Renaissance Recorders

Consort Instruments

Renaissance recordersModels

Original instruments in various European museums have provided the models for my Renaissance recorders, which retain all the essential features of their originals, with no attempt at modern ‘improvements’. Thus my recorders have a slightly conical bore, curved windway and edge, undercut finger holes and a ‘plain’ exterior; the larger ones are fitted with a swallow-tail key and fontanelle. Since the models originated with various makers and often have divergent pitches, it has, however, been necessary to make slight adjustments to individual prototypes in order to integrate the recorders into an overall musical whole with regard to tuning as well as tonal quality. None of these adjustments exceeds the boundaries set by preserved original Renaissance recorders considered collectively. My consort recorders are voiced to suit the vocal qualities of the Renaissance music.

Pitch and tuning: Meantone at a’ = 440 (nominal)

The pitches of original Renaissance recorders range between ca. 430 and 470 Hz. My recorders are tuned in meantone temperament, and I have chosen a pitch which by and large ensures agreement with modern-tuned recorders at a’=440 Hz. Meantone temperament makes the tones g, d, a, e and b a little lower, f and bb somewhat higher than the corresponding notes in modern, equal temperament (the note a’ has the frequency 437.4 Hz; the note c is identical in both temperaments). Meantone temperament facilitates the intonation of pure triads.

Finger holes

are placed as on the original instruments, the upper six in front in a straight line; the seventh is drilled in two places, right and left of centre, for the convenience of either right or left little finger, depending on which hand the player uses lowest. The hole which is not used (most often the left one today) is stopped with wax. On the larger recorders the seventh hole is covered by the key, which is similarly symmetrical in form and can thus be reached by either hand. The spacing and size of finger holes can cause problems for players with small hands. In special cases, placement of finger holes can be modified if so desired.

Fingering

The recorders are normally made with original fingering, in which the ninth note of the recorder is taken with all holes open. The smaller models can, however, be ordered with the fingering for the ninth note which is usual for Baroque and modern recorders (i.e. middle finger of the upper hand).

Division

Normally the recorders (like the originals) are built in one piece, but some sizes can be ordered built in two pieces, divided between mouthpiece and finger holes. On the octave bass in F, however, the foot with key and fontanelle is always separate.

Combination of recorders in sets

Renaissance recorders are ideal for ensemble playing, as they give the greatest clarity to each voice of the composition, while at the same time blending tonally. The higher recorders in the ensemble are built so as not to be shrill or dominating in sound in comparison with the lower ones. The most usual quartet in the High Renaissance (ca. 1550) consisted of a treble in g’, two tenors in c’ and a bass in f. Most of the surviving four-part music can be played by this combination, and sounds an octave above the written pitch. For mellower tone, one might choose to play the same pieces on a transposing quartet consisting of tenor in c’, two basses in f and a quint bass in Bb; or the low quartet (sounding at written pitch) consisting of basset in g, two quart basses in c and octave bass in F. If one concentrates on music from the last part of the Renaissance (ca. 1600) at high (octave-transposing) pitch, it can be advantageous to supplement the standard quartet with a soprano in c” and an alto in f’; these are also useful in many pieces from the earlier period selected for modern publications.

Details of types

TypePrototype locationRange Specifications
Sopranino in g"(my own)g"-e""
Soprano in c"Vienna c"-b'''
Treble in g'Frankfurt/Maing'-f'''
Alto in f'Frankfurt/Mainf'-eb'''
Tenor in c'Brusselsc'-bb"
Basset in gBrusselsg-f"blown directly, one key
Bass in fBrusselsf-d"rim blown (cap with hole), one key
Quart bass in cBrusselsc-a'cap with crook, one key
Quint bass in BbVeronaBb-g'cap with crook, one key
Octave bass in FParisF-d'cap with crook, one key

Materials and finish

The recorders are made in pearwood or stained sycamore maple, with brass rings at joints and on the fontanelle. The surface is treated with linseed oil. Made exclusively according to traditional craftsmanship, each instrument is subject to the greatest care, and is played a long time during voicing and tuning to make its tone as stable as possible. This does not, unfortunately, prevent the wood from ‘settling’ later; it is therefore advisable occasionally to send the recorder to my workshop for readjustment.

Sound and video samples can be found here.