middle of the 18th century the instrument, which was not loud and dynamic enough to compete with the flute, fell into oblivion for about 150 years. It therefore escaped the changes brought to wind instruments during the 19th century and was not equipped with a key system.
However fipple flutes did not completely disappear during the romantic period, but survived in the form of the Flageolet in France and in England, as well as the Czakan in eastern Europe, particularly in Austria and Hungary.
The recorder was rediscovered towards the end of the 19th century and came back into fashion around 1960 with the revival of early music .
The design of recorders continues to evolve today.

a French flageolet after Prudent Noblet, ca 1860


The recorder is not only a historical instrument. It has also found a place of honour in contemporary music, and many composers of our time have written pieces for it.

School and study recorders are usually produced industrially, in plastic or in wood, whereas more specialised, top quality instruments are handmade in small workshops, using traditional methods.

Woods commonly used for these instruments are boxwood and grenadilla for solo recorders, maple, pear and other fruit woods for consort recorders.

"Baroque" or "English" fingerings are in common use on recorders made today. They are fairly close to the originals, even though they have undergone a few changes. Some copies of early instruments are tuned according to historical fingering charts. There is also a simplified diatonic system called "German" fingering which is not recommended nowadays because of intonation problems in certain keys.

In its different forms the recorder has a repertoire that covers more than seven centuries from the Middle Ages to the present day.

Here are some other names for the recorder:

flûte à bec or flûte douce (in French), Blockflöte (in German), blokfluit (in Dutch), flauto de pico or flauto dulce (in Spanish), flauto dolce (in Italian), and flauta de bisel or flauta doce (in Portuguese).

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alto (treble) recorder after Stanesby Junior

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