Stephan Blezinger

Meisterwerkstätte für Flötenbau

Article Index

2 Ganasso recorder

First we will have a look at the Ganassi recorder, which represents rather an extreme building method. Exactly what is it?        

2.1 Background to the Ganassi Recorder

Source information about these instruments is rather sparse. The name goes back to Sylvestro Ganassi’s  text book “La Fontegara”, published in Venice  in 1535, dealing with the art of the recorder and of diminutions. In this book  he describes sets of fingerings which, if used on different recorders common at  that time, allows them to be played far beyond the then-common one and a half octaves. He claimed this as his most original discovery, but this is uncertain.        

Moreover, those fingerings do not work too well in producing over-blowing to the octave in higher  positions or to the double octaves on many of the instruments of this period. There are almost no recorders at all on which these fingerings work, particularly on more strongly conical-bore instruments (most recorders of the Renaissance had a contracting bore). The fingerings, for the reasons mentioned  above, were not applicable in practice.

There is one original instrument, an old recorder in the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna, whose construction method allowed a  range far beyond two octaves with the Ganassi fingerings. This instrument is  practically no longer playable because of a split. Reconstructions by Fred Morgan and others however indicated that this construction method could  probably represent the “Ganassi recorder” type. Most of today's instruments of  this type go back to these reconstructions. If one were to go by the current proliferation of these instruments, one could easily consider it an instrument  of its own type without a precise historical tradition. Today's performing  practice, with strenuous efforts around historical authenticity, surely differ a great deal from those earlier times.

2,2 Building Characteristics

Now what are the structural characteristics of the Ganassi recorder?        

First, the remarkable practically perfectly cylindrical bore of the instrument, with a strong  funnel-like expansion at the lower end. This is in contrast to the design of nearly all other types of recorder.

diag ga

Bore Profile of a Ganassi Recorder


As well, it features a comparatively large cut-up, which leads to increased sound intensity and a louder instrument.        

The flare at the lower end does not only have an effect on the tone. Above all, it adjusts the  intonation of the instrument within the third register. Thus it leads to the fact that the so typical fingering for the double octave (all fingers closed, only thumb hole and both ring fingers leaking) results in a correct  double-octave.

This fingering is known also from baroque recorders, where it represents the (usually failed) attempt to play a high f# on an old recorder — the note a semitone above the double octave. This fingering is nearly always too sharp. The “Ganassi flare” lowers this note sufficiently that the final result is usually an in-tune double octave with good tone quality and brilliance, which are inconceivable otherwise with other instruments, even from later era, with other fingerings.

2,3 Tonal Result

This building method and the resultant tone quality of these instruments no longer has anything of the  “stopped” quality. The principal characteristically of the tone colour is the open, radiating fundamental. This is true also for the quality in the third register, which is also acoustically usually simply derived due to the simple  over-blown fundamental, often as direct harmonics of the fundamental.        

2,4 Differences from the Consort recorder

The differences from the Consort recorders, the instruments most common at that time, are considerable.  These were drilled undersize for their entire length, then reamed to produce a  contracted bore and with rather narrow cut-up. The sounds of these recorders  are well-known as rather intimate, dark and capable of blending well with one  another.        

2,5 Use in Musical Practice

Their operational characteristics place the Ganassi recorder rather within the soloistic range. It is inclined to dominate and thus has become generally accepted as equal with other wind  instruments.        

Its large tonal range makes it a suitable substitute in the Italian violin literature of the 16th  & 17th centuries as well as generally for the brilliant,  virtuoso diminuition literature. As well, the instrument is frequently used in  contemporary music. Its usefulness is very extensive – one may happily play Van  Eyck on it. That may not be “authentic”. But is this instrument itself at all  “historically correct”?

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