A selection of Dolmetsch recorders made in the 1930s (photo: Andrew Pinnock)

Today, most people who think of Dolmetsch recorders have the firm’s “modernized” type of instrument in mind. For a quarter century, 1945-1970 say, these were used by most of the world’s leading players. They were louder, better tuned and more reliable than any others on the market – perfect tools for jobs that needed doing before the historically-informed performance movement took off. Frans Brüggen’s well-publicized switch from the modernized recorder to eighteenth-century originals and copies of them, c.1970, dented the Dolmetsch image and created space for a new generation of makers going back to baroque themselves.

In fact, the majority of Dolmetsch recorders produced before the Second World War were tightly-voiced baroque-style instruments, often with undercut finger holes and arched windways. They were made only at A415 to start with. Customers could order them at A415 or at A440 from about 1930. At either pitch they preserved the playing “feel” of actual baroque recorders remarkably well. Brüggen and the now-famous baroque-revival makers whose instruments he championed so effectively were either unaware of this, or preferred not to admit that Dolmetsch had beaten them to it by 50 years.

Our Dolmetsch 1930s Legacy Project aims to showcase some of the best surviving instruments from that forgotten golden era, allowing listeners today to hear for themselves how well they behave. We are making a series of short videos featuring Dolmetsches exclusively, where possible recorded in venues that date from the same 1930s decade.

Research informing the project, much of it undertaken by Andrew Pinnock of the University of Southampton with whom we are collaborating, is accessible free of charge (no paywall) via the website of The Galpin Society Journal: GSJ-76a Pinnock.pdf (galpinsociety.org) For more on the Dolmetsch story, see the Dolmetsch Online website. 

Episode 1 showcases trebles #647 and #648. They were part of a set of low pitch instruments (sopranino to bass) made in or around 1932–3, and probably shipped to Germany soon after as a demonstration set (see picture). They do not seem to have been much played and all except the tenor are in excellent condition. The chosen repertoire is Johann Mattheson’s Sonata XI à Due Flauti (XII Sonates à Deux & Trois Flûtes Sans Basse, Ouvrage 1, Amsterdam 1708). The recording location is the entrance hall to the Broederschool in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium (Art Deco, 1932).

Click here for detailed photos of the instruments used.

Episode 2 is due out in December 2023