The recorder in the 21st century – a summary of my findings so far

Symposium “ARTikulationen” at the University of Art in Graz, 6th till 9th of October 2016

Presentation on 8th of October 2016, 2.15pm

My name is Susanne Fröhlich, I am a recorder player and I have started an artistic-academic research at the University of Art in Graz in October 2015. In this paper I would like to present my findings of the past year. The main topic of my research project is “The recorder in the 21st century”, so it is a perspective research and very much about modern recorder models, especially one model: The Helder Tenor, named after its maker Maarten Helder.


The recorder has a very long tradition and as a recorder player you are very much trained to perform on a big variety of recorders, which differ in size, kind, tuning and material. Although the recorder always adjusted to the sound ideals of its time, today most of the recorder players mainly perform on copies of historic models – of course, these instruments are modified e.g. for bigger concert halls, modern tuning or the combination with modern instruments – but in general you could say, that these are still historic models, especially because of the bore, which makes around 80% of the instruments capabilities.

Many of you will remember the recorder as a rather simple instrument, made out of wood, mainly without keys.


♫ Tenor model after J. Denner, made by the firm Mollenhauer in Fulda

It is a fact that the recorder is quite limited, when it comes to range, dynamics and balance. But one should never forget that early music recorders were made in a totally different time, for different music, with different music aesthetics and different musical events.

So, a baroque recorder totally fits to this kind of music: G.F. Händel – Sonate in F-Dur (HWV 369, approx. 1725)


But what happens, if a score looks like this?


T. PM Schneid: Manchester – metrics (1996)

Or that?


S. Elikowski-Winkler: termini spezzati 1 (2013-2016)

My research is based on following questions:

  • How much will new recorder models enrich repertoire, playing techniques and performance practise of recorder players from today and in the future?
  • What new challenges do these new models pose for makers and performers?
  • Which issues are raised by modern recorder models?

In the past few months I was very busy digging deep into contemporary music scores, analysing them, in order to find out what exactly music from today requires from a modern recorder. And I was also doing improvisations in order to find out what exactly I require from a modern recorder today. But before I go more into details, let me go back in history and shortly introduce you to the theoretical approach in my research.

In general, I can say that new developments of instruments are always depended on various factors, like e.g.

  1. the political and economic situation
  2. technical improvements and possibilities of instrument makers
  3. the collaboration and connection between maker and performer
  4. interest but also vision and openness of makers, performers and composers
  5. the repertoire
  6. the audience
  7. last but not least: coincidence, or let’s call it “the right time” – there have been some really curious and interesting ideas, which actually never have been on the market at all or disappearing from the market immediately:

And innovations have been made, without even planning to be an innovation, e.g. the “German fingering”: A recorder maker internee working for the Kehr family in Zwota, drilled the 5th hole too small – et voilà: The German fingering was born (1926/27):


It is interesting to see, that in the 20th century there have always been two movements determining the development of the recorder. On the one hand, the musicological interest in early music, regarding repertoire, instruments and performance practice. On the other hand, a new approach to the recorder, focusing on modern woodwind making.

The musicological interest started already in the 19th century, a time, when the recorder was not part of the flourishing concert life anymore and you could only find it in certain areas, like Hungary, Austria and East Germany. It was called Csakan recorder and looked e.g. like this:


♫ Presentation of the Csakan recorder by R. Küffer:

In the 19th century most of the knowledge about the recorder and recorder making got lost. So at the beginning of the 20th century, instrument makers had to start from scratch and make copies of historic instruments. On the other hand, one can find a rather modern approach to the recorder, although I have to mention here, that this new approach was not only about progress, but mainly to develop an instrument which totally breaks with the music and music aesthetics from the 19th century, meaning virtuosity, expressivity and variation of sound. An instrument for the folk – everybody can effort it, everybody can play it.


You can also see these two movements within the approach of modern recorder innovations in the 2nd half of the 20th century, especially after the 1960s.

  • modern recorders which are inspired by historic models, e.g.

♫ Calliope Tsoupaki: Charavgi (1994, J. Wybrow)

  • modern recorders inspired by modern woodwind making, e.g.

– either focussing on the key system, like e.g. the Strathmann Soprano and Alto recorder


♫ “All of me” Jazz Standard by A. Strathman and friends:

– or focussing on the principle of pure harmonics. These are instruments with a long bore, plus extension to a half note below the bottom note, like e.g.

Harmonic recorders made by N. Tarasov/Mollenhauer or R. Ehlert/Moeck. The main idea is here, to perform repertoire from the 19th century, as well as to combine the recorder with modern instruments.


♫ N. Bousquet: Grande Caprice 1 (1864, N. Tarasov)

Harmonic recorders called Eagle Alto and Soprano made by A. Breukink/Kunath and G. Bollinger/Küng


♫ J.S. Bach: Cello Solo Suite I (1720, A. Breukink)

♫ C. Meijering: The Pied Piper (2012, D. Laurin)

Now, comparing these and many more models (regarding the bore, the key system, the voicing, their handling and their overall possibilities) as well as taking into account experiments and developments from the last 90 years, like e.g. the tone projector by C. Dolmetsch, the half tone key by M. König & Söhne, the Souffleur block by G. Bollinger,


there is only one recorder up until now, in which I see the biggest potential, setting new standards in recorder making and bringing new dimensions into the recorder performance practice: The Helder Tenor.

The Helder Tenor is based on the principle of pure harmonics, which means that the instrument has a quite balanced 3rd octave. The cylindrical foot joint and the new key system (including open and closed keys) offer a well-balanced sound through the whole instrument, especially in the 1st and 3rd octave. The piano key enables me to play organic dynamics. The flexible block system, called Sound Unit, offers me lots of variation in sound and also organic dynamical playing.

At this point I would like to present the Helder Tenor with a piece called “Grenzgänge”, written by Gerhard Braun in 2006 for Johannes Fischer (also performing) and the Helder Tenor.

The Helder Tenor was developed in the early 1990s, inspired by a recorder from the 1930s. Although some professional recorder players do perform on this instrument, they are not at all using all its capacities, except one: Johannes Fischer. In terms of method, extended playing techniques and performance practise we are still at the beginning and there is a lot to explore, to fathom and to document. This marks the actual starting point of the practical approach in my research.

It took me quite some time to find a way, how to get a grip on the instrument, to develop a performance practice and to explore and find the instruments specialities. So it was important for me to decide what kind of material I could start working on and what kind of repertoire would be worth digging into.

I divide this work into two main parts and this includes solo as well as chamber music:

  • one part is: to find existing repertoire
  1. written for Helder Tenor: 41 (incl. 15 solo pieces)
  2. written for tenor recorder: 55 pieces (incl. 23 solo pieces)
  3. written for other wood wind instruments: 11 pieces (incl. 5 solo pieces)
  4. open scores: 2 pieces

This is the analysing sheet:

  • the other part is: to create repertoire
  1. in collaboration with composers: 9 pieces (incl. 3 solo pieces)
  2. through improvisation

Now, at the end of my presentation, I would like to give a short musical summery of my findings so far. I divide these in:

  • extended performance practice
  • new playing techniques

Here you can hear a musical collage of four short abstracts of pieces, which summarize quite nicely the capacities of the Helder Tenor:

♫ C. Debussy: Syrinx (1913)

♫ S. Elikowski-Winkler: termini spezzati 1 (2013)

♫ T. PM Schneid: Manchester – metrics (1996)

♫ L. Glandien: Vor der Stille (2015)


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  • Thalheimer, Peter: Wieder aktuell: die Blockflöte mit Extension. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte eines Baumerkmals; in: Tibia 2/2015, S. 427–438
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View All


  1. Thank you for the interesting blog post and for your talk at the festival/symposium ARTikulationen in Graz. Best wishes for your future research, Barbara



  2. Wah this is an extensive post.thank u for taking the time to share your work with us.



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