The recorder in the 21st century:
The Helder Tenor at the Intersection of Research and Practise
Thanks to professional recorder players and the high quality of recorder making as well as the constantly growing repertoire, the recorder is increasingly more present in the classical music scene. However, it is still regarded as an exotic instrument and very often used in uncommon settings or as special effect. This fact marks the actual starting point of my artistic research and leads me to the questions: which role can the recorder take on in the 21st century? How much will new recorder models enrich repertoire, playing techniques and the performance practise of recorder players in the future?
From the middle ages on, the recorder had many different forms of appearances and was always adapted to the sound worlds of its particular time. Therefore, recorder players from today can choose from a big variety of instruments in order to perform in different styles and performance practises, and it seems quite logic to perform music from today on instruments from today. Taking into account discussions with several recorder makers from Europe as well as the activities of recorder player Johannes Fischer and my research so far, I come to the conclusion that the Helder Tenor is the innovation with the upmost potential and a very promising future.
The Helder Tenor was developed in the 1990s by Maarten Helder and is nowadays produced and developed further by recorder firm Mollenhauer. Unlike other recorders, it is capable of significantly varied and expressive dynamics over an extended and strong sounding note range. This is something very natural for modern orchestral instruments, but very extraordinary for the recorder. On early music models the performer can work with certain tricks and techniques but will always be confronted with its limitations when it comes to certain performance practices. In terms of method, extended techniques and performance practise we are still at the starting point and there is a lot to explore, to fathom and to document.
On the one hand, my research is based on the practical approach through a soloist and chamber music context. Literature needs to be found, but there will also be a lot of space left for experiments and improvisations. On the other hand, I will approach the instrument from its historical development with the focus on instrument making, performance practise and socialization. If my research is completed successfully, I will have developed a new generation of the Helder Tenor, I will have found and documented a new performance practise as well as extended playing techniques on the Helder Tenor, and I will have created a new repertoire for the Helder Tenor. The recorder will be presented as a miscellaneous soloist instrument and the knowledge and interest in it internationally expanded.
congratulations on your great start with this project!
You stated that “that the Helder Tenor is the innovation with the upmost potential and a very promising future.” I would like to encourage you to look upon the recorder also in this century as a family of instruments from at least c-Bass to c”-Soprano. And use the information you discover by your research to also for all the other recorders of the “Contemporary Family”. May be even compare the Helder Tenor with the Von Huene “baroque?!?” c-Bass to find out certain details.
All the best,
Karel van Steenhoven
Thank you very much for your input, Karel! For sure it will be important to look into this subject as well and I certainly agree, that we absolutely need a modern recorder consort, especially since many recorder players perform in recorder ensembles and orchestras. The family of Paetzold basses for example shows, how well a modern consort of recorders can work and blend in together with other recorders or other modern instruments. But history shows, that building a family also means compromise – just compare consort recorders with the so-called “Ganassi recorders”.
My biggest goal for now is, to have an instrument which I can combine with other modern instruments. So I first want to explore the recorder as a soloistic instrument and find out how this can take influence on the collaboration with other modern instruments. The findings will hopefully inspire the development of a modern recorder consort and vice versa. We will see…
I see your point and that is absolutely the thing you should do now, but hereby I would like to state for the record, that it is not necessary to make compromises when building a consort. You only have to make compromises looking for a balance between sound quality, tone range, articulation, chromatic equality, tuning system and fingerings. And that is what recorder makers over the centuries did differently with different ideals. The instruments Ganassi described were in fact g, f and c consort instruments! And especially with modern techniques like Von Huene used building his c Bass and F Sub Bass we can reach large ambitus (almost 3 octaves) and a good chromatic balance in sound quality and dynamics. So I think, that the compromises you make (and you will have to make them!) finding the ideal tenor, could reflect on the rest of the modern consort and – like you said – “hopefully will inspire the development of the modern consort” as well. So all the best with your discovery tour. Karel
There is an interesting link for everybody, who wants to know more about the so-called “Ganassi recorders”: http://www.adrianbrown.org/recorder_types/ganassi.html
As a composer and a recorder player this fascinates me and it brings to mind the age old chicken and egg question. Does the composer demand more from imstruments in order to write what the imagination demands or does the instrument maker present the composer with a new instrument and challenge their imagination. Certainly the Helder sounds a fascinating concept although It would have interest to me as an ersatz Querflöte than as an instrument in its own right. While still admitting that I do get frustrated if I want to play a particularly nice flute solo on the recorder which I am denied by one note. I have to admit personally to being a bit of a dinosaur in this respect as much of my work is in bringing orchestral textures to the recorder orchestra and so fell that my imagination is challenged by the limitations tht the individual instruments set for me in my attempts to create textures of the nineteenth md early twentieth centuries but even I can see that there could be a lot of mileage in a Helder tenor as an instrument to play a solo concerto with a recorder orchestra. Thank you Susanne for some interesting thoughts
Dear Stephen, thank you very much for bringing this up! In my opinion, composing and instrument making goes hand in hand and both inspire each other forth and back. Looking back in history, you can clearly see, that the recorder was always adapted to the sound ideals and music aesthetics of its time and developed further from epoch to epoch. So today, we can perform on a big variety of recorder models, differing in kind, size, tuning and material.
But even more important for my research project was the fact, that I started to question, what I want to be able to perform on my instrument. When I heard Johannes Fischer play the Helder Tenor for the first time, I knew, that I have found the right instrument. My final goal was and still is, to question, shift and dissolve aesthetic borders and technical limits of today’s recorder performance practice, thus making the recorder genuinely contemporary. However, through this research I am able to present the recorder as a multifaceted solistic contemporary instrument.
Thanx again, Susanne