Louis Andriessen dedicated his Ende (1981) for 2 alto recorders (1 player) to Frans Brüggen, a Dutch recorder player and conductor. This version is from 1998 with Brüggen on recorder.
Recorder in 20th-century music
It would seem that 20th-century music, especially those of its strands that were consistently associated with a search for new ideas, did not need to use performance means well-known and popular in the past. But it was precisely 20th century that brought numerous examples of a revival of old instruments in newly written compositions. In addition to the harpsichord – used in their works by e.g. Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Elliott Carter, John Cage or György Ligeti – composers began to take interest in the recorder, which had played a prominent role among wind instruments used in the music of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The early Baroque theorist Michael Praetorius listed no fewer than nine different sizes of the recorder, from the tiny fourteen-centimetre “Gar klein Flöitelin” to the two-metre “Grossbassflote”. The instruments, characterized by a gentle and not very expressive sound, were used mostly in groups. In the mid-18th century they were replaced in professional music by flutes, instruments with a more individualized sound, better suited to solo playing.
It was not until the 20th century that the recorder was rediscovered, both by constructors like Arnold Dolmetsch, who is credited with huge contributions in this context, and musicians as well as composers. Distinguished composers writing for the recorder included Paul Hindemith (Trio, 1932) or Benjamin Britten (Alpine Suite for two soprano and one alto recorder, 1955). In the second half of the 20th century, first in Germany and in Holland, avant-garde works began to be written for the recorder. The first of these were associated with the work of the two greatest recorder virtuosos – Michael Vetter and Frans Brüggen. Vetter discovered thousands of new sound effects that could be generated by the recorder, while Brüggen was the first musician who graduated from a conservatory of music in recorder playing. The two artists had new works written especially for them, works like Rob du Bois’ Muziek for alto recorder (1961), Louis Andriessen’s Sweetfor alto recorder (1964) or Luciano Berio’s Gesti for treble recorder (1966), demonstrating extended instrumental techniques, new kinds of fingering or preparation. Composers writing this kind of music were soon joined by Kazimierz Serocki, who used the recorder in a number of his new compositions exploring new sound colours and new formal concepts (e.g. Impromptu fantasque for recorders, mandolins, guitars, percussion and piano, 1973; Arrangements for 1–4 recorders, 1976). Among Andriessen’s later works, too, we will find e.g. Melodie for alto recorder and piano (1974) and Ende for two alto recorders and one player (1981).
In addition, the growing interest in the recorder in the 20th century led to the emergence of pedagogical works as well as transcriptions of works initially composed for different instruments. Serocki composed, for example, Improvisationen (1959) for a quartet of recorders and arranged his piano Gnomes for a trio of these instruments. Arvo Pärt’s works, too, have their recorder versions, e.g. Arbos (for 7 recorders and 3 triangles ad libitum) or Pari intervallo and Da pacem Domine (for a quartet of these instruments). Even Boulez’s Dialogue de l’ombre double (originally for clarinet and electronics) was arranged, with the composer’s consent, for the recorder by a virtuoso of the instrument, Erik Bosgraaf.
We cannot forget either that the recorder was also used in the 20th century by many popular music artists. It would be hard to image, for example, the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday or Led Zeppelin’s StairwaytoHeaven without the characteristic sound of this instrument.