Elbphilharmonie Explains: The Recorder

Recorder virtuoso Maurice Steger explains his instrument.

This is what the recorder sounds like :Maurice Steger explains his instrument

  • About Maurice Steger

    He is known as »the Paganini of the recorder« (NZZ): Swiss musician Maurice Steger is one of today's most fascinating recorder players, conductors and teachers in the field of Early Music. With his wild virtuosity and lively manner, he has helped bring about a worldwide recorder revival.

»The recorder has always been an eccentric instrument.«

The recorder: A description

Construction: Recorders generally consist of three pieces of wood – a bottom and middle section, each with finger holes, and a top piece on which the »beak« or mouthpiece is mounted. When these three sections are put together, they form a pipe which is open at the bottom end and closed off at the top by a block-like piece of wood (A) – hence the German name »Blockflöte«. But a little slit at the top is left open.

How is it played? Unlike the flute, sometimes known as the transverse flute because it is held horizontally, the recorder is held vertically. The player blows into the beak, sending air through the narrow slit in the mouthpiece until it encounters resistance at the labial edge (C). This splits the stream of air, so that the air flows alternately out of the instrument and into the instrument’s interior. Inside the instrument, the air collides with the air already present there and produces vibration: this is how the notes are created. The more finger holes are covered, the longer the vibrating column of air becomes, and the lower is the note produced.

History: Flutes are among the oldest man-made instruments – the earliest excavations of bone flutes date from 9,000 years in the Chinese province of Henan. In the Middle Ages, shepherds and travelling entertainers spread the different kinds of flute throughout Europe. The recorder held vertically in both hands first appeared in the 11th century. In the Renaissance period an enormous variety of recorders in different sizes and tunes to different pitches was produced, ranging from the high soprano recorder to the low bass recorder.

From the 17th until well into the 18th century, the recorder was en vogue at the courts and in the chapels of the aristocracy, and major composers like Bach, Handel and Telemann wrote works for the instrument. However, in the Classical and Romantic eras it was superseded by the louder flute, and fell into oblivion. Only in the 20th century did historically-interested instrument makers revive the recorder, and teachers then discovered it as a useful tool for the musical education of young children. Whether the young pupils benefited from this is a moot point…

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