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Kaarli Kooli 5th graders playing the soprano plokk/flööt (recorder) at the school's advendi/kontsert at Kaarli kirik, Tallinn's only twintowered church, standing just beyond the Old Town and named after King Karl XI of Sweden. From the left are Emma, Lotta, Marii, Susi, Hanna-Loore (back row, grade 6), Mirtel, Karolina (6. klass) and Juhan. The plokkflööt is in fact far from new, it's the original Western flööt, at least in its solid wooden form; today many recorders are made from molded resin. The light-colored pillid (instruments) featured here are made of resin, not elevandi/luu (ivory), as desired by royalty and aristocrats during the renessanss period. Photo: Riina Kindlam


Surprise-surprise! In German, the puu/puhk/pill (woodwind instrument) seen being played here is called eine Block/flöte, hence the Estonian plokkflööt, Swedish blockflöjt and Dutch blokfluit.


And the koraali/viis, chorale or Lutheran hymn tune the students are performing, "Kui armsast jõulupuu nüüd hiilgab" (How sweetly the Christmas tree shines), also hails from Germany, originally "Am Weihnachtsbaum die Lichter brennen".


The block in the plokkflööt is the solid piece of wood beneath the recorder's mouthpiece, which is often made of kadakas (juniper) or red cedar, chosen because of its rot resistance, ability to absorb water, and low expansion when wet. Historically, recorders were also made of a single BLOCK of hardwood. Its whistle mouthpiece, or beck (beak, noka/taoline huulik) gives its name to the instrument in French (flûte à bec) and Finnish (NOKKAhuilu), among others. And yet a third family of monikers, such as the Italian flauto dolce, derives from its sweetness or gentleness of sound. 


But recorder?! The earliest known document mentioning "a pipe called Recordour" dates from 1388. "The instrument name "recorder" derives from the Latin recordārī (to call to mind, remember, recollect), by way of Middle French recorder (before 1349; to remember, to learn by heart, repeat, relate, recite, play music) and its derivative recordeur (c. 1395; one who retells, a minstrel). The association between the various, seemingly disparate, meanings of recorder can be attributed to the role of the medieval jongleur (Estonian žonglöör, minstrel) in learning poems by heart and later reciting them, sometimes with musical accompaniment." (Wikipedia)


The plokk/flööt was the original Western flööt. Until the latter half of the 18th century, the Baroque period in musical history, the name "flute" always meant recorder. To differentiate it, the transverse (sideblown) flute was called, in Italian for instance, flauto toraverso, the horizontal flute – Estonian põikflööt. Until the transverse flute overtook the recorder in popularity once again.


The clear sound, described as pure and lyrical, was well loved in the Renaissance period and was used to perform the lead, accompanied by string instruments with a refined, gentle timbre, such as the lute (Estonian lauto) and viola da gamba, predecessor of the tšello. It was often played in churches and royal palaces, and due to its associations with angels, appears in many works of art. 


One source states the plokkflööt was first used in schools in Japan in 1959. It is now used in music education the world over as many children’s first instrument. Composers who have written for the recorder include Monteverdi, Lully, Purcell, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach, Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten, Leonard Bernstein, Luciano Berio, and Arvo Pärt. 


Riina Kindlam


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