A Brief (and mostly accurate, if slightly biased) History of The Recorder part 1

Once upon a time music was for the musicians. Well, some of it was. There was obviously music for State occasions and the Church, but people got together to play for their own enjoyment or for dancing. This was the Renaissance Era. Have a listen.

Then, if a piece of music said ‘flute’ it probably meant the recorder. As we move into the Baroque Era the flute as we know it today was becoming more popular. It was call the ‘flauto traverso ‘  Literally the transverse flute. The recorder was often specified as the ‘flute a bec’, the beaked flute or ‘flauto dolce’, the sweet flute. J S Bach composed for both types of flute.

So where did it all go wrong? Why did the transverse flute edge the flauto dolce into obscurity? Capitalism and Instrument manufacturing.

The improvements in the strength of instruments made them louder. The plucked harpsichord against which the recorder could hold its own was replaced by the gravicembalo col piano e forte which was soon shortened to the pianoforte. It could play piano (softly) and forte (loudly).

Around this time concerts with paying crowds grew in popularity. The first opera, Dafne by Jacopo Peri was written in 1597. Bigger venues = bigger crowds = more profit.  Thus capitalism helped to make the louder, some might say shrill, transverse flute the more viable choice, as it can make itself heard at the back of a concert hall.

The recorders days were numbered. None of the great Classical composers wrote anything for it, no Mozart, no Beethoven etc etc.  And the cheeky blighters who played the transverse flute went back and plundered recorder compositions for themselves!

Is this the end for our plucky (plucky? It’s not a harp), ok forget plucky, is this the end for the recorder? Watch out for the next thrilling (shouldn’t that be trilling?) instalment – Waterloo Calamity

My Progress. I am currently putting the finishing touches to the harpsichord part on some music software for the beginning of the Gordon Jacob piece mentioned on my previous post and I am then going to see if I can play it.


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