The recorder – or ‘flute’ as it used to be called in England – was a popular instrument in the 16th – 18th centuries, with the earliest examples surviving from the 14th c. The first recorders were made from a single piece of wood (or ivory) and had a near-cylindrical bore. In the Renaissance period the recorders were played in consorts, much like families of viols. King Henry VIII was an avid music lover and owned as many as 76 consort recorders, which he enjoyed playing with his friends. In the transition between Renaissance and Baroque the recorder was made from two parts and still with single fingerholes, much like the Ganassi style soprano and G alto in the photo. In the late 17th c. England the recorder was enjoying huge popularity as a solo instrument, mostly in amateur circles. Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist and music lover, wrote: ‘I did buy a recorder, which I intend to learn to play on, the sound being of all sounds in the world, most pleasing to me.’
During the reign of Louis XIV in France, the Hotteterre family made significant changes to the design of all the woodwind instruments of the time. The recorder was now made of three parts with the double holes, a more conical bore and a more decorative design to match the more opulent style of the Baroque era. By the 18th century the standard recorder used was the treble (alto). Composers such as Purcell, Bach and Handel used the sweet sound of the recorder to depict scenes of nature, love and supernatural events. The recorder’s Italian and French names ‘flauto dolce’ and ‘flûte douce’ perfectly capture the natural beauty of this simple, yet elegant, instrument. Composers such as Purcell, Bach and Handel used the sweet sound of the recorder to depict scenes of nature, love and supernatural events. The recorder’s Italian and French names ‘flauto dolce’ and ‘flûte douce’ perfectly capture the natural beauty of this simple, yet elegant, instrument.
The curtal was a Renaissance double-reed wind instrument, so called because the actual bore is twice as long as the instrument appears and is therefore apparently ‘curtailed’. It was also called a ‘dulcian’ because of its sweet or ‘dolce’ sound. In the early Baroque period it was used in religious settings to support the bass sound and known in Germany as the ‘chorist faggot’. Like the recorder, it underwent modification by the Hotteterre family and developed into the baroque bassoon by the seperation of the double bore and the addition of an extra low Bb bell joint.
The viol family emerged in the 1540s as a fretted, bowed, six stringed instrument related to the lute or vihuela in tunings. It was played in consorts and to accompany voices. All the sizes are held on the legs, hence the Italian name viola da gamba. In the late baroque period the bass instrument developed separately as part of the continuo section and also as a solo instrument, acquiring in France a low seventh string.