Recorder Mythbusters: Stanesby Jr. Copies and Grenadilla Instruments, Part 1

In my last post “Historical Pitch: The Low Down”, I revealed that I had purchased a grenadilla Von Huene Stanesby Jr. copy back in January after a second instrument and 415 copy became necessary for me. Since I have been so long away from blogging due to personal commitments and could hence not update my readers earlier on my new “baby”, I thought I might do so now, especially since I mentioned it in the previous post. As I had briefly mentioned in this post, learning the mail-biting Bach BWV 1034 sonata and then being unable to practice it on my Aulos plastic when my faithful Mollenhauer was at Von Huene Workshop for annual maintenance expedited the need for a second fine instrument. Furthermore, the counsel of my European correspondents and my own personal observation communicated to me that, with my level and personal goals on the instrument, I would more importantly need a fine, handmade instrument pitched at A=415 and designed for advanced/professional playing. So, armed with this knowledge and strongly determined to monetarily accomplish this goal, I set out on a quest to save up and purchase such an instrument.

Like in the case with my violin (please see my post “Old Faithful: Touched by the Master’s Hand” for background information on that story), I had preconceived notions about what my “dream recorder” would be. As early as my earliest days of recorder and establishing contact with Patrick von Huene and his staff at Von Huene Workshop, I had done extensive research — both internet and in-person — about recorders, including different types, copies, and makers. Somewhere along the line, I had picked up the notion that although most recorder makers use exotic hardwoods like grenadilla and rosewood, such instruments are historically anachronistic, since European boxwood was the most-used wood of the time. Indeed, importing such woods from Africa and South America would have been a rarity, since the 18th-century world was still quite unfamiliar with these territories and since slow importation via ship would have not been economical on a regular basis. In fact, I had read somewhere that rosewood and grenadilla instruments were a modern invention and that the “historically accurate” boxwood produce a sweeter, rounder sound as opposed to the “hard” sound of a grenadilla instrument.

Though I indeed preferred and still prefer brighter, more projective violins, I was perfectly mesmerized with the mellow tone of my Castello boxwood Mollenhauer, and upon inquiring to Patrick about the similarities in sound, I learned from him that the sound of European boxwood was similar to that of Castello boxwood, yet more refined. Like my family strategy of sticking to a certain restaurant in foreign territory to “play it safe” with regards to food satisfaction rather than risking money and appetite on an unknown restaurant, I decided that if I liked the sound I had with the Mollenhauer, I should “play it safe” and stick to boxwood. Furthermore, since my foremost interests in recorder revolve around playing with delicate continuo instruments like harpsichord and in period instrument ensembles with gut-stringed instruments, I was concerned as to whether a grenadilla instrument would drown out a harpsichord or period instruments, due to their “loud and piercing” sound as described by many and since I had heard that they are prime choice for playing with modern instruments. Also, considering my petite hands, I was concerned as to whether a grenadilla instrument would prove too heavy and hamper virtuosity, as many had told me. Last by not least, I had often read that grenadilla instruments clog easier due to wood density and resulting lack of warmth absorption, and having had extensive, flustering clogging trouble with my Mollenhauer since its initial purchase, I — who has often been deemed a “wet” player with hot breath temperature — desired no more hassle.

Additionally, I picked up the notion that Denner copies are “the” recorder copies suited for virtuoso repertoire like Telemann, whereas Stanesby Jr. copies are instruments for chamber/ensemble music and less demanding sonatas like Handel. I have no idea how, but something in the back of my mind tells me that some readings along the line had convinced me so. Because my primary passion on recorder revolves around solo work and intricate, virtuosic repertoire, I deduced that a Denner was absolutely necessary for me and that a Stanesby was totally out-of-the-question. I had read so much historical information in my readings about how Denner’s instruments are pinnacle in their ability to speak easily in the higher notes, and how many believe that Telemann must have owned a Denner recorder, since his works were the first to utilize the top fourth of the recorder. By how my Mollenhauer — a faithful “scaled down Denner” according to Patrick — played, I saw this to be true. Again, like the previously-mentioned family strategy of sticking to a certain restaurant in foreign territory to “play it safe” with regards to food satisfaction rather than risking money and appetite on an unknown restaurant, I decided that if I liked a Denner copy, I should stick with Denner copies. Having these three preconceived notions ingrained in my mind after three years, I all along resolved myself that my 415 instrument would be a Von Huene Denner in European boxwood, no deviation and exceptions.

For about two months prior to my graduation from college, I diligently saved up for my goal, carefully planning what I should save and when I should purchase. Additionally, I kept in mind a statement that I had been told in my early days of talking to various recorder makers and research: Do not rule out used instruments; if they are in good condition, there is nothing wrong with them. However, since I had been told that Von Huene instruments rarely come up on consignment since their instruments are so prized by their owners, I did not expect to ever see one on Von Huene’s used instrument list. Although I was therefore resigned to purchasing a totally new instrument, I never quite gave up hope, always checking Von Huene’s used list whenever it was updated online and in print. Two days after Christmas when I was praying about how I need another instrument immediately, something inside me suddenly urged me to go check Von Huene’s fan page on Facebook. Right there was listed a used Denner in European boxwood — the exact instrument my “dream instrument” was. I literally jumped for joy and thanked God aloud; here was the answer to my prayers!

Still, just before I picked up the phone to inquire about the instrument, something told me to consider other options on the list in case the used Denner had issues. Recalling that these are used instruments, I remembered that their conditions may vary upon how they are treated by their owners. Furthermore, the little something inside me kept reminding me not to trust preconceived notions and to consider, try other options besides the desired option for a balanced perspective. Hence, upon returning to the computer and once again browsing the used list, I stumbled across a listed Von Huene Stanesby in grenadilla, sporting a “gorgeous tone” comment next to its listed entry. Although this “gorgeous tone” comment pulled at me like a magnet, I balked within myself due to my preconceived notions mentioned above. No, I did not want a grenadilla instrument or Stanesby copy, and that was final. Yet again the thoughts of the Denner having issues and me having a balanced perspective crossed my mind; I reasoned that I would have Patrick inspect both and then decide what to do based upon his conclusions.

To be continued …

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