The recorder can justly lay claim to an enormous repertoire extending from the eleventh century to the present day. Its use for medieval song accompaniments, dance tunes, and instrumental part-music is well established. A choir of recorders of various sizes is an obvious choice for exploring the wealth of renaissance ensemble works, be they arrangements of vocal pieces, dances, or other instrumental music. And a single recorder is invaluable as a member of an ensemble of mixed instruments. Medieval and renaissance music suitable for recorders has been usefully surveyed by Rowland-Jones (1995). Seventeenth-century music appropriate for recorders has been the subject of articles by Heyghen (1994, 1995), Kuijken (1995), Lasocki (1995), and Kuijken & Lasocki (1995). As early as 1505 the Venetian wind-player Giovanni Alvise offered Francesco Gonzaga a motet played on eight recorders. However, the first published collection that specifies recorders was Pierre Attaingant’s Vingt et sept chansons a quatre parties desquelles les plus convenable a la fleuste d’allemant … et a la fleuste a neuf trous … (1553). Earlier writers assume that recorders should be played in four-part consorts (Virdung 1511, Agricola 1529, Ganassi 1535); and the cover of Jacques Moderne’s Senluyent plusieurs basses dances (ca 1530) depicts just such an ensemble. Virdung and Agricola use the word flöte to mean recorder. Thus recorders (rather than transverse flutes) probably head the list of instruments in the title of Arnt von Aich’s songbook, published around 1519:
“… lustick zu syngen. Auch etlich zu fleiten, schwegelen, und anderen Musicalisch Instrumenten zu gebrauchen”
This is confirmed by a passage from the memoirs of the Duc de la Vielleville, which would suggest that the Germans did not play flutes in consort at this time:
“Il y avait une espinette, une joueur de luth, dessus les violes, e tune fleuste traverse, que l’on appelle à grand tort fleuste d’Allemand: car les François s’en aydent mieulx et plus musicalement que toute aultre nation, et jamais en Allemaigne n’en fut joué à quatre paties, comme il se fait ordinairment en France.”
Composers of the baroque era who wrote specifically for the recorder include Bach, Handel, Purcell, Sammartini, Scarlatti, Schütz, Telemann, and Vivaldi all of whom carefully distinguished it from the transverse flute. Sonatas and chamber music featuring the recorder have been surveyed by Rowland-Jones (1995b & c). The baroque concerto repertoire for recorder has been most recently surveyed by Gronefeld (1992-1995) and by Lasocki & Rowland-Jones (1995). Amongst the concertos by Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi some may be counted as truly great music, including the second and fourth of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and Telemann’s Suite in A Minor.
From its very beginnings the recorder found use in opera, including Jacopo Peri’s Euridice (1600), Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione (1600), Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero (1625). And its use in dramatic music continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, notably in France (Lully, Charpentier) and England (Purcell, Handel) where it appeared most often in pastoral and amorous scenes.
The consort tradition survived in a number of pieces written for the court of Karl Lichtenstein-Kastelhorn, Prince-Bishop of Olomouc, at Krom in Moravia during the late 17th century. They were used as dinner music, as the titles of some of them attest: Sontata pro tabula by H.I.F. Biber for five recorders, strings, and continuo, Sonata ad tabulum by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer for two recorders, 2 violins, and continuo, and Sontata pro tabula by Giovanni Valentini for three recorders, dulcian, strings, and continuo. Schmelzer wrote two further sonatas for recorders and strings, and one for seven recorders and continuo. Antonio Bertali wrote a Sonatella for five recorders and continuo.
The recorder was the first musical instrument for which a comprehensive method was published, namely Ganassi’s Opera intitulata Fontegara (1535). The most extensive collection of music for a solo wind instrument by a single composer was Jacob van Eyck’s Der Fluyten Lust-Hof (1646/1649) for the recorder. And the first collection of pieces in all 24 keys was L’Alphabet de Music by the recorder player/composer Johann Christian Schikhardt (c. 1682-1762).
Late eighteenth-century works calling for the recorder include a celebrated trio-sonata by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) for bass recorder, viola, and continuo; trio sonatas for two recorders and continuo; a Sonata in B♭ major for recorder, oboe, violin and continuo by Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758); two trios for three alto recorders by Johann Scherer; and possibly a Sonata in F major by Gaetano Pugnani (1731-1798) for recorder and keyboard (Schott #10132).
It has been argued mistakenly by Hunt (2002) that the famous flute solo in Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) by Christoph Willibald (Ritter von) Gluck (1714-1787) was intended for the recorder rather than the transverse flute. In fact, the solo in question was composed for the revised French version (Paris 1774), Orphée et Eurydice (Smith 2004). However, the earlier Orfeo, Act 2, Scene II begins with a ‘Ballo’ for two flauti in F major, perfect in name, key, and range for recorders, and the continuing aria in C major, Que puro ciel, includes a birdlike solo part for traverso. This argues strongly for recorders, switching to flute. Smith believes that the only unequivocal use of the recorder by Gluck occurred in his final opera, Echo et Narcisse (Paris 1779), where the parts are clearly marked Flûte à bec.
There is a charming obbligato accompaniment to an air in Il barbiere di Siviglia (1782) by Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), which might be considered the recorder’s swan song, though it is possible that the ‘small flute’ and ’8th flute’ specified in Shield’s The Farmer (1787) referred to recorders (Simpson 1995: 102).
Tarasov (2007a) has presented convincing evidence that the Flauto piccolo part in Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, KV384 (1782) was intended for a soprano recorder player using alto fingering. Furthermore, Mozart used the recorder as an orchestral instrument in at least 16 further works: Sechs Menuet, KV 104 (1771/2); Posthorn Serenade, KV320 (1779); the opera Idomeneo, KV366 (1781); Sechs deutsche Tänze, KV509 (1787); Kontretanz La Bataille, KV535; Sechs Deutsche Tänze, KV536; the song Ich möchte wohl der Kaiser sein, KV539; Zwölf deutsche Tänze, KV571; arrangement of Handel’s Messiah, KV572; Menuett fragment, KV571a; Zwölf Menuette, KV585; Zwöf deutsche Tänze, KV586 (all five 1789); Zwölf Menuette, KV599; Dreizehn deutsche Tänze, KV600; Vier Menuette, KV601; Vier deutsche Tänze, KV602; Zwei Kontretänze, KV603; and the opera Die Zauberflöte (all seven 1791). Tarasov notes that the context, tonality and compass mostly suggest soprano or sopranino recorders.
Although the recorder was physically present in North America from the early seventeenth century onward, little is known of the music used by early American recorder players. Not one publication or concert notice specifically mentions the recorder, English flute, or common flute (Music 1983). Thus, in addition to using music specifically composed for recorders imported from England, early North American recorder players probably adapted instrumental music printed in the New World. The first North American composition for recorder as such may have been an arrangement for recorder and piano of The Nightingale, an anonymous piece published in New York ca 1799-1803 for pianoforte “with a flute accompaniment ad libitum” which fits the alto recorder perfectly and has been edited and re-published by Music (loc. cit.) who points out, it is just possible that this arrangement is derived from a cantata of the same name performed in 1796 at a concert in Philadelphia to a “Bird accompaniment on the flageolet”, the manuscript of which has not yet surfaced.
From the classical and romantic periods a few somewhat slight works have long been appropriated by recorder players including flute-clock sonatas by Haydn and Beethoven, Haydn’s concertos for lira (a small organ coupled with a hurdy-gurdy), works for glass harmonica by Mozart and others, and several virtuosic showpieces for csakan, an early keyed recorder popular in nineteenth-century Vienna (see above). The csakan repertoire, the subject of a large-scale survey by Betz (1992), numbering some 400 pieces offers a happy hunting ground for those looking for suitable nineteenth-century music technically and stylistically suitable for recorder (see also Thalheimer, 2000). The first pieces for csakan or flûte douce were composed and published by Anton Heberle (the instrument’s inventor) in 1807. Heberle’s published works include 8 volumes of light pieces, a fantasy, a sonata, a Sonata Brillante (all solo works), two volumes of small duets, a concertino with string trio and two horns, and a set of variations with string quartet and two horns. Heberle’s example was rapidly imitated by numerous Viennese composers of the day including Franz, Kargl, Ernst Krämer (1795-1837), Hunyadi, W. Klingenbrunner, Gebauer, Anton Stadler (1753-1812 – the clarinettist to whom Mozart dedicated his clarinet concerto) and Anton Diabelli (1781-1858) – publisher of works by Beethoven and Schubert. And there were virtuosic csakan and piano transcriptions of Donizetti, W.A. Mozart, Franz Xaver Mozart, Rossini, Johann Strauss, and Weber overtures.
For the most part, the repertoire for the flageolet (of both English and French varieties) comprises short unaccompanied pieces (often didactic) which have not enjoyed a general revival. More substantial works from this quarter are almost certainly there to be found. Some of these will be suitable for the recorder, such as The Nightingale for flageolet and piano by John Parry which has recently come to light (Turner 2005).
It is now becoming apparent that the recorder has a small but authentic nineteenth-century repertoire of its own, albeit slight musically. Carl Maria (Friedrich Ernst) von Weber (1786-1826) called for two alto recorders in an instrumental interlude (Trio 14) in Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (1801), explaining “An article in a music journal inspired me to write in a completely different way and to bring old forgotten instruments back to use”, and again in Kleiner Tusch (1806).
According to Fitzgibbon (1934) Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) is said to have originally specified flûtes douces and harp for Le Repos in La fuite en Egypte from his oratorio L’enfance du Christ (1853), which he was trying to pass off as the work of the imaginary seventeenth-century composer Pierre Ducré. In fact, the whole account seems to have been nothing more than a practical joke at the expense of his critics. However, in his autobiography (Berlioz 1870, transl. 1970) we read that the 12-year-old Berlioz came upon a flageolet at the bottom of a drawer in which he was rummaging:
“I immediately wanted to play it and attempted to render the popular air Malbrouk, but to no purpose. My father found these squeakings exceedingly disagreeable and begged me to leave him in peace until he had time to instruct me in the fingering of the instrument and the correct execution of the heroic strain I had chosen. This he did without much trouble. At the end of two days, I was master of Malbrouk and able to regale the whole family with it – an early manifestation of my remarkable feeling for wind instruments which will not, of course, escape the attentions of the perceptive biographer.”
Rossini once owned a fine Italian alto recorder, veneered in tortoiseshell and inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl (Victoria & Albert Museum 1124-1869), which he probably thought of as a historical curiosity rather than an instrument for practical music-making (Simpson 1995: 102).
Richard Strauss’ unpublished Fantasie über ein Thema von Giovanni Paisello (TrV 116) from the opera La Molinara probably dates from 1883, when Strauss was only 19. The autograph score (only a photocopy survives) calls for Fagotto, Mundflöte and Guitarre. The sole surviving part calls it Maulflöte (ie ‘mouth flute’)? Thalheimer (2004) argued for the Viennese csakan in c” or the Berchtesgadener Fleitlin (a narrow-bore folk recorder) in c” as the most probable. More recently, Tarasov (2007b) has found an entry in Gustav Schilling’s Encylopädie der gesammten musikalishen Wissenschaften oder Universal-Lexicon der Tonkunst (Stuttgart, 1835), under “Flöte à bec, oder Flute douce, und Flauto dolce,” which reads:
“… a wind instrument now quite gone out of use, made of wood with seven tone holes on the upper side and one on the under side … It has, because of its round bevel on the back side, a slight resemblance to the beak of various kinds of bird, and perhaps for that reason is given the name flûte à bec (in German really Schnabel- or Mundflöte).”
Eduard Bernsdorf’s Neues Universal Lexikon der Tonkunst (Dresden, 1856) repeats this almost verbatim. The range of Strauss’ part implies a soprano recorder.
The first 20th-century music for the recorder is almost certainly the Quartet for Recorders by Bridge (1853-1929) written to illustrate a lecture given by him in 1901 at the Musical Association in London (Kinsell 1976). In the course of the recorder’s revival, there has been a veritable avalanche of music composed especially for it. Major twentieth-century composers who have scored for recorder include Berio (Gesti), Britten (Noye’s Fludde, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Scherzo, Alpine Suite), Hindemith (Plöner Musiktag, 1932), Orff, Martinu (Stowe Pastorals, Divertimento, Nonet), Pärt (Arbos, Pari Intervallo), Rubbra, Tippett (Four Inventions, Bonny at Morn, Crown of the Year), Tavener (Ultimos Ritos 1972, The Apocalypse 1991-1992, Let’s Begin Again 1991-1994), Vaughan-Williams (Suite for Pipes), originally for bamboo pipes). In addition, there are vast numbers of concertos, sonatas, and consort pieces in a more or less conventional idiom by Arnold, Bate, Berkeley, Charlton, Genzmer, Glanville-Hicks, Jacob, Leigh, Milford, Murrill, Pope, Reizenstein, Scott, Staeps, Tansman and many many others. Stephen Sondheim calls for a recorder in his Pacific Overtures (1976), where it does duty for the shakuhachi. Even Leonard Bernstein has written for recorder: his Variations on an Octatonic Scale (1988) was originally scored for recorder and cello though it has only very recently been performed in its original form (Recorder Magazine 17 (1): 36 (1997)), having been expanded and orchestrated to become the second movement of his Jubilee Games: Concerto for Orchestra (1989).
German composers of the so-called “lost generation” who wrote for recorder include: Jens Rohwer (1914-1994), Helmut Bornefeld, Hans Poser, Kaspar Roeseling, Felicitas Kukuck, and Konrad Lechner. However, after the ravages of 12 fatal years of Nazi government, their compositional style and thinking were not in vogue after the “young avant-garde” of the Fifties and Sixties came to the fore.
The recorder is increasingly favoured by contemporary composers including Louis Andriessen (Sweet), Luciano Berio (Gesti), Rob du Bois (Muziek), Eugene Bozza (Interlude), Gerhard Braun, Leo Brouwer, Sylvano Bussotti (Rara), John Cage (Three), George Crumb (Lux aeterna), Nuccio D’Angelo, Ugalberto de Angelis, Gumbel, Ishi (Black Intention), Henze (Elegy for Young Lovers, Compases, Heilige Nacht ), Hirose (Meditation, Lamentation), Linde, David Clark Little, Günter Kochan (1930), Riccardo Luciani, Carl Nielson, Arvo Pärt (Arbos, Pari Intervallo), Carlo Prosperi, Joaquín Rodrigo (Líricas castellanas), Rodion Shchedrin (Concerto for Orchestra #4, Concerto for Cello, Echo on a cantus firmus by Orlando di Lasso, Music from Afar), Serocki, Shinohara (Fragmente), Hans Stadlmair (1929-), Urmas Sisask, Lepo Sumera, Peeter Vähi, Giulio Viozzi and Markus Zahnhausen, among others.
A number of microtonal works calling for extended techniques have been written for recorder including pieces by Louis Andriessen, Denis Apivor, Michael Ball, Jacques Bank, Michelle Boudreau, John Casken, Neil Currie, Alan Davis, Christopher Fox, Morten Gaathaug, Anthony Gilbert, Alan Hovhaness, Maud Hodson, Maki Ishii, Nicola Lefanu, Hans-Martin Linde, David Lumsdaine, Kikuko Masumoto, Arne Mellnas, Lubomyr Melnyk, Winfried Michel, Nicholas O’Neill, George Nicholson, Geoffrey Poole, Pete Rose, François Rosse, Makoto Shinohara, Mathias Spahlinger, Nikolai Tarasov, Stefan Thomas, Tui St George Tucker, Margaret Lucy Wilkins, Margaret Lucy Wilkins, and Markus Zahnhausen.
Drora Bruck (pers. comm., 2023) reports considerable interest in the recorder amongst Israeli composers, including Michael Wolpe who has composed for recorder solo, various chamber groups, and a recorder concerto), Shlomo Dubnov, Avishy Ya’ar, Zvi Avni, Meir Mindel, Yossi Peles, Ram Da-Oz, and others. Drora has provided a listing of Israeli Recorder Music on her website which includes publication details and media files.
In Italy, David Bellugi (pers. comm.) notes that Salvatore Sciarrino has written a piece for Kees Boeke and a young Sicilian recorder player/composer named Antonino Politano. Franco Donatoni has written two works for recorder: Nidi II (premiered by Walter van Hauwe) and Suite (premiered by Antonino Politano). Sicilian composer Eliodoro Sollima has written a concerto and a sonata for recorder and player/composer Amico Dolci who has himself also published several works. Several works have been for Bellugi himself including concertos by Riccardo Luciani and Giolio Viozzi, a work for recorder and guitar by Nuccio d’Angelo, a piece for solo recorder by Prosperi, a sonata for recorder and harpichord by Boris Porena, and items by Kamran Khacheh and others.
Cuban composer Leo Brouwer wrote Paisaje cubano con rumba, a stunning work in minimalist style with Afro-Cuban rhythms. Originally written for guitars, it has been multi-track-recorded on recorders by David Bellugi (Landscapes, FRAME FR9506) but is as yet unpublished in this format.
Notable amongst US composers for the recorder was the late Pete Rose whose writing is characterized by the use of elements from jazz, and ethnic and theatrical idioms. Most of his compositions included occasional humorous quotations, often from the recorder’s repertoire. His early works explored improvisational techniques with circular breathing (Right-Hand Pentachord Variations, Medley: Signals/Limits, Bass Burner). Subsequent works included written-out jazz improvisations (Tall P 1992, The Kid from Venezuela, New Braun Bag 1993). Later, he explored a fusion of jazz, world music, and European elements integrating improvisation with written music: (Waiting for a Bus, Above Ground, Pendulum, Medieval Nights).
The late American recorder player Scott Reiss (1997–2006) performed blues on the recorder, adapting classic performances by blues musicians such as Lillian Glinn, Bertha ‘Chippie’ Hill, Elmore James, and Henry Thomas, as well as Louis Armstrong, and improvising his own blues lines. He was of the view that, as recorder players seek new arenas of expression, they can find a great range and freedom of expression in the blues, as well as in other popular and folk styles. Other jazz recorder players include the Australian ‘Lazy” Ade Monsbourgh (Australia), Gunhild Carling (Sweden), Horst Geldmacher (Germany), Keith Jarrett (USA), Jean-François Rousson (France), Evelyn Nallen (UK), Benoît Sauvé (France), Tali Rubinstein (USA), Nadja Schubert (Germany), Gianluca Barbaro (Italy), Rodney Waterman (Australia), Justin Wilman (South Africa), Eddie Marshall (USA), Jakob Manz (Germany), the late Warren Kime (USA), Ivan Meyer (Brazil).
Inevitably, the Internet has itself become the vehicle for the publication of a growing repertoire of works by a number of contemporary composers Amongst these are Hendrik Baumann, Peter Billam (1948–), Robin Bradley, Grant Colburn (1966–), Chris Goddard (? date), Miguel Gomes (1972–), James Guthrie (? date), Robin Langton> (1944–), Mark Moya (1980–), Giorgio Pacchioni (1947–), Diarmuid Pigott (1959–), Joy Samples (1979–), David Warin Solomons (1953–), Michael J. Starke (1955–) and Paul Frederick West. Of these, Colburn, Bouman, Goddard, Gomes, Moya, Pacchioni, Starke, West and (to some extent) Solomons are so-called ‘retro-composers’ who seek to emulate the style of earlier generations and who have written for the recorder. See Maute (2007) for a discussion of this phenomenon.
A special repertoire that makes considerable use of the recorder (often with tuned percussion and voices) is the so-called “Orff-Schulwerk”, written by Carl Orff and his followers, notably Gunhild Keetman. Similarly, the recorder is employed in so-called Steiner schools which may be found worldwide. These tend to use modified (pentatonic or diatonic) recorders made specifically for the purpose by a number of makers including Joachim Kunath and Choroi Instruments. Collections of suitable music are also available from these makers as well as from The Pentatonic Music Collection maintained by Thomas Robertson.
Over the past 20 years, a substantial repertoire of music has been written specifically for large ensembles of recorders – so-called recorder orchestras (perhaps better termed bands or extended consorts). Preliminary reviews of this topic have been presented by Bamforth (1993–1994) and by Colberg (2006). It is worth noting that the Berlin Neu-Kölln recorder orchestra has a history of over 50 years. It was founded by Rudolf Barthel in 1947 and had its origins in a recorder quartet led by Manfred Ruëtz from 1938-1939 (Moeck 1997). Barthel used soprano, alto, tenor, basset, and bass recorders, later adding sopranino (and higher), and contrabass recorders to perform works specifically written for the orchestra and arrangements of early music (Martin 2002). One enthusiast, (Farqhuar, 2007), has even envisioned a 50-member recorder orchestra that could stand its own with a symphony orchestra, a listening experience many would find daunting!
In Suriname (formerly a Dutch Colony), western plastic recorders have replaced the ‘tutu’ (side-blown horn) once used by the Aluku and other Guianese Maroons to communicate messages (Figueroa 2005). A sound clip and an image of Papa Tobu, an Aluku elder and village leader, reproducing Aluku speech patterns on a plastic recorder or ‘talking flute’ in Komontibo, French Guiana (1991), is available via Figueroa (loc. cit.). An excerpt can be heard here. It seems doubtful that a recorder could be heard from as far away as a side-blown horn. Perhaps the recorder is being used here in a medieval sort of way, as a means of recalling the signaling language rather than actually projecting it.
Useful surveys of the recorder repertoire have been published by Linde Höffer-von Winterfeld & Harald Kunz (1959), the various publications of Hugo Alker (1960–1984), and Claude Letteron (1989) all of whom fail to distinguish between original compositions, arrangements, and editions. Extensive lists of music for recorder have been published by Stichting Repertoire Informatiecentrum Muziek, Utrecht (RIM 1988, 1992, 1994). A catalogue of twentieth-century works for the recorder is given by O’Kelly (1990). Holger Schultka (1997) has produced a catalogue of 20th-century music for solo recorder. Recent additions to this genre are Bart Spanhove’s (2000) selective bibliography of music for recorder ensemble, Hermann Haug’s (2004) bibliography and discography of music for recorder or flute and orchestra, and Patricio Portell’s (2007) bibliography of late 17–18th-century repertoire. A problem with all such lists is that they rapidly become outdated.
The Stichting Blockfluit’s on-line Catalogue of Contemporary Blockflute Music (Hauwe & Leenhouts 2023) with comprehensive data on almost 6,000 works by 2,167 composers of 45 nationalities is by now the primary repository for data in this arena.
The Stichting Blockfluit has more recently turned its attention to the historic repertoire. The Catalogue of Historical Recorder Repertoire (Leenhouts 2023) currently contains details of some 1,900 titles, 485 composers, 257 organisations, 285 recordings, and 1,081 publications. It, too, is a major resource.
References cited on this page
- Agricola, Martin. 1529. Musica instrumentalis deudsch ynn welcher begriffen ist, wie man nach dem gesange auff mancherley Pfeiffen lernen sol, Auch wie auff die Orgel, Harffen, Lauten, Geigen, und allerley Instrument und Seytenspiel, nach der rechtgegrüdten Tabelthur sey abzusetsen [A German instrumental music, in which is contained: how to learn to play many kinds of wind instruments from vocal notation, and also how to set music into the appropriate tablature for the organ, harp, lute, fiddle, and all kinds of keyboard and string instruments]. Wittenberg: George Rhau. http://imslp.org/wiki/Musica_instrumentalis_Deudsch_(Agricola,_Martin).
- Alker, Hugo. 1960–1961. Blockflöten-Bibliographie [Recorder Bibliography]. 2 vols vols. Vienna: Universitätsbibliothek.
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Cite this article as: Nicholas S. Lander. 1996–2023. Recorder Home Page: Repertoire: Overview. Last accessed 24 September 2023. https://www.recorderhomepage.net/repertoire/