Skip to main content

The recorder is a type of end-blown flute (as opposed to the traverse flute, which is the form of the modern concert flute). End-blown flutes are perhaps the oldest known instruments, with examples having survived from pre-history. Virtually every world culture seems to have developed some sort of flute.

The recorder was well known in Europe by the Middle Ages. The instrument, with its eight finger holes and flared bell, is recognizable in numerous Medieval and Renaissance paintings. Many historical recorders have survived, showing broad variation. Soprano, sopranino, alto, tenor, and bass recorders were crafted from natural materials as diverse as pearwood, boxwood, and even narwhal tusk. The earliest were carved from one or two pieces. By the baroque era, recorders were typically made from three separate pieces, which allowed for more accurate boring and tone. The recorder’s expressiveness earned it a significant place in baroque era ensembles.

In time, the recorder was replaced in the orchestra by woodwind instruments that were newer or being enhanced, such as the oboe and flute. Our contemporary interest in historically informed performance has returned the recorder to the concert stage.