Non-European countries

The recorder made its way to the New World at a relatively early date and many of the early settlers of North America must have been familiar with it. In his Map of Virginia Captain John Smith noted of the Indians of Virginia: “For their musicke they use a thicke cane, on which they pipe as on a Recorder” (Smith 1612: 107). The actual physical presence of recorders in North America was documented as early as 1633 when an inventory of a plantation in New Hampshire listed 15 recorders, and a similar inventory taken at another New Hampshire property reported the presence of 26 recorders (Music 1983, Pichierri 1960: 14). Writing of the inhabitants of New Hampshire in 1635,  Brewster (1859: 20)  noted: “For music, there are two drums for the training days,—while no less than fifteen hautboys and ‘soft recorders’ are provided to cheer the  emigrants in their solitude.” This was the first known band to emerge in America (Bevan 1984: 123) and has led at least one writer  to the conclusion that the recorder found use as a marching instrument in the American Civil War (Waitzman 1967: 224), though this seems highly improbable (MacMillan 2008: 130).

Thompson (2004) has argued that the “10 houte fluijten” included in an inventory of the possessions of Dutch settler to Berverwijck (later  renamed Albany, New York), Jan Geritse van Marcken, dated 1664 were almost certainly recorders. “Flutes”, “flageolets”, “common flutes”, and “English flutes” are variously mentioned in a number of early eighteenth century American newspaper advertisements. In these  references, “flute” quite likely included the recorder; “common flute” and “English flute” might indicate the recorder, though the latter at least could refer to the so-called Early English Flageolet, popular in the 19th century (Head 2015). The latest of such advertisements  appeared in 1815, more than 200 years after Captain Smith’s mention of the recorder (Music 1983). In a trawl of an electronic archives of the Pennsylvania Gazette, David Lasocki (2009: 15) demonstrated that as the “common flute” the recorder had an active life in Philadelphia until around 1774 when it dropped out of fashion. Notably, one Jacob Anthony, who seems to have been the first woodwind maker in the new world: “turner and instrument maker … makes and sells all sorts of musical instruments, as German flutes of all sorts, common flutes, hautboys, clarinets and soldier’s flutes; he also mends old ones” (1772). Lasocki (2009) reports that the instrument maker Joshua Collins, a recent immigrant from England, was making ‘all sorts and sizes’ of recorder in 1773. Furthermore, Lasocki has uncovered evidence confirming that the recorder played a role as an amateur and educational instrument in the United States until c. 1815.

The recorder was first introduced into Japan in the 16th century with early contacts with Europeans (Tada 1982). In 1549, Francisco Xavier came to Kagoshima in order to introduce Christianity, and many Jesuits followed him over the years bringing with them European instruments including flutes (ie recorders). However it was never very popular there. From 1639, the Tokugawa shogunate suppressed Christianity and closed Japan to all foreign countries except Holland. The shogunate destroyed and burnt everything connected with Christianity, and European music and musical instruments were no exception. Not until repeal of the law on national isolation in 1873 by the Meiji Restoration was Christianity and its attendant music and instruments permitted again. The recorder was not reintroduced until 1929 when Keiichi Kurosawa (1903–1982), a Japanese graduate of the University of Cambridge, brought some recorders home; and in the 1930s the German government sent some recorders and music as gifts to two Japanese professors, former students of Paul Hindemith, namely Kanichi Shimofusa (1898–1962) and Yoshitaka Sakamoto (1898–1968). It is also known that, upon Sakamoto’s return to Japan in about May 1939, he brought with him three Herwig recorders (soprano, alto and tenor). And it was he who introduced the instrument for the first time to the public in a broadcast by the Japan State Radio (JOAK, now NHK) on 7 November 1941: the recorder was played by Jun Sumi, an oboist, who was accompanied by Sakamoto himself on a clavichord (Henseler and Otse 2010).

Shortly after WW II, an American resident in Japan, Leo Mario Traynor (1918–1986), a virtuoso on the shakuhachi, provided an impetus to the introduction of the recorder. In 1948 it was adopted by the Ministry of Education’s new school music curriculum and makers began to manufacture plastic instruments. Initially instruments used and made in Japan employed so-called German fingering, but later the change was made to so-called English fingering. In 1961, the first performance using only Japanese recorder players was given of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 4. Subsequent visits by Hans-Martin Linde (1962), Gustav Scheck (1963), Frans Brüggen (1973), Carl Dolmetsch, Michael Vetter and Hans Maria Kneihs gave additional impetus to a growing interest in the recorder. From this time a number of Japanese students studied in Europe with these and other player/teachers. In 1975 four such students formed a recorder consort and won first prize in the international recorder contest at the Flanders Festival in Bruges.

Today the recorder enjoys considerable popularity in Japan at both amateur and professional level. There is an extensive repertoire of music for the instrument by Japanese composers (Yoshizawa 2001). And there are a number of Japanese makers of recorder including Aulos, Yuzuru Fukushima, Shigeharu Hirao, Kunito Kinoshita, Suzuki, Hiroyuki Takeyama, Toyama (manufacture Alouette, Aulos, Bel Canto, Elite & Robin plastic recorders), Jun Tsukada, Yamaha, and Zen-On.

Undoubtedly the recorder has an early history waiting to be discovered in other countries colonised by Europeans, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the many countries of South America. In the latter, a start has been made in a delightful and fascinating article by Henry Stobart (1996) concerning the introduction of the recorder into 16th-century Bolivia from Spain and its possible influence on the development of the native pinkillu, a six-holed duct flute made in as many as six different sizes. A manuscript chronicle Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno (1616), by the native Peruvian Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, contains three separate illustrations depicting duct flutes, several of them quite possibly recorders.

Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala,: Choristers
Guaman Poma de Ayala, Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno (1616):
El coro de la iglesia canta la Salve Regina: The church choir performs the Salve Regina

The pinkillu is widely played in South America including in Argentina (Gonzalo Arial Juan, pers. comm.) Arial Juan (1998a-b, 2014a-c) has surveyed the introduction and promulgation of the recorder since the 1940s in Argentina and provided a catalogue of some 150 works for recorders by Argentinian composers. He also notes the work of Argentinian recorder, flute, and whistle maker Marcelo Gurovich.

Victor Rondón (2004) has chronicled the recent introduction of the recorder to Chile, but one can’t help wondering if, like Bolivia and perhaps Argentina, it has an earlier history awaiting discovery.

Paoliello (2007), largely citing Augustin (1999),  notes that the recorder arrived in Brazil with European migrants who formed the beginnings of an amateur early music movement whilst at the same time the pioneering work of Helle Tirler established the recorder’s educational role. The end of the Second World War saw a flood of European migrants, amongst them orchestral musicians some of whom brought with them recorders and other early instruments such as viols and harpsichords. In particular, the arrival of Tschorbow Borislav placed the early music revival in Brasil on a more professional footing. Joined by recorder players Helle Tirler, Helder Parente and Rui Wanderley, Borislav’s Conjunto de Música Antiga da Rádio MEC, gave some 25-30 recitals and recorded four albums over a period of 35 years. Over much the same period the study of early music was encouraged through Borislav’s Seminários Pró-Arte which became a focus for the early music activities in São Paulo, leading to the formation of many performing groups. From this environment came Musikantiga led by Ricardo Kanjii, a recorder player and teacher of international renown. In the 1960s the recorder consort Conjunto Música Bahia led by Maria do Carmo introduced many listeners to the recorder. Maria do Carmo taught recorder and chamber music at both the Federal University of Bahia and the Catholic University of Salvador. The 1970s saw a veritable explosion of second generation early music performers amongst them Marcelo Wood (a protegé of Helle Tirler) who taught recorder and also came to make instruments. A quantum leap in performance standards was made by Quadro Cervantes (formed in 1973 and still active) in which Helder Parente is the recorder player. It formed the nucleus of Rio’s Baroque Orchestra, Academia Antiqua Pro-Arte under the direction of Myrna Herzog. Also from the 1970s, the recorder was used increasingly by a number of contemporary music ensembles, amongst them the Sao Paulo Paraphernália, Folifonia, and Confraria. Today, ensembles such as Quinta Essentia quartet perform at a level that would astound Brazil’s pioneers of the recorder.

Paul Loeb van Zuilenburg (2000) has recorded details of the recent history of the recorder in South Africa.

The following is a cautionary tale from another antipodean nation-state, namely South Australia. In 1965 two original eighteenth-century voice flutes (tenor recorders in d’) by Bressan were purchased from an Adelaide second-hand dealer by Mrs Mary McKenzie who enquired of Edgar Hunt what they might be worth. They were sold to the American collector and dealer Wesley Oler from whom they were soon acquired by Frans Brüggen. A small repair was made by von Huene to the beak of one of the instruments. By the time I heard of them in 1974 the trail had gone very cold indeed; Hunt (pers. comm.), for instance, had destroyed his correspondence concerning them. The point is that nothing has been learnt of who brought them to Australia and what, if anything, they might have been used for. Who knows what will happen to them now that Frans Brüggen is no longer with us. Fortunately, something has been saved from this sorry piece of cultural vandalism in that photographs and detailed drawings of the instruments have been published by Morgan (1981), and a number of makers offer replicas of them.

Voice-flute after Bressan by Jacqueline Sorel
Voice-flute after Bressan, by Jacqueline Sorel

References cited on this page

Cite this article as: Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2022. Recorder Home Page: History: Non-European countries. Last accessed 7 August 2022.