Harpsichord News

November 1, 2017

From “A” to “Z”


A = Aliénor

On Saturday evening, May 12, 2018, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, the closing program for the forthcoming 2018 conference of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America (HKSNA) is scheduled to be a “Retrospective Event” reprising representative contemporary harpsichord works selected from each of the nine Aliénor Harpsichord Composition Competitions that have occurred, beginning with the first in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1982, and culminating with the ninth in Montréal, Québec, Canada, in 2015.

Founded in 1980 by George Lucktenberg, both the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society (SEHKS) and the Aliénor Competitions were developed under the same organizational banner, the contemporary emphasis providing an unusual added concept to the mission of the fledgling early music organization. As preparations began for a third iteration of the Aliénor Competition, Lucktenberg sent a letter (dated May 19, 1990) to the recently chosen Honorary Advisory Board of ten professionals, from whom he sought help and suggestions as he formulated the rules and requirements for publication in the printed materials to be sent to prospective participants.

Re-reading the names of these board members brought back memories of an especially vibrant time in the harpsichord’s 20th-century revival and demonstrated the remarkably broad geographical spread of Lucktenberg’s acquaintanceship! In alphabetical order: William Albright (Michigan), Frances Bedford (Wisconsin), Frank Cooper (Florida), Elaine Funaro (North Carolina), Derrick Henry (Georgia), Igor Kipnis (Connecticut), Linda Kobler (New York), Larry Palmer (Texas), Keith Paulson-Thorp (Florida), and Elaine Thornburgh (California), all of whom were deeply involved in writing, promoting, and/or playing contemporary harpsichord music. Lucktenberg wrote, “I’d like more music which is not impenetrably difficult to read and perform, yet is first-class composing, and identifiably late-20th-century, all at the same time. WHO can give us that? How shall we get it?” His words certainly gave the board a good idea of the parameters he hoped to put in place.

Eventually, after the addition of a harpsichord performance competition named in honor of its sponsors Mae and Irving Jurow, the SEHKS board of directors agreed that attempting the organization and facilitation of two major competitions in alternate years was too heavy an administrative burden for busy volunteer professionals, and the quadrennial Aliénor project and its endowment were reorganized as a separate entity, but one still welcomed as a cooperative program during SEHKS conferences. Elaine Funaro succeeded George Lucktenberg as artistic director of Aliénor, and after her most successful term in that position the gala Ann Arbor retrospective will be her last “hurrah” as Aliénor just recently has been returned to the control of its former sponsor, no longer SEHKS, but now the successor society, HKSNA, which, since 2012, has been merged with the formerly independent Midwestern Historical Keyboard Society to comprise one inclusive North American early keyboard group.

In addition to competition-winning works by Ivar Lunde, Roberto Sierra, Tom Robin Harris, Glenn Spring, John Howell Morrison, Penka Kouneva, Rudy Davenport, Asako Hirabayashi, James Dorsa, Graham Lynch, Ivan Božicevic, Dina Smorgonskaya, and Andrew Collett, the May program will include two newly commissioned pieces composed by Thomas Donahue and Mark Janello, heard in premiere performances by Donahue and retiring Aliénor artistic director Funaro.

Be sure to include this “once-in-a-lifetime” celebration on your “to-do” schedule for the fast-approaching spring of 2018.


Z = Zurbarán

If you are interested in unusual art exhibitions and reside closer to Dallas, Texas, than to New York City, you might wish to take advantage of the current presentation at the Meadows Museum on the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus. The Meadows has scored quite a coup as it shows, for the first time in the western hemisphere, a complete set of thirteen life-sized paintings by the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664). The only other venue for this exhibition will be the Frick Collection in New York.

The Meadows is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of Iberian art in the world. Current museum director Mark Roglán has forged an impressive relationship with Madrid’s Prado Museum, so we in Dallas have become accustomed to rare and rarer viewing experiences. One of the current showings, “Jacob and His Twelve Sons—Paintings from Auckland Castle,” is on view from September 17, 2017, through January 7, 2018. It follows another spectacular offering seen earlier this year: all the extant drawings (together with several remarkable oil paintings) by the esteemed Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652) which, incidentally, contained the only portrayal I have ever seen of music’s patron Saint Cecilia at the clavichord!

From the press materials provided by the Meadows Museum: 


. . . Zurbarán was inspired by the biblical text Genesis 49, in which Jacob, Patriarch of the Israelites, gathers his twelve sons and delivers a prophetic blessing for each. [The series] consists of thirteen canvases with all but one remaining in the collection of a single owner at Auckland Castle, County Durham (UK) since 1756. [Bishop Richard Trevor of Durham extended the long dining room of his Auckland Castle residence to assure a suitable venue for these life-sized oil portraits.] This is the first time the majority of paintings in this exhibition have been presented in the Americas—indeed, it is the first time any such series of paintings by Zurbarán has been seen as a whole [on this side of the Atlantic].

But what, you ask, could be the reason that this artistic coup is featured in this column? I hasten to reassure you that there is a connection to early music! As one of many special events scheduled during this exhibition there is to be a brief collaboration utilizing another Meadows Museum acquisition, the Caetano Oldovini Portuguese organ (1762), which is rarely heard in a concert performance. As an aural “sorbet” to the afternoon segment of the daylong November 14 museum symposium devoted to discussion and reflections about the three major religions that trace roots back to the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim), I was invited to fashion a thematically based program to play for the symposium participants.

I spent quite a lot of time attempting to find short pieces that might illustrate the various virtues and vices mentioned by Father Jacob as he made predictions and comments to and about his twelve sons. Considering the 35-minute time allotment, eventually it became apparent that such a set of pieces would require too many minutes, and that choosing an all-encompassing selection ranged from difficult to impossible, with impossible eventually tipping the scales.

Then, on one late-August morning, at last a burst of inspiration led to this playlist: from the time of the artist Zurbarán, a festive opener by Cabanilles (1644–1712) followed by the quiet and poignant Obra de falsas chromáticas from the Martin y Coll Manuscript (seventeenth century). Two pieces by John Bull (1562/3–1628) to celebrate the long-term British venue for the paintings: Coranto ‘Battle’ and Prelude and Carol: Let Us with Pure Heart. A work by my longtime SMU colleague, the distinguished Jewish composer Simon Sargon, who composed Dos Prados (From the Meadows) to fulfill my request for a work specifically made to fit the Caetano organ, his lovely Pavan with Variations (1997), expertly crafted to accommodate the organ’s bass short octave and its one treble Sesquialtera solo stop. Finally, two contrasting short pieces by later Iberian composers Domenico Zipoli (1688–1726) and José Lidon (1748–1827), the latter specifically chosen to close the recital with a short bit of avian warbling from the organ’s Rossignol stop.

The Meadows organ, originally housed in the cathedral of Evora, Portugal, is, as far as can be ascertained, the oldest playable pipe organ in Texas. The only possible rival for that designation might be the “Raisin” organ, now at the University of North Texas in Denton. A painstakingly researched and well-expressed 16-page history of this instrument, Raising the Raisin Organ, written by Susan Ferré in 2006, is accessible online by searching with the keywords Raisin organ and the author’s name.

For further information about the Zurbarán exhibition and the various special events being offered by the museum during its run, visit the website: https://meadowsmuseumdallas.org. And, should travels bring you to northern Texas this fall, consider a visit to Fort Worth, as well, where the Kimbell Art Museum currently hosts a popular art and artifact show based on the travels (and adventures) of the rake, Giacomo Casanova, Casanova: The Seduction of Europe (on view through December 31).

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