Poster recorders
Modern recorders are made of resin or wood.
Classical Basics

Is the recorder the best instrument ever?

From an early age, many of us have experienced playing the recorder in all of its majesty during music classes in school. While many enjoy the recorder for its sometimes comical sounds, it still is a serious instrument. Enjoy this list of knockout hits featuring the recorder. You might wonder, “Was the recorder my favorite instrument along?”

Classical legacy

Antonio Vivaldi: Recorder Concerto RV 443

Maurice Steger is the bad boy of the recorder world. With more than 35 solo albums, and guest appearances on many others, he takes the recorder to heights that many previously thought were not possible. His performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto displays his skill and precision.

A popular instrument of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the recorder was first documented during the Middle Ages in Europe. It is a member of the woodwind family. Recorders are largely used in music education now, but famous composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the instrument.

The recorder has a diverse list of noted performers besides Steger. Mid-20th-century virtuosos Hans-Martin Linde and Frans Brüggen helped revive the instrument’s popularity. Contemporary performers Erik Bosgraaf and Dorothee Oberlinger push the instrument into the modern soundscape while also upholding its historical roots.

Enjoy Oberlinger performing a work by J.S. Bach:

J.S. Bach: Sonata in E minor

Here are other examples of the recorder in classical music.

Giovanni Maria Trabaci: Gagliarda Seconda detta La Scabrosetta

Written for keyboard or four instruments, Trabaci’s “Gagliarda Seconda detta La Scabrosetta” is most often orchestrated for a recorder ensemble. Here it is performed by the Royal Wind Music with 13 musicians on Renaissance recorders.

G. Ph. Telemann: Recorder Concerto in C major

Telemann was a self-taught German Baroque composer. He wrote many concertos for the recorder and his Concerto in C major displays how the instrument blends flawlessly with a Baroque chamber orchestra.

Beyond classical

While the recorder is often considered as an “old” instrument, it has made its way into pop culture and modern compositions. Rock groups such as Jefferson Airplane, the Beatles and the Barenaked Ladies have used the recorder in their songs. Here other popular modern uses of the recorder that showcase the versatility of the instrument.

All the Madmen — David Bowie

From The Man Who Sold the World album, “All the Madmen” uses the recorder as a welcomed contrast to the standard rock instrumentation. After an acoustic guitar and vocal intro, a group of recorders enter with a cool countermelody in response to David Bowie’s lyrics. The recorder continues to pop up during the piece’s psychedelic interludes.

Your Move — Yes

Progressive rock band Yes, like many other bands during the same time, wrote tracks of multiple distinct movements. “Your Move” is the first movement to the longer song, “I’ve Seen All Good People.” In that first movement, duel recorders enter in harmony during the third verse at the 1:11 minute mark.

Stairway to Heaven — Led Zeppelin

The bass guitarist of Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones, also played the recorder for tracks featured on the band’s untitled fourth studio album. “Stairway to Heaven” is considered the best track on that record, and the recorder opens the piece with the acoustic guitar in a lovely folkish melody.

The recorder is much more than just a tool to teach early music. It is a long-lived instrument that is impressively nimble and can produce a rich sound. If the recorder is good enough for Led Zeppelin and J.S Bach, its good enough for all of us.

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Classical Basics Episodes


Latest Classical Basics Episodes