Tag Archives: Stephen Watkins

Recordings released for recorder quartet and harpsichord project


Francis Knights and Dulcis Venti, Headgate Theatre, June 2016


We have just released recordings of some of the pieces from the recorder quartet with harpsichord call: visit this page to listen. Composers represented are Stephen Watkins, Ruth Gramann, Ron Hannah, Toby Roundell, Peter Thorne, Jong S. Kim, Olivia Kersey, Ivan Moody and Jenni Pinnock.


Full programme announced for recorder quartet with harpsichord concert

5-Part re-Inventions040616_posterThe complete programme for our recorder quartet with harpsichord concert  with Dulcis Venti and Francis Knights is as follows:

Mountain river Falling leaf Stephen Watkins

Merry-Go-Round Suite (Gavotte – Sarabande – Merry Go Round)Ruth Gramann

Five Part re-InventionRon Hannah

ElegyToby Roundell

CartoonPeter Thorne

Quintet, for four recorders and harpsichord – Jong S. Kim

Quintet for recorder and harpsichord – Olivia Kersey

From the ForestStephen Watkins

Of Beaks and QuillsJanet Wheeler

AlborIvan Moody

The Merry Councellor Suite (Prelude – Gigue – Sarabande), on a theme of
“The Merry Councellor”taken from “Kitty Bridges Pocket Book” 1745
Alison Willis

The Lonely Princess Ron Hannah

Allégresse – Jenni Pinnock

Time Stood StillStephen Watkins

Harrison meets DaliStephen Watkins

Tickets on sale for recorder quartet with harpsichord concert

We are delighted to announce that tic5-Part re-Inventions040616_posterkets are now available from the Headgate Theatre box office for our recorder quartet with harpsichord concert. Full details are as follows:

5-PART RE-INVENTIONS: A new repertoire for recorder quartet with harpsichord

Dulcis Venti recorder quartet with harpsichordist Francis Knights

7:30pm, Saturday 4th June 2016
Headgate Theatre, 14 Chapel St North, Colchester, Essex CO2 7AT
Tickets £8/£6 concessions. Box office: 01206 366000; tickets@headgatetheatre.co.uk

Discovering that there was no existing repertoire for recorder quartet with harpsichord, we challenged composers around the world to rectify the situation. In this concert we present the first ever performance of works for this mysteriously neglected ensemble; beautiful and engaging pieces in which the sweetness and coolness of the recorder encounters the bright, clean sound of the harpsichord.

Dulcis Venti is a newly formed recorder quartet, based in East Anglia and directed by Stephen Watkins. http://www.dulcisventi.co.uk

Francis Knights is Director of Studies in Music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and trained as a harpsichordist under Robert Woolley and David Roblou. http://francis-knights.webnode.com

Results announced for harpsichord and recorder quartet call

We are delighted to announce the selection of pieces from our call for scores for recorder quartet with harpsichord. All submitted works were assessed anonymously for the quality of recorder and harpsichord writing, musical interest and stylistic appropriateness for the ensemble. The list is, alphabetically by composer:

Merry-Go-Round Suite (Sarabande – Haya’s Gavotte – Merry-Go-Round)Ruth Gramann

5-part re-InventionRon Hannah

The lonely princessRon Hannah

Quintet, for four recorders and harpsichord – Jong S. Kim

Waioeka Gorge – Paul Newton-Jackson

AllégresseJenni Pinnock

ElegyToby Roundell

CartoonPeter Thorne

Of Beaks and QuillsJanet Wheeler

The Merry Councellor Suite (Prelude – Gigue – Sarabande)Alison Willis

They will be performed, alongside new works by Stephen Watkins and Ivan Moody, by Dulcis Venti with harpsichordist Francis Knights in a concert at 7:30pm on Saturday 4th June 2016 at the Headgate Theatre Colchester. Tickets (£8/£6) will be available from the Headgate Theatre box office closer to the time.

Notes from workshop on composing for harpsichord and recorder quartet, 20 October 2015


Despite the long histories of harpsichords and recorders, there is, strangely, no existing published repertoire for recorder quartet with harpsichord. This is all the more surprising considering that the complementary properties of the instruments lead to a compelling combination: the sweetness and coolness of the recorder, with the bright, clean sound of the harpsichord.

On 20th October 2015, Francis Knights and Stephen Watkins with the Dulcis Venti quartet gave a workshop at Colchester Institute on composing for harpsichord and recorder quartet. They introduced the context and practicalities of the instruments and played a series of pieces which illustrated the exciting possibilities of the ensemble.


A keyboard instrument in which the strings are plucked, rather than struck as in a piano. The harpsichord came to widespread use during the Renaissance, but popularity declined as the modern piano was developed. Since the early 20th Century, there has been a significant revival of interest from composers; there are over 10,000 modern pieces for solo harpsichord. Francis performed some of these to demonstrate aspects of modern harpsichord writing.

In practice, all harpsichords differ, and it is wise to check the parameters of the instrument for which one is writing, or assume a basic specification that will be widely applicable.

The harpsichord used for this demonstration was a close modern copy of a Flemish Baroque instrument, with two keyboards (‘two-manual’). If these keyboards are coupled together, one makes a slightly louder sound than the other, due to two sets of strings being plucked simultaeously; if uncoupled, the two keyboards produce different tone qualities. The basic sound of the instrument derives from the 8′ strings; on certain instruments a set of 4′ strings can also be coupled in to brighten the sound. In practice, 4′ strings are rarely tuned, so they should not be used for solo lines.

It is important to note that since, unlike the piano, there is no sustain pedal, sustain can only be achieved by the player keeping their fingers down on the relevant notes. The composer must therefore take into account the practicality of hand and finger positions in producing the desired effect.

See also Stephen Watkin’s thoughts on writing for harpsichord in contemporary and non-traditional styles.


The treble recorder – larger and lower-pitched than the typical school descant recorder – is the basic instrument. See the range chart below for full details of ranges and problem pitches, but in general if a recorder has a melody line it is best to place this in the strongest part of the range. For accompanying lines, it can conversely be effective to write them where the sound is weaker so they blend into the background. Useful effects can also be achieved by the change from homophonic to polyphonic writing.

Interesting rhythmic effects are achievable through tonguing: double-tonguing, triple-tonging and flutter-tonguing are all possible.

See recorderhomepage.net for a detailed bibliography on composing for the recorder.

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