Type: Aerophones > Flutes > Duct.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 421.221.12
Region: Continental Europe, Global.
Description: The recorder [in German: Blockflöte], [in Italian: Flauto dolce or Flauto diritto], [in French: Flûte à bec or Flûte douce], [in Spanish: Flauta dulce or Flauta de pico] is a woodwind musical instrument in the group known as internal duct flutes. Internal duct flutes are flutes with a whistle-like mouthpiece in who the air when played is split by a labium.
A recorder can be distinguished from other duct flutes by the presence of a thumb-hole for the upper hand and seven finger-holes: three for the upper hand and four for the lower. It is the most prominent duct flute in western classical music.
History: The recorder is first documented in Europe during the Middle Ages, and continued to enjoy wide popularity in the renaissance and baroque periods. The recorder was little used during the classical and later romantic periods. It was revived in the 20th century as part of the historically informed performance movement, and became a popular amateur and educational instrument.
Repertoire: Composers who have written for the recorder include Monteverdi, Lully, Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach, Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten, Leonard Bernstein, Luciano Berio and Arvo Pärt. Today, there are many professional recorder players who demonstrate the instrument’s full solo range and a large community of amateurs.
Features: Recorders are made in various different sizes. They are classified according to the differing vocal ranges, soprano, alto, bass and tenor. The soprano C5 the lowest note aka “decant”, the alto aka “Treble” note F4, the tenor lowest note C4 and bass C5 the lowest note in the recorder family.
Historic Recorders: Recorder consorts in the 16th century were tuned in fifths and only occasionally employed tuning by octaves as seen in the modern C, F recorder consort. This means that consorts could be composed of instruments nominally in B♭ / F / C / G / D / A and even E. Although typically only three or four distinct sizes were used simultaneously.
To use modern terminology, these recorders were treated as transposing instruments: Consorts would be read identically to a consort made up of F3 / C4 and G4 instruments. This is made possible by the fact that adjacent sizes are separated by fifths, with few exceptions. These parts would be written using chiavi naturali, allowing the parts to roughly fit in the range of a single staff, and also in the range of the recorders of the period.
Transpositions [“registers”] such as C3 / G3 / D4 / G3 / D4 / A4 or B♭2 / F3 / C4 all read as F3–C4–G4 instruments. This was possible as described by Praetorius in his Syntagma Musicum. Three sizes of instruments could be used to play four-part music by doubling the middle size, e.g. F3 / C4 / C4 / G4 or play six-part music by doubling the upper size and tripling the middle size, e.g. F3 / C4 / C4 / C4 / G4 / G4
Modern nomenclature for such recorders refers to the instruments relationship to the other members of consort, rather than their absolute pitch, which may vary. The instruments from lowest to highest are called “great bass”, “bass”, “basset”, “tenor”, “alto”, and “soprano”. Potential sizes include: great bass in F2; bass in B♭2 or C3; basset in F3 or G3; tenor in C4 or D4; alto in F4 / G4 or A4 and soprano in C5 or D5.
The alto in F4 is the standard recorder of the Baroque, although there is a small repertoire written for other sizes. In 17th-century England, smaller recorders were named for their relationship to the alto and notated as transposing instruments with respect to it: third flute [A4] fifth flute [soprano; C5] sixth flute [D5] and octave flute [sopranino; F5]. The term flute du quart, or fourth flute [B♭4] was used by Charles Dieupart. Although curiously he treated it as a transposing instrument in relation to the soprano rather than the alto.
In Germanic countries, the equivalent of the same term, Quartflöte, was applied both to the tenor in C4, the interval being measured down from the alto in F4 and to a recorder in C5 [soprano], the interval of a fourth apparently being measured up from an alto in G4. Recorder parts in the Baroque were typically notated using the treble clef, although they may also be notated in French violin clef [G clef on the bottom line of the staff].
Construction: Recorders are traditionally constructed from wood and ivory, while most recorders made in recent years are constructed from molded plastic. The recorders’ internal and external proportions vary, but the bore is generally reverse conical i.e. tapering towards the foot to cylindrical, and all recorder fingering systems make extensive use of forked fingerings.