Many of us might endorse the sentiment intimated in The Schoole of Abuse … by Stephen Gosson (1579), a Puritan author, that recorder playing is the first step on the road to hell. In Gosson’s view, this road led

“…from Pyping to playing, from play to pleasure, from pleasure to slouth, from slouth to sleepe, from sleepe to sinne, from sinne to death, from death to the deuill.”

For Gosson, the recorder would have symbolised delight in earthly pleasure; for us today, its shrieks and groans in the hands of children and enthusiastic amateurs sometimes seem to offer a foretaste of eternal torment.

Few if any other musical instruments are manufactured, sold, and played in such vast numbers as the recorder. Its use in educational programmes is ubiquitous throughout the western world and common in much of the rest of it. However, it must be said that despite their laudable efforts towards the recorder’s promulgation, music educators are too often the chief agents of its abuse, albeit unwittingly.

Rather than a mere toy, an educational aid, or a simple musical instrument suitable only for amateurs, the recorder can be the vehicle of serious musical expression demanding years of dedicated study. It has a long and interesting history and can lay claim to an extensive and highly varied repertoire spanning eight centuries; and it has always enjoyed a particularly rich representation in literature, drama, painting, and sculpture.

This introductory article takes a brief and somewhat unconventional look at the history of the recorder, and the instrument itself.

Cite this article as: Nicholas S. Lander. 1996–2024. Recorder Home Page: History. Last accessed 12 July 2024. https://recorderhomepage.net/history/