60 years of recorder developments - but what about the next 60 years?
These are interesting times for (professional) recorder practice. The previously huge army of relatively competent professionals is gradually making way for a more modest number of very serious and highly skilled performers and teachers. They are forming ensembles in a great variety of combinations, styles, and musical disciplines, and are organising master classes, festivals and symposia.
Nevertheless, among them we could also see the rise of a small but rather outspoken group of individuals, whose primary focus seems to be the glorification of their own ‘unique and incredible virtuosity’. Too few of them take the trouble to dive into the catacombs of the recorder’s most essential and inspiring fundaments: sound colouring and subtleties of articulation. Instead, their performances are often stuffed with theatrical effects, completely unnecessary mimicry, and shockingly messy playing; no nuances in sound colour, articulation or interpretation, thereby shamelessly abusing their composers. They mostly prefer specially designed flutes that value a sound as loud and clean as possible. A great pity that their audiences think that this is the recorder on its best and thus the only way of blowing it. No, these ‘ADHD’ performances, floating on a meagre level of skill and affinity with the origin of the recorder’s spectrum cannot comfort me, to put it mildly. I really question here: If you don’t accept or even like the ‘dolce’ part of the flauto, why do you play the recorder then?!? And if one of their recorder makers’ statement is that “…he rather likes the sound of a violin better then that of a recorder, so I try to let the recorder sound as a violin”, why not just making violins?!? Hands of from the recorder then! I should say.
In other parts of the scene, we happily see very positive developments, where the recorder is doing very well. Here, virtuosity begins with the utmost control over all physical and technical aspects needed to master the incomparably broad collection of instrument types and sizes the recorder family can offer us. And when these fundamental skills can be enriched with an equally subtle variety of speech, articulation, fingerings, timing, imagination and artistry: only then can we speak of real recorder virtuosity.
In actual fact, the recorder is flourishing as never before. In a span of only 60 years, the infrastructure of the recorder has undergone unparalleled development. When I, in 1969, had to program my final exam I could choose from literature of approximately 40 years of baroque and 8 years of contemporary styles. 90% of repertoire was played on the ‘solo’ recorder ‘per excellence’: the alto. Nowadays we have about 6 solid centuries of fine (often original) compositions which we, as soloists or ensemble players, can play on at least 30 different types and sizes of recorders in quiet a number of different pitches. Interesting to see that most of these ‘virtuosi’ I mentioned before (mostly soloists) are mainly focused on one period only, playing around 90% on the alto- or soprano recorder in 415Hz which sounds as 440Hz. Back to the 1950’s again…?
There are numerous skilled and eager mixed-discipline ensembles touring around the globe, invited by well-established festivals and concert series, to whom they can offer six centuries of literature including i.a. medieval, renaissance, baroque, romanticism, early- and late-20th Cent., world music, improvisation, transcriptions in any style, electronics, jazz, pop; and in collaboration with theatre, dance, film…. Plus master classes, lectures, researches upon a wide range of related subjects. An increasing number of these broadly oriented blockflutists manage to make a quiet comfortable, inspiring living with their profession, often in combination with an equally inspiring (and essential) teaching practice.
Anyway, not withstanding my serious concerns regarding certain developments, I am, I repeat it again, above all very positive, enthusiastic and even proud of the unique development that the recorder has been able to go through over the last 60 years. A one-sided, overcooked, temporarily hype cannot and will not take that away from us. Let them have their stuff, we just continue to work on our own recorder future, just like the past 60 years.
Walter van Hauwe, 2018