Books About the Recorder

Malcolm Tattersall, April 2006

  • 2021: Article republished from its previous location; links checked and updated; additions or changes, which are all minor, are in square brackets […]
The One-volume References
More information
(1) Rowland-Jones: Recorder Technique
(2) Linde: The Recorder Player’s Handbook


Every serious recorder player needs a book to turn to for information about the instrument, the music, practice routines, performance preparation, technical tips and perhaps inspiration. I surveyed such books fifteen years ago and felt that another look was overdue.

This update may also be regarded as an extension of the short list of reference books from the end of ‘Making the Most of Recorders in Schools‘ on this site.

Much of the content of this page is quite old, for reasons which will become apparent, but I have checked and revised it all for this new [2006] survey. [I haven’t done any systematic new research while moving the survey to its new home (2021) but nor have I heard of any books that needs to be added to it.]

The one-volume references

The ideal complete reference should cover history of the instrument, repertoire, technique (fingering, breathing, high notes, etc), ornamentation, choosing an instrument, maintenance and perhaps some related subjects (e.g. historical music and dance; performance preparation). It should also be able to direct the reader to more specialised studies and perhaps to other resources. The following books all do so, in more or less detail. In order of first publication:

Anthony Rowland-Jones: Recorder Technique: Intermediate to Advanced (OUP, 1959; second edition 1986; third edition 2003).

See review below.

Edgar Hunt: The Recorder and its Music. (Herbert Jenkins, 1962, revised and enlarged in 1977).

Covers all areas but the focus is on history and repertoire. Even the 1977 revised edition is by now very dated. A ‘revised, enlarged and corrected’ edition has recently (2002) been published by Peacock Press, Hebden Bridge. I have not seen it but my information is that it is little changed from the 1977 edition.

Hans-Martin Linde: The Recorder Player’s Handbook (first German edition 1962, English translation 1974; second German edition 1984, English translation 1991).

See review below.

Kenneth Wollitz: The Recorder Book (1982). Knopf, New York; Gollancz, London.

Distinguished from all the others by its informal, commonsense approach: it is unthreatening and very readable. Its target audience is perhaps a little less accomplished than that of Linde – adult beginners through to intermediate students of all ages, rather than intermediate to advanced students – but it is not childish or over-simplified.
Its biggest problem is, again, that so much has changed in the quarter of a century since it was written. An old internet rumour of a second edition seems, sadly, to be baseless but Peacock Press, UK, republished Wollitz’s book early in 2007. Peacock refer to it as a ‘new edition’ and one retailer says it has been ‘updated’ but I have yet to see it and find out how extensive the revision has been.

John Thomson & A. Rowland-Jones, eds: The Cambridge Companion to the Recorder (1995). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

This is the newest of the general books, in conception at least (current editions of others may be more recent but they build on foundations decades older) and it differs from the others in two important respects. Firstly, it is an anthology, with each chapter written by a different specialist; and secondly, it has almost nothing to say about technique. The emphasis is firmly on history (right back to mediaeval times) and repertoire.

I have looked without success for comparable, more recent books.


When I looked at the field in 1992, the main alternatives were Rowland-Jones’ Recorder Technique (second edition, 1986), Hunt’s The Recorder and Its Music (second edition, 1977), Linde’s Recorder Player’s Handbook (second edition, 1991) and Wollitz’s The Recorder Book (1982). As we have seen, they all cover a similar range of subjects and have individual virtues and limitations. I thought then that Wollitz was the best balanced of the four.

Looking at it again in 2006, the position has changed very little. The surprise, really, is that there are no completely new additions to the list unless you include the Cambridge Companion. I’m reluctant to do that because it fails to deal with technique, surely the most important subject area for an instrument-specific book.

Of the titles available in 1992, Hunt’s The Recorder and its Music is now far too dated to recommend; the later editions (1986, 2003) of Rowland-Jones Technique are more specialised than the first and therefore less suited to the role of one-volume reference; and Linde’s neglect of twentieth century music has become even more significant than it was at the time. All are – inevitably, unsurprisingly, but still disappointingly – dated.

What does ‘dated’ mean in this context, though? Any or all of these drawbacks:

  • Repertoire lists contain much that is no longer in print but will not contain old music that has recently been rediscovered or any really new music.
  • Reference lists will contain books which have been superseded by the advance of scholarship as well as those that have simply gone out of print, but will not contain results of recent scholarly work.
  • All addresses, of publishers, recorder societies, etc, are likely to be out of date. Anything to do with the internet will just not be there.
  • An expected standard of playing at each level (beginner, intermediate, amateur, professional) and an expected standard of recorder manufacture significantly below what we see today, with a consequent over-tolerant attitude to faults and inconsistencies.

And how dated are they? Think of our knowledge base growing exponentially from the rediscovery of the recorder around a century ago: if it has doubled every twenty five years, it is now two to four times as large as it was when these books were conceived (and revisions can only do so much). My feeling is that the growth of our knowledge has been considerably faster than that, however, perhaps doubling every fifteen years, so our knowledge base may be six to eight times as large.

Remember, too, that knowledge is not just historical and theoretical: we now take for granted a benchmark level of technique that would have astounded Edgar Hunt back in the 1950s, pre-Bruggen, pre-Linde.

And the winner is …

If you only want to buy one book, Wollitz (the new Peacock edition, or second-hand copies of the first via the internet) or Linde are the best choices. Rowland-Jones’ Technique is a third option but is really too specialised to be your only reference.

If you don’t mind buying two books, the Cambridge Companion (history and repertoire) complements Rowland-Jones’ Technique very well. Alternatively, Eve O’Kelly’s The Recorder Today (1990) (modern repertoire and extended techniques) complements Linde’s Handbook (history of the instrument, historical repertoire and conventional technique) equally well.

More information

Australian readers will find many more useful books listed in the recorder section of the AMEB Manual of Syllabuses [but (even by 2017, the latest Manual I have to hand) no new books comparable to those surveyed here].

A much longer list, perhaps a bit overwhelming to the average player, is on Nicholas Lander’s Recorder Home Page, which is itself a major online resource for recorder players.

The biggest list of all is The Recorder: A Research and Information Guide by Richard Griscom and David Lasocki (Routledge, 2002, 725 pp).

My review (here) of Rowland-Jones’ Playing Recorder Sonatas may also be of interest in this context.

Postscript (from the Recorder Home Page): Edgar Hunt, the pioneering English recorder player, teacher, editor and writer, passed away on 16 March 2006 at the age of 96.

The Reviews

Anthony Rowland-Jones: Recorder Technique

(Reviewed for The Recorder 17, 1993; review revised for this webpage)

The second edition of Anthony Rowland-Jones’ Recorder Technique (OUP, 1986) is less general in scope than the first. Its focus is as advertised in its title: breathing, alternative fingerings, intonation, articulation, dynamics and ornamentation are all dealt with at length.

In a note in the bibliography the author says he has chosen not to duplicate areas dealt with by Hunt in 1962 on the assumption that his readers will be familiar with Hunt’s book. Material on the instrument’s history or repertoire in the first edition has therefore been reduced. The extensive repertoire list which appeared in the first edition has been replaced with a shorter, though perhaps more useful, annotated list. The bibliography, however, is new and good.

Recorder Technique won’t answer every question the amateur is likely to ask – it needs to be complemented – but still provides a reasonable general coverage in addition to its thorough treatment of technique.

There is now a third edition, again ‘considerably revised’, published by Ruxbury Publications, Hebden Bridge, in 2003. I have yet to see a copy but would expect it to be at least as good as the second. That makes a forty-five year span between the first edition and the third – quite an achievement!

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Hans-Martin Linde: The Recorder Player’s Handbook

(second edition, Schott, London, 1991)

(I wrote this review for The Recorder 16, 1992, and have reproduced it here unaltered except for comparisons it made with Hunt, Rowland-Jones and Wollitz, which have been incorporated in the discussion above.)

Every musician seriously interested in his or her instrument needs a basic reference book in which to find a sneaky fingering, to check on the right way to ornament music from sixteenth century Bohemia, to locate a performing edition of the ‘Zumpf sonata’ she/he just heard on the radio, or merely to browse through.

This is one of several such books for the recorder. It was originally published in German in 1962 and translated into English in 1974. It was revised and enlarged for the second German edition in 1984, and that second edition is now available in English in a completely new translation by Richard Deveson.

What we have now is a reasonably full introduction to the instrument, its design history and its care; a thirty page discussion of basic technique (breathing, posture, articulation, practice routines) and study materials; and a substantial survey of the repertoire and performance practices (i.e. articulation, ornamentation, tempi and instrumentation) from the early Middle Ages to the High Baroque, supplemented by just seven pages on ‘The Recorder in the Twentieth Century.’ There is also the usual academic apparatus – footnotes, bibliography (of which more anon) and index.

It is a much better book than its predecessor: the text has been revised and expanded by about fifteen per cent to incorporate new material in every section, though mainly on renaissance and baroque performance practice. As a bonus, the new translation is far more readable than the old, the layout is more attractive, and the illustrations are better reproduced.

The first edition was adequate on technique, very good on style and interpretation of early music, but weak on modern music. The second edition is better all round but has basically the same strengths and weaknesses.

The preface tells us that the book ‘originated in a course in recorder method given at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis at the beginning of the 1960s.’ Two quite natural features of such a course presented by a (then) thirtyish lecturer were carried on into the first edition of the book, where they seemed merely a little odd. But now that they have been reproduced, fundamentally unaltered, thirty years later, they have become fairly serious shortcomings.

In the first place, sources, recommended tutors and modern editions are overwhelmingly German. This may be understandable in view of the book’s origins, but it is still a problem. The original bibliography, for instance, attempted ‘completeness as regards the literature written in German’ but included a few English works as well. The new one was obviously revised and expanded for the second German edition but not for the English translation – it contains only one item published after 1981, van Hauwe’s Modern Recorder Player, which must have been considered too important to ignore. Meanwhile, it still includes many obscure and outdated studies in German but omits many important English sources. This may appear to be only a trivial inconvenience, but one of the essential functions of a book of this kind is to direct the student to more detailed studies, so a bibliography weighted towards foreign-language sources and already ten years out of date is a real drawback.

In the second place, Linde’s treatment of twentieth century music is far too brief. It has been rewritten for this edition but scarcely expanded. He gives us just one paragraph, for instance, on the modern Dutch school, and one on modern playing techniques. Thirty years ago, before his Music for a Bird, let alone his Music for Two (and do listen to his CD of that name), before even Gesti, such treatment of the subject may have been reasonable. In 1992 it is, quite frankly, disappointing. The subject has grown enormously and there can be few people better qualified than Linde to write about it.

Linde is arguably the central figure of the second most important modern school of recorder playing, a teacher, composer and performer of international stature, and there is nothing in this book which could be casually dismissed as inaccurate or ill-founded. Where his views on points of technique or interpretation differ from those of the more widely known Dutch school, they deserve careful attention. His Handbook will be an invaluable resource for all serious recorder players.

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Added to site April 2006
updated June 2008 and Feb 2021