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descant recorder

aerophone

B. Reich, Germany(?), early 18th century, inv. 2642-01

This recorder was missing for over thirty years but then turned up again in 2010. The instrument was made in Germany or the Netherlands at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but nothing is known of the first few years of its life. There are many tell-tale signs on the instrument to suggest that it was played a great deal. After an undoubtedly rich musical career, it began a new life as a collector's item. But there is more to the story than that.  

In the second half of the nineteenth century this recorder belonged to César Snoeck (1832 - 1898) from Ronse / Renaix. In his day Snoeck's collection of musical instruments was regarded as one of the finest in Europe, but in 1898 and 1899 its contents were dispersed. However, in 1908 quite a number of them were acquired by the Brussels Instruments Museum thanks to the generous support of the Maecenas Louis Cavens (1850 - 1940). In the catalogue produced by our first curator, Victor-Charles Mahillon (1841 - 1924), the Reich recorder was allocated the inventory number 2642. It was on show in the Royal Conservatory of Music for years before mysteriously disappearing in 1980. 

Exactly what happened, we don't know, but soon afterwards it must have been sold surreptitiously at the flea market on the place du Jeu de balle/Vossenplein. Then one fine morning in September 2010 the recorder miraculously appeared on the website of a famous London auction house. Fortunately, the mim had kept an inventory listing the item along with a good black and white photograph. The object was identified from the description and the photograph, which clearly showed the grain, irregularities and imperfections of the wood as well as wear and tear. The recorder was of course immediately taken out of the sale and the museum's legal department contacted the vendor. Because the instrument derived from a public collection, it was regarded as inalienable and so its ownership non-transferable. In such cases, the object has to be given back free of charge, even if the vendor is clearly bona fide. And that is what happened: several weeks later the Brussels branch of the auction house returned the instrument to the mim.   

This story shows once again the importance of respecting conservation norms and taking security measures, as the mim and every self-respecting museum do. It also shows the importance of keeping a good inventory of the objects which make up the patrimony it manages. The art and collectors' world has never been crime-free, which means that numerous items are still a long way from home. For confirmation of this, you only need take a look at the INTERPOL page 'Stolen Works of Art' (http://www.interpol.int/Crime-areas/Works-of-art/Works-of-art) or at our own page of missing items (http://www.mim.be/nl/ontbrekende-of-gestolen-instrumenten).

Our adventurous recorder consists of just two parts: the head, and the body and foot. There are seven holes on the front and one thumbhole on the back. The two holes in the foot were drilled at the same height, which means the instrument can be played with the right hand in two different positions - high or low. Fingering was not standardized at the time. The unused hole - in this case the left - was filled up with wax. Fortunately the recorder was well looked after during its peregrinations and even kept in a playable state without alterations being made to the original instrument. This meant we were able to make a short recording so as document its true sound quality.

Next to nothing is known about B. Reich and very few instruments bearing his name have survived. Apart from the mim only the collections held by the musical instruments museums in Berlin and Leipzig contain pieces by his hand. But the few Reich instruments that do exist are testimony to his superb craftsmanship.

Media
Images: 
descant recorder inv.2642-01 front view
descant recorder inv.2642-01 back view
detail of descant recorder inv.2642-01 (Reich signature)