Writing for Renaissance Recorders

Renaissance recorders

This is a page dedicated to composers writing new music for renaissance recorders including helpful examples and hints.

All instruments have a standard range of an octave and a sixth. Eg: soprano in c = c” – a”’
On bass instruments the second note from the bottom note on the instrument isn’t possible. Eg: Bass in F; bottom f is possible, f# a semitone above does not exist. Bass in C; bottom c is possible, c# a semitone above does not exist.

Instrument combinations:
The standard high-consort is made up of: F Basset, 2 x C Tenors and an G Alto. In traditional western renaissance music, if there’s five or more players usually the C Tenor parts are tripled, or the G Alto parts are doubled, or a top voice of D Soprano is added.

The standard low-consort is made up of: F Bass, 2 x C Basses and a G Basset. If there’s five or more players usually the C Basses parts are tripled, or the G Basset parts are doubled, or a D Tenor is added on top.

The standard mid-consort is made of: Bb Bass, 2 x F Bassets and a C Tenor. If there’s five or more players usually the F Bassets parts are tripled, or the C Tenor parts are doubled, or a G Alto is added on top.

These standard recorder sizes were traditionally built a fifth apart. Most likely they were originally built this way to match human voice ranges; bass, tenor/alto and soprano, all commonly used in consort singing at the time. The combination of F, C & G recorders creates a resonant sound when played together. This is due to the similar fingerings that are required on each instrument to play the common tonalities of the time. Of course different combinations of instruments can be used and composers can achieve different sound colours by mixing and matching instrument sizes. A recorder ensemble may possess a full low and high consort containing a few different sizes; F bass, Bb bass, C bass, F basset, G basset, C tenor, D tenor, F Alto, G Alto, A alto, C soprano, D soprano.

My ensemble & composer commissions:
My ensemble based in Melbourne has access to these sizes of instruments; F bass, C bass, F basset x 3, G basset, C tenor x 3, F Alto x 2, G Alto x 3 & C soprano x 2. Our mission is to commission Australian musicians/composers to write for renaissance recorder ensemble with a particular focus on female musicians/composers to help diversify the male dominated repertoire in existence for these renaissance instruments. The style of these pieces should reflect the rich chordal and polyphonic textures that are possible with renaissance recorders. The musical content of each work should be approachable & tonal (and be possibly inspired by the renaissance musical style that the instruments fit so comfortably in), whilst still striving to share a contemporary musical language formed from each artist’s unique compositional voice.

Sound colours:
Strong resonant notes in standard fingerings:
G Alto/G Basset: g, a, b, c, d, e, f, f#, g, g#, a, a#, b, c, d (no bottom g# on basset)
G Alto:G basset renaissance ranges



Tenor in C/Bass in C: c, d, e, f, g, a, Bb, b, c, c#, d, d#, e, f, g (no bottom c# on bass & sometimes tenor)
C tenor:C bass renaissance ranges



Basset in F/Bass in F: f, g, a, Bb, c, d, Eb, e, f, f#, g, g#, a, Bb, c (no bottom f# on basset & bass)
F basset:F bass renaissance ranges




Weak notes in standard fingerings:
Alto in G/Basset in G: g#, a#, c#, d#, c#, d#, e
G Alto:G basset weak renaissance ranges




Tenor is C/Bass in C: c#, d#, f#, g#, f#, g#, a
C tenor:C bass weak renaissance ranges




Basset in F/Bass in F: g#, b, c#, b, c#, d
F basset:F bass weak renaissance ranges




Chord examples:
eg: C major

eg: C# major

If chords are used that are further away from the haxachords traditionally used in the solmisation system (based on F, C & G) the sounds will be less stable on the instruments. Translating this information into the contemporary circle of fifths for example, C major will sound fuller and more resonant on the instruments than C# major.


New work examples:
Felt (2018) – for renaissance recorder quartet (high consort; F basset, C tenor x 2, G alto) by Ryan Williams