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Rodney Waterman

OBITUARY • Frederick G. Morgan • Recorder Maker

Born: 8.4.1940
Died: 16.4.1999


[Earlier versions of this obituary were first published in The Age,  Melbourne,
Thursday April 29, 1999, and The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday May 4, 1999]

[Deutsche : Espańol]
       Daylesford Workshop 1984, Aged 44 yrs (Nola Ryan, VRG)
His profound understanding of the nature of historic recorders inspired his creative mastery as an instrument maker.

When the recorder virtuoso and conductor Frans Brüggen toured Australia with his Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century in 1985, they performed on instruments made by the greatest artisans of the 17th and 18th centuries. The maestro himself played on recorders made by Frederick G. Morgan of Daylesford.

Fred aged 59, who was killed in a car accident, had an international reputation as one of the greatest modern exponents of the art of recorder making. His instruments feature on hundreds of recordings by the world’s best players.

Born to Frank and Violet Morgan, he first played recorder at age 12 in the family's home in Mentone, Victoria. His older brother David played the piano. Fred later studied commercial art at the Melbourne Technical College.

In 1959 he took a casual job at the Pan Recorder factory in Hawthorn where Ade Monsbourgh, the Australian jazzman, had been manufacturing school recorders since 1951. Here Fred fell in love with recorder making, and stayed on with Pan for ten years.

Fred was a very talented recorder player. As a soloist, he appeared in the Melbourne Bach Festival, with the Tudor Choristers and the Melbourne Chorale. The Frederick Morgan Recorder Consort gave many concerts between 1964 and 1969 and was often accompanied on keyboard by Fred's first wife, Jan.

With English recorder player Carl Dolmetsch and the Paul McDermott String Quartet, Fred performed Bach's Fourth Brandenburg Concerto in 1966 at Wilson Hall, Melbourne University. They used recorders as Bach intended — not orchestral flutes as commonly used — the Early Music revival in Australia had begun in earnest.

He continued to perform throughout his life, especially in the 1970s with his wife Ann Murphy, a leading Australian harpsichordist, but his time was increasingly taken up by the demands of his recorder making.

In 1970, with the aid of a Churchill Fellowship, he visited Europe and the United States to measure and make detailed technical drawings of original recorders in museums and private collections. His profound insights gained from these studies became the foundation of his craft as a maker of fine instruments. He also had some recorder lessons with Brüggen in Amsterdam, and plucked up the courage to show him a few of his own instruments. Brüggen was impressed and spread the word about Fred’s talent. Brüggen later purchased his first Morgan recorder in 1973.

When Fred’s recorders featured prominently in performances at the inaugural Bruges International Early Music Competition in 1972, his future as a recorder maker was spectacularly secured. Six players used low-pitch Morgan soprano recorders for the Sammartini concerto. Within days his workshop, then in Fitzroy, Melbourne, was inundated with international orders.

He was a meticulous craftsman and particularly skilled at "voicing" — the final delicate shaping of the windway, which critically determines the recorder’s sound quality. CD sleeve notes by Swedish player Dan Laurin attest to this: "Hearty and warm thanks to Fred Morgan, my recorder maker, who has given me a voice to sing with".

Fred once wrote that the four most important aspects of a recorder's character and performance are; "Speech, Intonation, a Beautiful Sound, and a Fine Appearance."  He delighted in making unusual recorders at a variety of pitches. He pioneered the development of a modern Ganassi-type recorder, now widely used as a preferred instrument for soloistic Mediaeval, Renaissance and early Baroque repertoire.

In 1982 he made a visit to Denmark expressly to measure two recently discovered 17th century recorders found in the Rosenborg Castle by the Danish player Eva Legene and made from the tusk of narwhal for King Christian IV. He subsequently produced a batch of exquisite maple recorders derived from these originals, and some years later, even carved a pair from narwhal tusk brought to him by Legene.

Fred generously and patiently shared his skills and knowledge with all the musicians and instrument makers who made the pilgrimage to his workshop. He was very popular at music camps and festivals. He was an articulate speaker and lecturer, and wrote many articles published in Australian and international journals. He was the patron of the Victorian Recorder Guild and the associate editor of the guild’s journal.

Fred set up a workshop in Amsterdam in 1978 to be closer to the great European players and in particular the original instruments that he found so inspiring. During this time he taught recorder making at the Royal Conservatorium of Music at the Hague, and measured and made drawings of all the historic instruments in the private recorder collection of Frans Brüggen. A beautiful edition of these drawings was published by Zen-On in 1981.

Ultimately the bustle of Amsterdam was no substitute for the privacy of rural Victoria, Australia. Fred’s heart was closer to the sprawling countryside around Wombat Hill, Daylesford. Here Fred and Ann returned in 1980.

In 1986 Fred moved his workshop from the Daylesford township to within a stone's throw of the family home at Snake Hill, Coomoora (northeast of Daylesford) and continued to refine and improve his recorder making skills in this idyllic setting.  He was still experimenting with new recorder designs right up until his untimely death. His passion for innovation never flagged, and he was never complacent.

Fred was a gentle giant of a man, and it is remarkable that his large hands were capable of such finesse. He was gracious and shy. But Fred’s voice will sing on through his instruments and the world will continue to be touched by the magic of his craft.

He leaves his wife, Ann, their sons, Ben and Finn, and his daughter, Sally, from his first marriage.

[Revised September 7, 1999]

    Rodney Waterman first met Fred Morgan in 1976. Fred's fine public performances as a recorder player in Melbourne, Australia, in the late 1970s, inspired him to seriously pursue recorder studies. In 1997-98 Rodney worked two days a week in Fred's workshop, testing new recorders.

 Click HERE to view the Morgan discography.

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