Wednesday, September 3
Why I Play the Harpsichord=Lurch & Landowska
This is a time machine for me, this blog. When I play the harpsichord it is also a way of moving in time.
Many might exclaim: "Ah, yes, he just goes back into a comfortably perceived and altered sense of the past..."
Here I must point out the amount of entries I have about the current events of now, Hurricane Gustav, the rains of Charlotte, the conventions of out political parties and so on; all of these subjects are now, all are 2008.
With the speed of life going at must be agreed an ever-increasing rate, things like this blog and my harpsichords, also old-time piano music, CDs of Medieval and Renaissance music to me are a way of letting the mental clock-spring go unwound for a short period and allow it to rest just a little.
Harpsichords are not every one's taste, but neither is Ragtime or Rap or even Rachmaninoff. Not EVERYONE loves Ricky Martin. Some can not stand certain music and to those hearing it is like toenails scratched on the rough scoring powder sprinkled inside a bathtub.
There are many varieties of harpsichords and thus quite a number of differing instrument sound qualities. They do not all sound the same, as is more often the desire of what piano owners want: a sameness and a sound that can be expected and then what has become ubiquitous in the world.
This is a half-hearted plea to those that have dismissed the instrument; go find someone that actually plays one, or hopefully a few, and hear what live music from a harpsichord sounds like. Go see a concert of say a double or triple harpsichord concerto of Johann Sebastian Bach. Here you will here more than one instrument and will certainly see as well as hear the nuances of what I used to think of as "the first 'electronic' sounding" instrument.Try and understand how that brightness of sound quality alters from harpsichord to harpsichord; virginal to Italian or French compared to an English instrument. Hear other composers that have written for it: Mozart(yes, he did!) Soler, Scarlatti, Handel, C.P.E. Bach and even the earliest of Beethoven. Try out the newer (yes, composers have written for it since right around the beginning of the last century) and at least have a taste of what has been and is being done using it.
After there is the fortepiano to consider, what we know of as the earlier piano, although wooden, for the most part and looking, to many,
as indistinguishable from a harpsichord.
It is not one, it is a different beast.
Whomever you start with, Landowska or Lurch, do not just stop there, neither are the end of what the thing is. Listen to other varieties as well as different performers and composers and start to perceive the thing for what it is. Ask others also for direction at times, there are enough with insight on the subject to patiently hold your hand on the paths of better comprehension for the instrument.
Harpsichords had their biggest "boom-times" from their infancy about 1400 until their final wane around 1800. The 20th Century had enough love and champions for it to be retrieved from almost hitting the cultural dustbin or resignation as a curiosity on a museum shelf. 400 years compared to the 300 that the piano has existed means it can hold its own with provenance. It is fair to add another 100 to the harpsichord's lifespan now that Wanda Landowska and others have resuscitated to revival the old instrument.
This journey itself was a rediscovery for those that live for it, of the old ways of past centuries as well as many revival instruments that just as often are not successful musical objects as those that are. Each in their own individual way can charm, bore or even repulse. This allows the listener to be just as individual and pick and choose what he or she enjoys. Never is this a totally set "world of the harpsichord."
A Ford Model T if running would still get you to the store, just like Bach is most authentic played on a harpsichord.
The time-machine "feeling" is just an added excitement with the ride.