A Brief History
Jim Phypers

    The recorder was known as the English Flute in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries when it enjoyed tremendous popularity. Played by kings and queens and country gentlemen as well as by the common man, used by the major composers of the day (such as Bach, Telemann, and Handel), and featured in the plays of Shakespeare, the recorder flourished. The oldest surviving recorder dates from about 1400 A.D. Early paintings show the recorder in use during the Middle Ages and Crusades. In the 19th and early 20th century, the recorder was all but forgotten as our modern flute grew in importance. In recent years, the recorder has experienced a great revival.

Though usually heard as a somewhat shrill instrument in the hands of the young school child, the recorder when properly mastered has a superbly beautiful, singing tone. It is played by professional musicians in the best ensembles throughout the world as an equal partner with more commonly known instruments. There are seven different sizes of recorder being used today, the smallest being the sopranino about nine inches in length, the largest the contra-bass about eight feet in length. The tiny garklein recorder, higher in pitch than the sopranino, is seldom heard.  Most popular are the soprano and alto recorders.

Recorders are typically handmade using a variety of beautiful hardwoods such as maple, rosewood, or ebony. In
 historical times, recorders were most often made of boxwood, often decorated with ivory, or even made completely from ivory. No king was without his set of handcrafted recorders. King Henry VIII of England owned a collection of 47 recorders and himself composed music for the recorder. Today, recorders of quite excellent quality are also made in plastic as well as wood.

The recorder has a full chromatic range of over two octaves. It is most often played with guitar, piano, harpsichord, or with a group (called a "consort") of other recorders. There is considerable music written for the recorder including songs and dances of the Medieval and Renaissance periods (1100-1600 A.D.), more elaborate works with strings and harpsichord of the Baroque period (1600-1750 A.D.), and serious 20th century compositions. Much folk  music and popular music is suited to the versatile recorder. In the hands of the skilled player, even light jazz comes to life in a very special way. The recorder has come into its own once again in history, no longer an instrument of antiquity, but an important part of today's music.

"Original notation of a song from the Renaissance."

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Copyright 1983, 1997, 2009 by Jim Phypers.  All rights reserved.