The following history was prepared for two panel discussions dealing with the recorder orchestra that took place at the American Recorder Society 2012 Festival in Portland, Oregon on July 6 and 7.  As the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra celebrates its fiftieth season, the history outlines the evolution of the recorder orchestra and how MPRO fits into that process.  This is the first of several articles that will appear in various issues of Upbeat this season covering the formation and development of MPRO as well as those who were instrumental in shaping it.   



A Brief History of the Recorder Orchestra

Frederic Palmer


Through the first half of the 17th century recorders were generally constructed in one piece and built in sets, each set with its own particular pitch.  This makes it quite likely that only one recorder per part was ever used up to that point.  The breakthrough that made the recorder orchestra possible was the introduction of tuning joints around the middle of that century, allowing several instruments of the same size to play at a single pitch since pitch was now adjustable.  The first evidence of multiple recorders per part can be found in the Boismortier Concertos Op. 15 published in 1727 and the “Introduzzione” found in Telemann’s Der getreue Music-Meister of 1728.  Both works have “solo” (“soli”) and “tutti” markings in the parts indicating that more than one instrument was intended.  In the “Introduzzione” Telemann specifies alto recorders and shows how the written flute parts can be transposed to fit the recorder’s range.  Boismortier is not as specific, but the transposition Telemann calls for was by then an established practice making Boismortier’s Concertos playable on recorders as well as flutes.  During the 18th century recorders came in several sizes from soprano to bass, but there is no information as to whether a full consort of recorders (SATB) was ever employed.  Given the existence of these various sizes, particularly the bass, it would seem likely that they were at times used in full consort, perhaps with more than one instrument per part, even though there is no documentation.


After falling into disuse for roughly 150 years, there was a renewed interest in the recorder at the turn of the 20th century.  Arnold Dolmetsch began making recorders around 1919 and introduced a full consort at the Haslemere Festival in 1926.  This laid the groundwork for the recorder orchestra since the instrument was now being produced in sizes from soprano to bass and was on a par with other instrument families capable of forming a complete ensemble.  After 1926, recorders began to be massed produced to satisfy the growing demand for the instrument in music education, and around 1930 Ferdinand Enke directed performances of a recorder choir at the Volksmusikschule in Germany.  In 1937 The Society of Recorder Players was formed in England followed by the American Recorder Society in the United States in 1939.  Because of the increasing use of the recorder during the 1930s for classroom education, massed recreational playing and as a “choral” instrument, the practice of employing more than one recorder on a single part gained acceptance and began to be viewed as a distinctive sound in its own right.


In 1947, Rudolf Barthel formed the Blockflötenchor Neukölln (now Das Blockflötenorchester Neukölln).  This was the first permanent organization dedicated to performing music using an ensemble of recorders.  It was also after World War II that the first modern compositions intended for a relatively large number of recorders appear.  These include Barthel’s Neuköllner Suite (1947) as well as Benjamin Britten’s Scherzo (1955) and Noyes Fludde (1957).  At the same time, recorders of high quality, notably those produced by Carl Dolmetsch, were becoming readily available, thus improving the intonation and tone quality of the instrument, and the bass recorder was becoming more commonplace.  Despite the success of the Blockflötenchor Neukölln and growing popularity of the recorder during the 1950s, playing recorders in large groups was primarily an ad hoc affair.


This situation changed during the 1960s with the beginning of the recorder orchestra movement.  In 1962 William Barnhart formed the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra.  Performing regularly from its inception, this was the first organization of its kind to call itself a “recorder orchestra.”  This was followed by the formation of the Blokfluitensemble Praetorius in 1964.  The 1960s also saw the production of recorders of exceptional quality, notably those of Friedrich von Huene, that matched or surpassed surviving historical instruments as well as the appearance of professional recorder soloists.  As a result, the recorder was regarded more and more as a legitimate musical instrument thus increasing its popularity and the overall level at which it was played.  Great bass recorders, a staple of the recorder orchestra, became increasingly available during this decade as well.


The recorder continued to proliferate during the 1970s aided by the increasing interest in historical musical performance practice, and by 1979 at least two new recorder orchestras had been formed.  It was also during this decade that a cadre of young professional musicians who were trained in the recorder appeared, and they were to become the teachers and directors of those playing in recorder orchestras for decades to come.  In 1973, Dennis Bamforth devised an orchestral grouping of recorders that was to serve as a model for future recorder orchestras in England.  This eventually led to the “English formula” whereby recorders from sopranino to contrabass were usually divided into eleven sections with a specified number of instruments on each part.  The 1970s also saw an increasing number of modern compositions written specifically for recorder orchestra.  During the 1980s at least five new recorder orchestras were created and contrabass recorders became more available.  During the 1990s published compositions and arrangements specifically for recorder orchestra increased significantly.  At least ten new recorder orchestras were created during that period, and it was becoming clear that the number had been growing more or less geometrically since World War II.


This was confirmed between 2000 and 2009 when no less than thirty-one new recorder orchestras came into existence.  During this time, more recorder orchestras added sub great bass and subcontrabass recorders to their ensembles, and there was greater experimentation with incorporating instruments other than recorders.  As the decade progressed, the recorder orchestra became an ever more important part of the overall recorder environment as well as an increasingly specialized branch of recorder playing, performance and repertoire.  This was recognized as early as 2002 when a panel discussion devoted to the subject of the recorder orchestra was presented at the Berkeley Early Music Festival.  By the end of the decade the recorder orchestra was being viewed by many as an essential part of the recorder’s future and one that could increase its popularity, overall level of playing and artistic possibilities.


As of mid-2012 there are at least fifty-four established recorder orchestras in eleven countries throughout the world.   One came into existence in 2011 and another is now in formation.  That the recorder orchestra has come to play a significant role in the present and future state of the instrument is reflected by the inclusion of two sessions that will explore this subject at the American Recorder Society 2012 Festival. Hopefully, these sessions will lead to a better understanding of what a recorder orchestra is, a more complete account of its history and a conception of how it needs to develop in the future.         



Conductor’s Corner


Dear members of the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra,


Our 2012-2013 season marks the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra’s fiftieth anniversary.  In recognition of this milestone, the upcoming issues of Upbeat will contain articles dealing with the formation and history of the orchestra as well as those who were instrumental in its development.  The first of these appears in this issue and shows how MPRO fits into the evolution of the recorder orchestra over the past 350 years, and I encourage you to read it.  I am pleased to let you know that the orchestra will be returning to Grace Lutheran Church for its upcoming holiday concert, which will take place on Saturday, December 8, at 2:00 P.M.  Please mark this date on your calendar.  For this concert, I have chosen several new and interesting selections including a lively ballade by Guillaume Dufay, a charming Christmas motet by Michael Praetorius, a beautiful Adagio by Tomaso Albinoni, featuring oboe soloist Nicholas Vigil, and an attractive three-movement composition by local composer Nancy Bloomer Deussen.  In addition to this music, we will be including encores of the sonatas by Alessandro Stradella and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.  We will also be welcoming back Irene Beardsley on keyboard who will be joining the orchestra for the performance in December.


Listed below is the music for the first three meetings of the orchestra.  Music can be purchased at these meetings for those who did not download and print it from the PDF files sent to the orchestra’s membership in August.  Those returning from last season can use their music for the selections by Schmelzer and Stradella.  I have invited Irene Beardsley to attend the meeting on September 19, and since this will be one of the few opportunities prior to the dress rehearsal to play the four selections calling for keyboard with all instruments present, I strongly encourage all MPRO members to attend that evening as well.  Please note that there will be sectional seating for the Stradella Sonata, with those playing the Soprano 1 and 2, Alto 1 and Bass 1 parts sitting on the right as they face the conductor and those playing Alto 2, Tenor, Bass 2 and Contrabass on the left.  Please observe this seating arrangement when you choose your place at the beginning of the meetings on September 19 and October 3.  Please note as well that bass viola da gamba and sopranino recorder will be needed at all three meetings, contrabass recorders on September 19 and October 3, great bass recorders on September 12 and October 3 and dulcien and krummhorns, on September 12 and September 19.


September 12

Dufay:  Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys

Bloomer Duessen:  Impressions Around G

Praetorius:  Psalite, unigenito


September 19

Stradella:  Sonata

Albinoni:  Adagio Op. 9, No. 8

Praetorius:  Psalite, unigenito

Schmelzer:  Sonata ą 7


October 3

Dufay: Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys

Bloomer Duessen:  Impressions Around G

Stradella:  Sonata


I look forward to working with you again in September and encourage you to let any of your friends who play early instruments know about the orchestra's activities this season and invite them to attend our upcoming meetings, workshops and concerts.

Sincerely,   Fred Palmer



A Message from our Treasurer


Hi Everyone -


This is a short message to let you know how MPRO did last year.  We had a very good year financially mainly due to donations, including Irene Beardsley's gratis performance at the Spring Concert, and to unexpected student memberships and cost controls, including selecting a local workshop director (Glen Shannon).  Last year was the first in several that MPRO was in the black; in fact, we were able to put $400 back into our Reserve. Thank you to everyone for making this possible.


Although last year was great, we are again facing usual and new budget issues that will be challenging.  West Valley Music will no longer be placing an ad in our Up Beat Newsletter, and therefore, we will no longer receive the advertising revenue, an unfortunate sign of the times.  So, I would like to encourage any and all donations that will help to balance our budget for the coming year.


In order to make processing more timely and accurate, I would like to request that all membership dues be paid as early as possible and ideally by check payable to MPRO, not by cash.  Also, if you are generous enough make a donation, I would request that it be made by check payable to SFEMS.  Because MPRO is an affiliate, all donations are first routed through SFEMS before we receive anything back.  If a donation is made in cash or as a check to MPRO, it has to be deposited first in our account which complicates the process.  Thank you in advance.


Well, enough.  Welcome to MPRO's 50th season!


Leslie Pont, Treasurer


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Save the Date—Workshop with Flanders Recorder Quartet on Saturday, December 1.


Make plans now to attend a special workshop with The Flanders Recorder Quartet on Saturday, December 1, at Westminster Presbyterian Church in San Jose. Instead of the large-group playing sessions many workshops offer, each of the Flanders members (Bart Spanhove, Tom Beets, Joris van Goethem, and Paul van Loey) will offer a series of special topics classes for groups of 4-10 players, some for intermediate level players and some higher. Don’t miss this opportunity to work “up close and personal” with these fabulous players who are also fantastic teachers. Their ability to convey their pedagogical ideas in an inspiring manner has for many years made them popular and much sought-after teachers at workshops like Amherst Early Music Festival and the Texas Toot. South Bay player Pat Marion was so jazzed by her classes with the FRQ members at this summer’s Texas Toot that when she discovered they would be in San Jose for a concert on December 2,  she took preliminary steps to make this workshop opportunity available to Bay Area recorder players even though she herself will be out of the country during the workshop! Pat was quickly joined by Kraig Williams and EBRS’ Kathy Cochran and Britt Ascher, with additional support from MPRO and South Bay Recorder Society. Watch for further details regarding class topics and registration in future newsletters.


NOTE:  Our MPRO concert is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 8th.

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Participate in the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra!

For non-members: You are invited to be our guest at the next meeting of the Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra Bring your instruments or just come and listen.

The Mid-Peninsula Recorder Orchestra 2012-2013 season rehearsals begin on Wednesday, September 12 from 7:30 to 9:30 P.M. at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, Room 060; 480 East Meadow Dr., Palo Alto. The orchestra is open without audition to recorder, early wind or early string players who are able to read and play the music provided at meetings.

2012-2013 meetings will be held on the following dates:

Concerts are scheduled for December 8 and June.

For further information please contact: Music Director Frederic Palmer (650) 591-3648, or visit our web site at

MPRO is an affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society.

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Come celebrate the start of our 2012-2013 season!


Potluck Dinner,  Sunday, September 16 at Stevie White's home.

10629 Merriman Road,  Cupertino, CA 95014


Attitude Adjustment Hour -5:00,  Dinner - 6:00.  Bring a salad or entree to share!


Join us for 'Merriment on Merriman!'


Questions?  Call Claire Heinzelman    (650) 854-4526



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Receiving UpBeat by E-Mail?


Please tell our Membership Chairman,  Chris Flake, that you don’t need the paper copy of UpBeat any more.


The Board: President: Amy Booth;  Treasurer: Leslie Pont;  Membership: Chris Flake;  Publicity: Mary Jeanne Fenn; & Marguerite Dilley;

Newsletter Editor:  Dick Davies;  Music Sales: Laura Gonsalves;  Graphics: Mary Ashley;  Webmaster:  Dan Chernikoff; 

Workshop Coordinator: TBD;  Consort Coordinator: TBD;  Hospitality: Stevie White & Claire Heinzelman;   Historian:  TBD; 

Music Director: Fred Palmer.       MPRO  website: < >







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