“The Rosenborg Recorders”: One or two makers?

Two recorders of narwhal tusk in the Royal Danish Kunstkammer, Copenhagen.

English summary

In the Rosenborg Collection two treble recorders made of narwhal tusk are exhibited. The recorders are first mentioned in an inventory list from Det kongelige danske Kunstkammer (The Royal Danish Kunstkammer) dated 1673, and in 1969 – at the latest – they were moved from Copenhagen’s Castle to Rosenborg to be placed in The Green Cabinet among the king’s personal effects. The recorders may have existed long time before 1673; they may even have belonged to the Danish King Christian IV (1588-1648).

In 1980, the Dutch born recorder player Eva Legêne became aware of the existence of the recorders. She soon realized that they were representing a type of recorder which – with regard to time as well as to range – is well suited for playing Jacob van Eyck’s brilliant music from the 1640-ies. They were therefore likely to be the much wanted “missing link” between the renaissance recorder from the 16th century and the solo recorder, which was developed about 1670.

The recorders are made of narwhal tusk, which on the face of it looks like ivory, but which can be recognized by its spiral structure. Opposite to the elephant tusk, the narwhal tusk has a hollow space inside, continuing almost to the end of the tusk. When measuring and examining the recorders it was found that in the upper part of only one of the recorders, the bore had been made by the instrument maker, whereas the bore in the rest of this recorder and the whole bore in the other recorder are made out by the natural – and irregular – hollow space. An explanation of the difference of the bores may be that both recorders were made of the same tusk; one recorder was probably made of the point of the tusk and the other of the next piece with its larger hollow space. The general opinion is that the irregular hollow space of the second recorder influences the tuning a sound quality in a negative way.

Today, the Rosenborg recorders have been made accessible to the general music public through a number of copies built by Fred Morgan, Ture Bergstrøm and others. Especially, it is worth mentioning two copies made of narwhal tusk, built by Fred Morgan and presented and played by Eva Legêne at Christian IV’s reign jubilee in 1988.