Daniël Brüggen’s ‘Ricercata’

Many recorder players will recognize Daniël Brüggen’s name either as a member of the celebrated but now-defunct Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet, a teacher at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, and/or as the nephew of Frans Brüggen. What’s perhaps not so generally well known is that in recent years he’s expanded his artistic horizons to include filmmaking, producing various documentaries as well as shorter classical music videos for the Royal Wind Music, Zefiro, l’Armonia Sonora and various others.

One of his recent works is Ricercata, a quite beautiful documentary on the recorder which is available on DVD (2011, MusicFrame Films). Like the Renaissance musical form for which it’s named, Ricercata explores a particular musical motif from various angles, lightly but attentively touching upon the recorder’s character, history, music, symbolism, construction, reputation and its role in education through visits with people, players, makers and others. If you’re a recorder enthusiast, or you’re looking for a gift for someone else who is, this could be just the thing (link provided below).


The film opens with Daniël Brüggen’s visit to recorder maker Bob Marvin in rural Québec, and then to the Yamaha factory in Japan which turns out 80,000 plastic recorders a year – a thought-provoking juxtaposition between a most individualistic, independent and celebrated maker and a finely-honed producer for the collective, both of the highest standard and greatest devotion to their task. Then on to Seoul and a rehearsal by an exemplary recorder ensemble from South Korea’s highly successful school music programs; then to the Dordrecht Museum, where we meet the oldest extant recorder known to us (dating from the late 14th/early 15th century); and then to Barcelona where some of the recorder’s symbolism in Renaissance painting is explored with art historian Romá Escalas. Brüggen then spends some time ‘talking recorder’ with his uncle Frans at the latter’s holiday home in Tuscany, a conversation which until the filming had never taken place, even despite a familial and instrumental connection.  Daniël closes the film by playing an Ortiz recercada on a glorious-sounding 16th-century ivory tenor recorder in Kloster Wienhausen.

The film is a personal exploration of the ‘soul’ of the recorder by the man behind the camera, a man who has spent so much of his life with the instrument. It’s fascinating, touching, and thoughtful. Many insightful observations about the recorder are made here: particularly resonant for me were those from Bob Marvin, Mrs. J.S. Lee of Seoul, and (no surprise here) Onkel Frans. Those of us who feel the recorder is really ‘our’ instrument, for better and for worse, will find community, comfort and inspiration here. The chats with Bob and Frans alone make this film worth a viewing; and the cinematography is striking, whether it’s of Bob’s workshop in the woods and his attempt to dismantle a beaver’s dam, the neon-lit bustle of Tokyo’s main streets, or a cabbage white butterfly (that ancient symbol of the soul) in Tuscany’s beautiful afternoon light.

I referred to this film in an earlier post about recorder maker Bob Marvin, and included a Vimeo link to an excerpt from Ricercata. Here it is again, to pique your interest: http://vimeo.com/vicenteparrilla/bob-marvin-interview

Ricercata is 37′ long, is in Dutch (and some English) with English/German/Spanish/Korean/Japanese subtitles, and is playable on North American players. Should you be interested in getting a copy for yourself, go to http://www.orpheusmusic.com.au/lizard-postcards/6934-ricercata.html. If you can’t get one for yourself, ask your local public or university library to order it!

Daniel Brüggen

Daniel Brüggen

And if you want to see Daniël Brüggen do another visit with a few tenor recorders, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y704rV2yf9U

Snowflakes, Recorders, and Country Style

While surfing the World-Wide Web of Quasi-Information a few days ago I happened upon an excerpt from Ricercata, a documentary made by Daniel Brüggen, formerly of Loeki Stardust Recorder Quartet fame and now a professor at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Daniel has also been making musical documentaries over the past few years and, judging from the clip I saw, does so in a thoroughly engaging way. Ricercata seems to be a unique tribute to the recorder by someone who knows the territory like the back of his hand, and I look forward to the arrival of the copy I just ordered.

The excerpt I saw featured an interview with Bob Marvin, that celebrated and long-standing maker of medieval, Renaissance and transitional recorders who was born in the USA but has lived and worked in rural Québec for decades now. I met Bob years ago, though I can’t exactly remember what on earth brought him from his secluded and rustic home to visit Toronto. Perhaps it was a workshop presented by the Toronto Early Music Centre, but I’m not sure.

Renaissance consort

It was winter when Bob visited Toronto that particular time. Walking beside him along the street one day, I remember watching snowflakes settle and slowly melt on a couple of his tenor recorders, which were sticking out of their undersized bag into the frigid air. When I expressed some concern about the negative effect this might have on the instruments, Bob pointed out that they had originally been trees, after all, and as such were probably used to all kinds of weather. Fair enough.

I also have a vivid memory of a meal shared with Bob and my partner Colin at Country Style, Toronto’s legendary Hungarian restaurant on Bloor Street West. We watched in astonishment as Bob finished off an entire Transylvanian Platter, a once-around-the-kitchen offering with enough food to feed a small bear. The restaurant had a special deal, too: if you could consume an entire Transylvanian Platter by yourself, you didn’t have to pay for it, so when we left the restaurant the only item on Bob’s bill was his tea. To this day, I’ve got no idea where he put it all. Maybe he was a camel in a former life, returned as a human with the ability to go for days without sustenance after an occasional refuelling. Honestly, that explanation is as plausible to me as any other. It was remarkable.

But there were many more remarkable things about Bob, including his fascination with 15th- and 16th-century music and his mastery of recorder making.  He loved early and mid-Renaissance music and was game to play it for hours, always from the original notation; and he would regale listeners with information from 15th-century writings of all kinds, not just musical ones.  As for the instruments he builds, they are faithful copies, magnificently made, and all imbued with the distinctive and thoughtful character of their maker. Thank you, Bob.

In Ricercata you can see and hear Bob Marvin at work. Check it out: