The origins of the Recorder
History of the recorder - Its Golden Age
The smallest recorder just 14cm, the longest 2m!
Let's look at three recorders of various sizes from among those closest in form to the modern-day instrument that have endured or been noted through the ages.
In "Musica Instrumentalis Deudsch," a document on musical theory by 18th century theorist Martin Agricola, there are four varieties of recorder, but "Syntagma musicum," a similar document by 17th century theorist Michael Praetorius, documents 9 varieties of the instrument. The smallest of these measured 14cm in length, while the longest included was a recorder that measured 2m.
Recorders of the 17th century had a cylindrical bore, and a timbre that was broader and less stimulating than that of recorders used today. They performed in all-recorder "whole consorts" as well as "broken consort" ensembles that included other instruments, and played a substantial role as instruments in ensembles that included vocals.
In the music of this period, clearly specifying a designated instrument was not usual, so there are no works that can be identified as specifically for the recorder. Various dances, such as the "pavane," "galliard," and "allemande," and music in the form of a "fantasia" or "ricercar," were performed either solely with recorders, or by an ensemble that included the instrument.
The Baroque period, when recorder activity was at its most glamorous
With the advent of the Baroque period (1600 - 1750), the recorder came to be used almost exclusively as a solo instrument.
Ensembles of the time focused on strings (particularly the violin) with one or more instruments performing a "solo" for forms such as the "concerto" or "concerto grosso," or continuo bass (one bass instrument accompanied by one chord-playing instrument, such as a harpsichord) with one or more instruments performing forms such as the "suite" or "sonata." Recorder performances retain a deep relationship with ensembles of that period.
A stronger, more stimulating timbre was sought from the instrument, and in the Baroque period (particularly the later Baroque period) the bore of the recorder was made conical. As a result, higher pitched harmonics were fuller, and the instrument came to produce a clear, resplendent timbre. During this period, a great many "sonata" and "concerto" works were produced for the recorder, and it could be said that this was the period in which the recorder was most glamorous and active.
For example, in addition to G. F. Handel's "Seven Sonatas" and "Two Trio Sonatas," a number of settings in opera and oratorios saw recorders used, as well as their use for solos in J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto" No. 2 and No. 4, and as an instrument for performing obbligato in many cantatas.
In addition, G.P. Telemann wrote many sonatas, trio sonatas and concertos for the recorder, including his particularly well-known "Concerto in A Minor."
In Italy also, A. Scarlatti as well as A. Vivaldi wrote many sonatas, triosonatas, and concertos, ("Concerto in C-Major for Sopranino Recorder and String Orchestra"is particularly well known).
It would not be an exaggeration to say this was the golden age of the recorder.
However, after the Baroque period the recorder lost its position and status to the flute, and vanished for a time from musical history. From the time of the classical period, when works by Mozart and Beethoven became well known, orchestras began to develop, but with its limited volume the recorder was unable to hold its own. Moreover, as the flute was more expressive and easier to play, the recorder gradually became less popular. From that time, for around 150 years, almost no music was written for the recorder.