Harpsichord Notes

August 1, 2018

Death and taxis in Vienna

A particular obituary that escaped my timely notice reported the death of the recently retired harpsichord professor Gordon Murray, Isolde Ahlgrimm’s successor as harpsichord teacher at the Vienna Academy of Music and the Performing Arts. Early on the morning of March 12, 2017, as he and Alice Rutherford, his 89-year old British visitor were exiting their taxi at the Intercontinental Hotel, a second taxi crashed into them, causing the deaths of both Murray and his guest.

Gordon Murray, born on Prince Edward Island in 1948, became the organist for his minister father’s church (Kensington United) at ten years of age. His Canadian education culminated at McGill University in Montreal, and a subsequent Canadian Council grant funded Murray’s European musical studies in Paris (Marie-Claire Alain) and Vienna (Nikolaus Harnoncourt). His professional academic career began with a teaching appointment in Graz, Austria, in 1982 and continued in Vienna from 1985 until his retirement in September 2016.


J. S. Bach: (Six) Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord (BWV 1014–1019)

Rachel Barton Pine, violin, and Jory Vinikour, harpsichord

There is much to enjoy on the two compact discs of this recent release from Cedille Records (CDR 90000 177). Two fine musicians play equally fine instruments: an unaltered 1770 violin by Nicola Gagliano and a 2012 harpsichord by Tony Chinnery, based on one built by Pascal Taskin in 1769. Ravishing cantabile and adagio movements, perfect ensemble, and, for the most part, a fine sense for these wonderful Bach creations cited by his son C. P. E. as “among the finest my father composed,” quoted as an introduction to Vinikour’s erudite, well-written notes on the music.

My one reservation deals with some extremely fast tempi for Allegro movements—a trend I have noticed more and more in recent performances. The word Allegro in its Italian meaning indicates cheerfulness, joy, or merriment. Musicians know it as an indication for a lively, quick tempo. I have developed increasing doubts as the liveliness has increased steadily in recent times (or so it seems). 

In the A-Major Sonata (number 2) the opening Dolce is followed by an Allegro movement, a moderate Andante, and the concluding Presto. Surprisingly the Allegro was as fleet as the Presto­—causing one to think of the most recent Triple Crown horse race winner, that speedy animal named Justify—thus giving one an opportunity to dub these two very fast movements “Justify-ed Bach.” Seriously, I think that too many present-day musicians fail to remember that Baroque folk travelled in oxcarts and horse-drawn carriages, not bullet trains or supersonic airplanes. And I do note that I prefer a less-hectic pace as I have grown older (in the latter years of my full-time teaching it became routine for my comment to be “I think I’d take that a little more slowly”).

For an aural comparison I turned to another complete recording of the Six Sonatas played by Emlyn Ngai, violin, and Peter Watchorn, harpsichord (Musica Omnia, 3 CDs, mo0112). These two splendid musicians played the A-Major Sonata in 1412 minutes compared to less than 13 minutes for Vinikour and Pine. In only one of the sonatas did the most recent duo take more time than previous artists: their transcendent F-Minor Sonata lasts about one minute longer—as befits that haunting key. And, to be fair, the accuracy of both artists is impeccable, whatever the velocity!

For one additional sonata, the E Major (number 3), the timings of three recent recordings were all slight variants of 15 minutes plus 1 to 46 seconds. Fortuitously, I found Landowska’s 1944 recording of this same sonata (with violinist Yehudi Menuhin) in my CD collection. Truly magisterial, the great lady stretched her timing to 20 minutes (RCA Victor, reissued on Biddulph LHW 031).    


Communications from Readers

From Edward Clark (Hartford, Connecticut), Re: June 2018 Harpsichord Notes:

. . . I, too, did not know the Dandrieu harpsichord pieces but have enjoyed playing many of the composer’s organ works. You mentioned not being able to find any other recent editions of the harpsichord works. I went online, and at imslp.org discovered not only excellent facsimiles of all three volumes, but also very fine modern typeset editions of all three volumes which were edited and set by Steve Wiberg (Due West Editions, 2007–2009) based on facsimiles of the first printings. These fine editions are available for free download as PDF files or as Sibelius 4 files: http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Dandrieu962C_Jean-Fran96C396A7ois).

(P.S: The misprint you mentioned in La Champêtre is notated correctly in this edition.)

From David Kelzenberg (Iowa City, Iowa): the newly elected President of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America (HKSNA):

 . . . Did you forget that the first sounds of the harpsichord on Sylvia Marlowe’s iconic children’s recording Said the Piano to the Harpsichord is Dandrieu’s La Gémissante?

LP: Yes, I did forget that. So, I had played at least one harpsichord work by Dandrieu years before writing the June column, since I programmed a live version of Said the Piano . . . for our Limited Editions house concert series—a brilliant performance narrated by Richard Kingston, with Arlington, Texas, colleague Linton Powell at the (electronic) piano, and ye olde harpsichord editor at his beloved Kingston Franco-Flemish harpsichord.

Thanks for reviving that very happy memory, President David. In your honor I have resurrected this one-page Dandrieu gem (the title translates as “Groaners or Moaners” which aptly applies to presidential duties, as I can substantiate from a four-year term in that exalted office for the Southeastern HKS). I have added it to the playlist for a July 1 private concert, my annual event for a local Dallas doctor. Celebrating the tenth year of these July programs, I decided to include some pieces appropriate for a medical professional: Kuhnau’s Fourth Biblical Sonata (Hezekiah’s Illness and Recovery), François Couperin’s La Convalescente (Ordre 26), and Armand-Louis Couperin’s La Chéron (a musician friend, certain to be neurotic) and L’Affligée (certainly may be “afflicted” but the piece is A-L C’s finest solo harpsichord composition).


From Frances Y. Austin (Columbia, South Carolina):

. . .I just read the February Harpsichord Notes and noticed the miniature harpsichord. Wouldn’t a “mini” recording be possible? In my dollhouse I have a replica of the old “pump organ.” Its wind-up sound is like a tiny music box playing Für Elise. Certainly not authentic . . . . My husband is an engineer who is aware of the process by which companies provide recordings in toys (quarter size) and also the ability to record a message in a greeting card. What we’d like to know is where one could get the parts? 
. . . Might someone know how to make an authentic recording that would go inside the replica (or alongside)? . . . .

LP: Of course, in my column I was referring (tongue in cheek) to the wished-for possibility of playing such a tiny instrument in concerts, especially given the advantage of its feather-weight movability. Should any readers have suggestions for Mrs. Austin, please send them to me, and I will forward them to her.

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