Modern period

The revival of the recorder as such had its beginnings towards the end of the 19th century when large museum collections of antique musical instruments were assembled and a growing interest in pre-classical music helped produce a climate in which the recorder could again flourish. In 1885 a group from the Brussels Conservatoire played flauti dolci in a Sinfonia Pastorale from Jacopo Peri’s Eurydice and a 16th-century March of the Lansquenets performed at the International Inventions Exhibition held in the Albert Hall galleries in South Kensington, London, in conjunction with a display of musical instruments, some brought by Victor-Charles Mahillon (1841–1924) from The Brussels Conservatoire (Musical Times 1 August 1885; George Bernard Shaw, Dramatic Review, 4 July 1885), including his own copies of instruments by Kynseker from the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. And in Britain during the 1890’s and early 1900s, the research and lectures of Canon Francis Galpin, Dr Joseph Cox Bridge and Christopher Welch drew further attention to the recorder in musical circles, though nothing was known about its technique or repertoire. In particular, Galpin organized concerts and rustic fêtes using recorders as well as cornetti, serpents, lutes and other instruments from his own collection (Godman 1959). A set of four renaissance-style recorders, made (in part) by Galpin and now in the Museum of fine Arts, Boston, were played by the Galpin Recorder Quartet in one of the Paraffin Concerts held in 1904 to raise money in aid of electric lighting in Galpin’s village, thus anticipating Dolmetsch by at least 15 years.

It is often said (mistakenly) that the first modern recorder was made in 1919 by Arnold Dolmetsch (1858–1940) based on an 18th-century original in his possession. In the light of the previous paragraph, it is perhaps relevant that Dolmetsch received his musical training at the Brussels Conservatoire where he first came into contact with musicians playing early musical instruments from the collection belonging to the conservatoire. Indeed, MacMillan (2003) relates that the young Arnold Dolmetsch heard a recorder consort of student wind players in Brussels in 1873. In 1883, he moved with his family to London, to enroll at the newly opened Royal College of Music, where he could further his interest in ‘early music’.  From concert programs it seems that Dolmetsch was performing on the recorder as early as 1900, possibly on an instrument borrowed from Joseph Cox Bridge or Canon Francis Galpin (both of whom had lectured on the recorder), five years ahead of his purchase in 1905 of the celebrated Bressan instrument (now in the Horniman Museum, London) and subsequently used by him in concerts (Williams 2007). A parody by A.A. Sykes entitled L’Allegro up to Date published in Punch  (16 December 1903: 424) includes mention of Arnold Dolmetsch who “Tootles his native wood-wind wild.”

Interestingly, Dolmetsch’s Bressan alto appears to have been severely modified, probably by Carl Dolmetsch (Meadows 1994, Williams 2007: 347): its block and ivory mouthpiece are not original, and the narrow, curved windway of Bressan recorders that produces their characteristic focused, reedy sound is absent, replaced by a wide, straight windway like that adopted for recorders emanating later from the Dolmetsch workshop. Initially, Dolmetsch and his associates made recorders for his family and others in their circle to play. Early purchasers of these instruments include Judith Masefield (daughter of the poet John Masefield), the cartoonist Edmund X. Kapp, Sir Bernard Darwin (son of Charles Darwin), possibly George Bernard Shaw (O’Kelly 1990), and the Australian geographer, geologist, war hero, historian and translator Marcel Aurousseau (1891-1983, pers. comm. 1977). The recorder figured in a performance of Bach’s Fourth Brandenburg Concerto at the first Haslemere Festival in 1925 (Hunt 2002). At the second Haslemere Festival in 1926, Dolmetsch presented an A415 consort of soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders (Cambell 1975, Ehrlich 2021). Prior to WW2, a number of recorders were made by Dolmetsch which were almost indistinguishable from the baroque originals on which they were based, among them a boxwood alto at A=415 Hz, formerly in my own collection, and another in the possession of my compatriot, Alexandra Williams (2005: 347).

Alto by Arnold Dolmetsch after Bressan
 Alto recorder, by Arnold Dolmetsch after Bressan (Australia-Sydney: Powerhouse, Accession 2012/41/2)

Carl Dolmetsch, was placed in charge of recorder making at the family’s workshop in 1926. Subsequently, the growing repertoire of contemporary works in which the recorder was combined with modern piano, other wind instruments, and strings created the need for a recorder tuned in equal temperament, at modern pitch, and with increased volume. To meet these demands Carl introduced modern “English” fingering, finger holes with little or no undercutting, double finger holes for the lowermost hand (although these were later found on a number of baroque originals), a wide, flat windway, a  block with large chamfers at the exit, a broad labium, and a window with strongly outward-sloping side walls. Despite these and other innovations, he argued (somewhat unconvincingly) that none of his inventions altered the basic design of the instrument (Dolmetsch, 1960 & 1996).

In the 1880s, the Düll family of artists in Munich owned numerous original recorders, flutes, oboes, and flageolets by instrument makers such as Denner, Bressan, and Oberlender. As students at the Munich Art Academy, the later professor Heinrich Düll (1867–1956) and his friend, the later sculptor Georg Pezold (1865–1943) were already performing on recorders and other instruments. In 1894 the Düll family moved into a villa in the Bogenhausen district. Heinrich Düll and Georg Pezold formed an ensemble with four recorders, arpeggione (a sort of cello guitar), marine trumpet and timpani which they called the “Bogenhauser Künstlerkapelle” (Bogenhausen Artists’ Band) which performed arrangements of music by Handel, Scarlatti, Gluck, Mozart, Chopin, Bizet and others on recorders (by J.C. Denner, Jacob Denner, Bressan, Schuechbaur, Walch, Oberlender, Schell, and Anon.), and other original instruments from 1897 until it was disbanded in 1939 (Moeck 1978: 1982), including an appearance in London in 1900. It is conceivable that Arnold Dolmetsch attended the latter performance since he was living and working in London at that time.

Bogenhauser Quartet
Members of the Bogenhauser Künstlerkapelle (1897–1939)

A copy made by the Munich maker Gottlieb Gerlach (1856–1909) of an original eighteenth-century alto by J.C. Denner for the Bogenhausen Künstlerkapelle has recently come to light (Kirnbauer & Gutmann 1992), predating Dolmetsch by at least ten years.

The Bogenhausers became an established part of the music scene in Munich, playing for civic receptions and festivals (including the 1925 Munich Bach Festival) and broadcasting. The arrangements played by the Bogenhausers survive in manuscript form and include some very demanding music indeed — the alto part in some instances involving rapid passages in the third octave (Nikolaj Tarasov, pers. comm., 2000). For the most part, their performances were in the nature of novelty concerts (Ehrlich 2021); but at the 1925 Munich Bach Festival two of their members, Heinrich Düll (1867–1956) and Georg Petzold (1865–1943), playing on recorders by Johann Christian Denner took part in a performance of the Sonatina from Bach’s Cantata Actus Tragicus, BWV 106 (Kirnbauer & Gutmann 1992; Grill 2007).

Ensemble Arcimboldo plays from the original part books of the Bogenhausen Künstlerkapelle in a concert given in 2011 at the Natural History Museum, Basel

Independently of either the Dolmetsches or the Bogenhausers, Wilibald Gurlitt (1889–1963), a protégé of Hugo Riemann, began using recorders in his Collegium Musicum at the University of Freiburg in 1921 for which he commissioned copies by organ-builder Oscar Walcker (1869 –1948) in Ludwigsburg of renaissance originals by Hieronymus Franziskus Kynseker (Nuremberg, ca 1670). In 1922, The musicologist and teacher Werner Danckerts (1900-1970) also had copies made of the Kynseker instruments by the woodwind maker Georg Graessel (1874–1948), some of which can be seen in the instrument collection of the Musicology Institute of Erlangen-Nürnberg University. Later (ca 1924), Danckerts commissioned further copies of the Kynseker recorders, this time from Max Hüller (then manager of the Carl Kruspe Company (by then a subsidiary of Gottlob Hermann  Hüller) who made copies of Graessel’s instruments. The first public performance, with the Graessel/Kinsecker recorders was a concert on 1 October 1925 on the occasion of the 55th Versammlung Deutscher Pädagogen und Schulmänner in Erlangen. The flautist Gustav Scheck (1901–1984), an associate of Gurlitt, commenced playing original recorders around 1924, establishing the high artistic standard which is continued by his students (Conrad, Delius, Fehr, Linde, and others). In 1925 and 1926, Hüller built other copies of late baroque recorders, including a Denner alto from the Germanisches Museum, Nuremberg, and an alto recorder from the Bach Museum in Eisenach.

Peter Harlan (1898–1966) started what is now called the German Recorder Movement, aimed at furthering the spirit of the “Jugendbewegung” (German Youth Movement). His chosen vehicle was to be an uncomplicated folk instrument suitable for advancing the cause of society through the euphoric experience of what was later called “Mussiche Bildung”, musical development. Spurning historical accuracy and professional musical training, he leaned from the very outset towards the renaissance type of recorder in order to indulge his own fantasies as an instrument maker. In his own words, Harlan wanted an instrument “whose sound could not be enhanced, no matter how great the art; whose essence could not be altered by any virtuosity”. Contrary to popular belief, and even to his own claims (Harlan 1953), Harlan never made recorders himself (Moeck, 1982; Thalheimer, 2006, Ehrilich, 2021).  He was already familiar with the Kynseker copies made by Oscar Walcker for Prof. Gurlitt in 1921, and with a copy of an original recorder from the Berlin Museum of Musical Instruments (said by Harlan to be by Denner despite there having been no such instrument in the museum at that time) made for him before he attended Dolmetsch’s first Haslemere Festival with Max Seiffert in 1925. Following his visit to England, Harlan had an instrument made for him by the Markneukirchen flute maker Kurt Jacob (1896–1973)  modeled on another instrument in the Berlin Collection (Rummel, 1977, Thalheimer 2010, Ehrlich 2021). The first available Harlan/Jacob recorder, an alto in E, was offered for sale in 1926. However, Harlan quickly abandoned any attempt to produce recorders based on historical models and in the following year, a quartet of instruments of an entirely new design was offered in E and A with what has come to be known as ‘German fingering’ (perhaps better termed ‘Harlan fingering’) and a range of one-and-a-half octaves. These instruments had large bores but lacked exact historical models. Recorders marketed by Harlan under his own brand name were made for him initially by Jacob but later mainly in the workshop of Martin Kehr in Zwota near Markneukirchen. The dramatic growth of the Vogtland musical instrument industry started by Peter Harlan to fuel the so-called German Recorder Movement (inspired by the German Youth Movement) and its associated “Musiche Bildung” (musical development) programs resulted in some 50 or so Markneukirchen workshops producing recorders in the latter category, amongst them Adler, Gofferje, Heinrich, Kehr, Kruspe, Mollenhauer. The products of this industry were also re-badged and marketed by established music companies such as Bärenreiter, Merzdorf, Moeck, Nagel, and others.

Recorders marketed by Peter Harlan

In the USA, there was nothing to compare with Germany’s Youth Movement in sparking an interest in folk music and archaic instruments. The Niagara Falls High School Recorder Quartet was established with instruments purchased from Dolmetsch in 1930 but disbanded in 1932 when the participants left school (Cornstock, 1992). Also in the 1930s, Margaret Bradford Boni introduced Dolmetsch recorders to students at the City and Country School in New York City (Burgess, 2015: 35), and Irmgard Lehrer established herself as a recorder instructor at her Center for Recorder Music in New York and taught at Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts, and at the Julliard School in Manhattan. Carl Dolmetsch’s annual concert tours (begun in 1936), performances by ensembles like the Trapp Family Singers, and soloists such as Alfred Mann and Anton Winkler together with the work of craftsmen David Dushkin and William Koch laid the groundwork for a popular recorder movement. In passing, it is interesting to note that amongst the early presidents of The American Recorder Society (founded by Suzanne Bloch in 1939) was Erich Katz, Wilibald Gurlitt’s former assistant in Freiburg (Haskell 1996, Bixler 2007 & 2007, Ehrlich 2021). As a conductor, instrumentalist, teacher, and composer Paul Hindemith (himself a recorder player) wore several hats in the early music revival, directing the Yale University Collegium Musicum from 1940 to 1953 which included recorder players among its members.

Theodor Adorno (1956) was to lambast the German Recorder Movement by declaring “One has only to hear the sound of the recorder – at once insipid and childish – and then the sound of the real flute: the recorder is the most frightful death of the revived, continuously dying Pan”. Now, although it is easy for us today to condemn or ridicule Harlan’s efforts (and even that of the Dolmetsches and their circle) they must be seen in the social context of their day. At that time, Ravizé tried to introduce into Paris schools the pipeau (a six-holed celluloid or metal flageolet), as did van de Velde in Tours. Bamboo pipes were introduced into schools in the U.S.A. in the 1920s and later into those of Great Britain when Hilda King, director of a school in London, began making them along with her students in 1926. The Bamboo Pipers Guild, founded by Margaret James in 1932 (Williams 2007), with its president none other than Vaughan Williams, was championed by Louise Hanson-Dyer (1884–1962, an expatriate Australian and the patron of Editions L’Oiseaux Lyre) in France (where she was able to move composers such as Auric, Ibert, Milhaud, Roussel, Poulenc, and Australia’s Arthur Benjamin and Margaret Sutherland to write for this medium), as well as by John Manifold, another Australian. Indeed, the Pipers Guild of Great Britain is still active, as are similar groups in Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, and America. And there are obvious parallels with plucked string (mandolin, guitar, ukulele, banjo, domra, balalaika) orchestras, accordion orchestras, harmonica bands, sopilka bands, brass bands, steel drum bands, etc. found throughout the world.

In 1934, Edgar Hunt secured the sole agency in England for factory-made recorders marketed by the Markneukirchen firm Herwig, made by König & & Söhnen, under the brand name Herwiga Rex (a trademark of Gustav Hernsdorf) which was soon taken up by Rushworth & Dreaper of Liverpool (Kenworthy 1963, Moeck 1982, Hunt 2002, Ehrlich 2021). Thus the German firm Herwig supplied recorders with so-called English fingering for the UK mass market, as well as offering less expensive models under the brand names Herwiga Solist, Herwiga Chor, and Herwiga Hamlin thus bringing recorders within the reach of the general public. The Herwiga Hamlin model sold at less than 5% of the cost of a Dolmetsch soprano recorder (Hunt 2002, Ehrlich 2021).

Plastic (phenolic resin) Schulblockflöten (school recorders)  were first made in Germany. As early as 1936, recorders by Paul Reinhard Stark of Wohlhuasen-Markneukirchen were marketed as “Pastalit-Musicus” (Thalheimer 2013: 110). And composite recorders with plastic (‘Acolit’) head joints and wooden bodies made by Oscar Adler, Markneukirchen, appeared under the brand-name “Sonora-Acolit-Blockflöte” around 1940 (Thalhemier 2013: 121).

A ‘Fitzroy’ recorder, with a ‘Bakelite’ (phenolic resin) head and a wooden body, was available in the UK in 1939 (Anna Wells, pers. comm. 2000). Cellulosic plastic recorders were manufactured in England by Schott & Co. early in World War II. The first batch was tested and packed by Walter Bergmann in November 1941 (Martin, 2002).  They were sent to German-held prisoners of war, particularly those in the RAF, to help while away the years of captivity (Kenworthy 1963, Moeck 1982, Hunt 2002). The first Schott plastic sopranos, designed by Hunt, had several deficiencies: they were not voiced individually unless returned by a customer for adjustment, the initial plastic formula of cellulose acetate melted in the sun, and the subsequent Bakelite model produced a crude sound. Despite this, they sold well and at the same price the wooden Herwig Hamlin soprano recorders had gone for before the War (Willaims 2003: 143-45).

Schott plastic recorder
Schott plastic recorder

Since their workshops had been requisitioned for the manufacture of aircraft parts, the Dolmetsch firm was unable to commence the production of plastic (Bakelite) recorders until 1947 (Ward 1949). By 1947 Rose, Morris & Co. (London) were also marketing their ‘Dulcet’ plastic recorder manufactured for them by John Grey & Sons. In the USA, the Lewis & Scott Mfg. Co., Plantsville, Connecticut, were making a ‘Scotty Piccolo Recorder’ in 1939 from black ‘Tenite’ (a versatile, durable, and attractive cellulosic plastic produced by Kodak and manufactured by Frank Aman & Co.): an example can be examined in the Dayton Miller Flute Collection at the Library of Congress, Washington (DCM 1386). However, the fingering chart with a plastic recorder designed and manufactured by Frank Aman himself, formerly in my own possession (Australia-Sydney: Powerhouse, Accession 2012/41/3), is dated 1938.

Aman soprano recorder

The ‘Aman’ recorder was marketed by the Tonette Co., Chicago, a subsidiary of the Gibson guitar company. Recorders and ‘tonettes‘ (a vessel flute, related to the ocarina, also designed and produced by Frank Aman) were marketed in their thousands by the Gibson guitar company to stave off hard times during the war (Carter 1991, Bellson 1973, Fosdick 2018). Incidentally, the Aman recorder has raised finger holes and German-style fingering, strongly reminiscent of the “Pastalit” recorders produced by Stark around 1936 (see above). The accompanying information leaflet describes the material as ‘Durez’ which probably refers to the Durez Company established in New York in 1923 which continues to produce thermosetting phenolic resins and molding compounds to this day. The instrument is of no musical value whatsoever.

It might be said that the revival of the recorder early last century, its popularisation amongst amateurs between the wars, and its subsequent mass production in both England and Germany for use in schools were based loosely on one hand on the baroque-style recorder and on the renaissance model on the other. However, in reality, no particular historical model was closely followed by either camp.

Until the 1970s, designers of mass-produced instruments for amateur and school use produced recorders with a somewhat blander, flute-like tone than the originals on which they were based. Such instruments continue to be made but, whilst they perform reasonably well in consorts, they often sound harsh and discordant when played together by children or adult amateurs. Increasingly, better-quality factory-made instruments are modeled on baroque originals and serve well in solo or ensemble contexts. For those seeking a more homogenous blend for consort work, affordable renaissance-style instruments are made by Kobliczek, Moeck, and Mollenhauer.

References cited on this page

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Cite this article as: Lander, Nicholas S. 1996–2024. Recorder Home Page: History: Modern period. Last accessed 12 July 2024.