A Large Case of Renaissance Recorders

A large recorder case for a set of 17 renaissance recorders

Some years ago, I thought I would make a special project to mark the 40th anniversary of making my first recorder in 1979. I’d long been fascinated by the original cases of renaissance woodwinds and decided to make an exceptional set of recorders and a case in the style of the old ones. Original recorder cases are basically a bundle of stopped wooded tubes, covered by leather into which the recorders fit snugly. The largest of the surviving cases is in the Maximilian museum in Augsburg; a case which was made not only to fit 16 recorders, but also to contain 6 traverse flutes and 6 mute cornetti… The case was made for the town band, and has the crest of the town of Augsburg with the date 1603 painted on its side. It was probably made in London by members the Bassano family, who from archival documents, we know made similar sets and had connections with the Fugger banking dynasty of Augsburg. Sadly all the original instruments have been lost and only the case survives. Happily we can estimate the sizes and quantities of the instruments that were once held in the case. In 2005, I contributed to an article concerning the original case, which can be downloaded here.

Augsburg Maximilian Museum: inventory number 3029.

I decided on a similar combination of recorders for my set, namely a bass in Bb, 4 bassets in f, 4 tenors in c’, 4 altos in g’, 3 sopranos in d” and a single soprano in a”. All of the recorders apart from the 2 smallest sizes were copied from original instruments made by the Bassano family. There are no surviving recorders of the smallest sizes, so these were based on the alto size and scaled to suit. I made the recorders from plum wood, a wood I have never used for a whole set before, and this necessitated finding somebody who could supply me with the large pieces of this wood needed for the bass and basset sizes. Luckily, Bogdan Tesla, of Tesla Tonewood in Serbia found this for me – it is very difficult to find full-sized plum trees these days, as most plums are now grown on bushes, rather than trees.

The large set of recorders made from plum wood

The instruments were made in my usual fashion and I had the keys, rings and crook gold plated so that they would remain bright and shiny for the foreseeable future.

Gold plating will keep the metalwork pristine.

I made the case, like the original, from lime wood, which is a soft and relatively light hardwood that turns and drills beautifully. I found the necessary 14cm thick planks at a local wood dealer in the east of The Netherlands and set about making some special drills to make the huge bores of the tubes. The turned tubes were then glued together and covered with calf leather. I had to learn to skive the leather with razor sharp knives to achieve near invisible joints between the pieces. Finally the hinge, clasp and other metalwork to close the case was made and gold plated.

The case with the lid open and the recorders ready for action…

Quite early on, I had to decide on the best way to store the crook for the bass size. Although the lid is missing from the original case, I assume the crook was kept there, possibly in a closed compartment. With my case, no matter how I arranged the tubes, there was not enough of a cross sectional area to be able to make it fit in the lid. The only option was to make a small box to contain the crook, in the middle of the tube cluster.

The method of storing the crook for the bass

Between the planning, the making and the finishing, the entire project took around 4 years of my spare time. The result is a unique project for me and I doubt I will ever make another like it. I have made a series of photographs showing its construction here:

A clasp with an eyelet holds the case closed using a leather lace.

One thing the experience has taught me is that these cases were never intended to be a practical method of transporting the recorders. The case with all the recorders inside is heavy and very cumbersome, making it difficult to carry or move around. I think cases like this were intended simply to house and show off the instruments when not is use, either in the hall, or church they were used in. The whole case would have been packed in a straw-lined wooden box for any serious transport.

For the moment I am happy to keep the case and recorders for myself, but I will probably sell them at some point in the future, so any interested persons should contact me for further information and a guide price.

I decided to add the crest of the town of Bredevoort, where I made most of the the instruments and their case.

I would like to thank the following people and companies who helped me with this project:

Dr. Christina von Berlin from the Maximilianmuseum, Augsburg (D) for allowing me access to the original case;
Bogdan Tesla (RS) for finding the plum wood I made the instruments from;
Drenthe Fijnhout (NL) for the large section lime wood used in the case;
Sebastian Borsch (D) for help with the keywork and rings;
Russell Fine Leathers (UK) for the calfskin leather;
Elbel Libro Bookbinding (NL) for help splitting the leather;
Chris Ghent of NSW, Australia for his invaluable advice on skiving leather;
Haveman Edelmetaal (NL) for the gold plating;
And finally Foto-Video Garretsen (NL) for the photos.

November 2022