Harpsichord News

August 1, 2017

Christmas in August

For a Texan yearning to make a summer escape from the hot, humid city to the coolly refreshing mountains of New Mexico, generally an August reference to Christmas would signify the request for both red and green chile sauces as accompaniments to those very special New Mexican blue corn enchiladas! However, for a musically employed person, the same word well might serve as a reminder that it is high time to finalize those repertory choices for the fall and winter programs for which one is responsible.

Additions to our list of such musical possibilities may be found in a recent publication from Concordia Publishing House: volume two of Christmas Ayres and Dances: Sixteen Easy to Moderate Carols for Organ, Chamber Organ, Harpsichord, or Piano, by J. William Greene. (Greene is a name already familiar to readers of this column: for information about his first volume of similar seasonal keyboard arrangements, see The Diapason, June 2015.)

Probably the most popular of the newly published works will be “Antioch Carillon” (Joy to the World) and “Bell Fugue” (Jingle Bells), the two pieces that serve as bookends for the 43-page volume. Concerning the “Bell Fugue,” I contacted the composer to ascertain whether or not there might be two naturals missing from the score? He responded that indeed he did wish to have naturals before the Fs on the fourth beats of measures 25 (bass) and 33 (treble). So, dear readers, write these corrections into your own scores after you purchase them, and play what the composer prefers rather than the pungent cross-relationships indicated in the print.

Most extensive of the new pieces is the eight-movement Huron Suite (‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime) known today as Huron Carol, a personal favorite song from my childhood days. As one begins to study this work I would suggest starting with the fourth movement, “Sarabande,” in which the melody is most clearly outlined in the top voice. Having this haunting tune in mind will serve the player well when confronting the unfamiliar appearance of the first four pages comprising the suite’s “Prelude.” Totally notated in whole notes without any metric indications (except for some slurs that aid in defining the harmonic groupings), this notation emulates 17th-century French lute (and sometimes harpsichord) notational practices—in a sense, presenting the player with a written-out improvisation on the melody and its implied harmonic structure.

Through the gracious generosity of our reader Thomas D. Orr, I had received a pre-publication copy of Dr. Greene’s Partita. It was particularly pleasing therefore to find that the composer had accepted (along with my accolades) the suggestion that an octave lowering of the right-hand notation in the score’s emotional highlight, its final segment, the “Tombeau de Jean de Brébeuf,” would allow the somber sounds to capitalize on the more resonant mid/lower range of the harpsichord, thus expressing sonically the elegiac intent of this “Tombstone” piece, a genre found in several 17th-century prototypes by composers Louis (or, perhaps, his brother Charles) Couperin and Johann Jakob Froberger.

This downward octave transposition also serves as an introduction for a general point to consider when performing these pieces: since they are designated for such a varied set of keyboard instruments it is quite possible, in some measures, to thin the texture when playing on a harpsichord (while observing the composer’s notations exactly as written if performing on piano or organ). Extended chains of parallel triads do not usually work well on our instrument since its sustaining “pedal” resides in our fingers. Thus, when a harpsichordist’s finger releases a key, the damper immediately drops down onto the string (unlike the piano’s ability to prolong the resonance that continues because the dampening felt remains suspended above the string as long as the damper pedal remains depressed).

The composer himself suggests some sonic adapting for the notation found in his spare and lovely setting of the chant Conditor alme siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night) in which the entire two-page piece is constructed above a sustained E-flat pedal point—perfectly suited to an organ, but requiring fairly frequent re-striking of the bass note when played on other, non-winded keyboard instruments.

The remaining tunes to be encountered in this new publication comprise Es kommt ein Schiff geladen (A Ship There Comes A-Laden—Passacaglia); Come Now, O Prince of Peace (Ososô Ayre and Sarabande); Personent Hodie (On This Day Earth Shall Ring), a rollicking Tambourin and Bourrée dedicated to the aforementioned reader Tom Orr. Although this listing does not total an exact 16 separate works, as the title indicates, if one counts the individual titles as printed, there are actually 17 individual movements. Should this added numerical disparity be disturbing in any way, perhaps one might simply count the Double of this final Bourrée as a requirement for a properly ornamented performance of the piece, thereby arriving at the eponymous given number. This solution almost certainly should provide a truly Merry Christmas to one and all, both literalists and free thinkers (even in August)!


For the gift list (including self)

The late British composer Stephen Dodgson (1924–2013) was particularly celebrated for his idiomatic writing utilizing plucked instruments, especially guitar and harpsichord (and, in one unique example, Duo alla fantasia for Harp and Harpsichord, composed in 1981 for harpist David Williams and me). That Stephen should write idiomatically for our keyboard instrument is scarcely surprising since his wife is the harpsichordist Jane Clark.

It is a particular pleasure to recommend the first complete recording of the first four books of Stephen Dodgson’s Inventions for Harpsichord, each set comprising six individual pieces, for a total of 24. A fifth book, also comprising six Inventions, is not included in this release, just issued by Naxos (9.70262) as the debut disc of the young Russian harpsichordist Ekaterina Likhina. Recording sessions took place in September 2016 at the Musikhochschule in Würzburg, Germany, where Ms. Likhina has been studying with Professor Glen Wilson (who served as producer for the project).

Playing throughout the 1:11:37 duration is first rate as each set of six displays its various moods. None of these individual movements exceeds four minutes, 58 seconds, with the majority of them timed between two and three minutes. The harpsichord, a resonant French double built in 2000 by Detmar Hungerberg of Hückeswagen, Germany, is based on a 1706 instrument by Donzelague of Lyon, France. (This information is not included in the material accompanying the disc; it had been submitted but there was insufficient space to include it, one of the few drawbacks of the compact disc format. I am grateful to Jane Clark and Glen Wilson for providing this addendum.) Both of these gracious colleagues also contributed the disc’s illuminating program notes brimming with unique information: Jane Clark shares her special perspective on the development of her husband’s affinity for the instrument, while Glen Wilson shares his rationale for the recording’s pitch level (A=415) and temperament (based on Neidhardt 1724), a well-tempered tuning that “reflects Dodgson’s instinctive sense of C major as the center of a natural tonal universe.”

You might wish to order multiple copies of this disc for distribution to friends who “already have everything.”


Reflections of an American Harpsichordist: Unpublished Memoirs, Essays, and Lectures of
Ralph Kirkpatrick

In a second book devoted to archival material written by her uncle, the iconic harpsichordist’s niece Meredith Kirkpatrick extends the scope of Ralph Kirkpatrick’s autobiographical materials included in her 2014 publication Ralph Kirkpatrick: Letters of the American Harpsichordist and Scholar, giving readers the first printings of her uncle’s own texts covering the period from the young artist’s teaching and performing at the Salzburg Mozarteum (beginning in 1933) and continuing with fascinating information about his affiliation to Colonial Williamsburg and his pioneering development of the musical offerings in that reconstructed historical venue. This new book gives us, in his own words, vivid vignettes of Uncle Ralph’s concert career in Europe, Africa, and the United States, his definitive and path-breaking scholarly work as he wrote the biography of Domenico Scarlatti, as well as organizing the catalogue of that composer’s extensive sonata output, which resulted in the “Kirkpatrick numbers”—those identifiers that are still in use.

These piquant autobiographical writings, now held in the Yale University Archives, further document Kirkpatrick’s outstanding Yale teaching career that began in 1940 (the same year composer Paul Hindemith joined the distinguished faculty) and continued until Kirkpatrick’s death in 1984 (although the written materials extend only through the year 1977). 

Meredith Kirkpatrick’s “Part Two: Reflections” presents the reader with soul-baring Kirkpatrick essays: “On Performing,” “On Recording,” “On Chamber Music,” and “On Harpsichords and Their Transport.” Part Three offers essays by RK: “Elliott Carter’s Double Concerto (ca. 1973),” an honest evaluation of this most difficult of contemporary major works for harpsichord (and its partner, the piano); “On Editing Bach’s Goldberg Variations,” “RK and Music at JE [John Edwards College at Yale],” “The Equipment and Education of a Musician (1971),” “Bach and Mozart for Violin and Harpsichord (ca. 1944)” [particularly illuminating because of RK’s long-time duo-partnership experiences with the violinist Alexander Schneider], and “The Early Piano” [as transcribed from a BBC Radio Broadcast of 1973].

Part Four presents texts of lectures given at Yale (1969–71): “Bach and Keyboard Instruments,” “In Search of Scarlatti’s Harpsichord,” “Style in Performance,” “The Performer’s Pilgrimage to the Sources,” and last, but not least, “Private Virtue and Public Vice in the Performance of ‘Early Music’.”

A generous selection of nine private photographs from the editor’s collection shows images I had not encountered previously, while four additional pictures credited to the Yale Music Library Collection, while not new, contribute effectively to a chronological visual portrait of Kirkpatrick, from early youth to elder status.

Appendices include a list of personal names in the text with biographical references, publications by and about Ralph Kirkpatrick, and a complete Kirkpatrick discography. Additionally, there is a comprehensive general index for the volume. 

Published in 2017 by the University of Rochester Press as part of its Eastman Studies in Music series, this 211-page hardbound book, in tandem with Meredith Kirkpatrick’s earlier publication, presents another pathway to understanding the stellar contributions of the most influential American harpsichordist of the mid-20th century after Wanda Landowska. Brava, Meredith Kirkpatrick, for your painstaking archival researching and editing. Here is a book to treasure, and another one to share with fellow lovers of the harpsichord and its history.


One more stocking stuffer

Do not overlook Mark Schweizer’s novella The Christmas Cantata, a gentle and heartwarming St. Germaine Christmas Entertainment, published by SJMPbooks in 2011. If you have not read this one, or, heaven forbid, not yet encountered the inordinately delightful world of Mark’s Liturgical Mysteries, you are missing 12 of the funniest and most enjoyable comedic offerings since Monty Python or Fawlty Towers!

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