A voice for the recorder:

Singing, declaiming and speaking as instrumental practice
Nuno Atalaia

In the opening lines of his La Fontegara—the first instrumental treatise of its kind—Silvestro Ganassi takes care to remind the reader of the superiority of the human voice and of the duty of any instrumentalist to mirror it. Humble as it may appear, Ganassi’s choice of the voice as a guiding metaphor for his treatise is a cunning strategy of elevating the status of instrumental performance as a whole.

By fashioning itself after the human voice, the recorder player achieves completely new possibilities of expression and practice. By mirroring the singing voice, the recorder achieves a larger spectrum of musical colours and nuances. Through the art of declamation the recorder player can now transmit new messages and images through his playing. Finally, with speaking, the recorder player demonstrates the rational and rhetorical powers of his instrument, borrowing from previous traditions of music theory, ascending in status and social esteem to a more noble position.

This presentation provides a close reading of Ganassi’s text and demonstrates the ways in which his treatise creates a new identity for the recorder and its new-found voice. I will argue that, as more than just an effective metaphor, Ganassi’s defense of a recorder’s voice is vital in creating a new space for the instrument to develop new performance horizons. Finally, through the process of reflecting on and researching his own practice, Ganassi is able to give his instrument a new discursive identity, allowing instrumentalists to speak for themselves.