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HPSCHD-L  September 2006

HPSCHD-L September 2006

Subject:

"Bach harpsichords" ?

From:

Davitt Moroney <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 10 Sep 2006 21:17:33 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (95 lines)

"The Bach Harpsichord": no such thing can exist, of course. At 
different times he will have had access to different kinds of 
excellent instruments. But we'd all like to find our "ideal 
harpsichord for Bach's music." Yet even that is impossible. My ideal 
instrument for the Toccatas or French Suites is certainly not the 
same as my ideal instrument for the much later Goldbergs or Art of 
Fugue.

Nevertheless, the fascinating 1739 instrument by Johann Heinrich 
Graebner of Dresden (now in Schloss Pillnitz, just outside Dresden) 
has a lot more going for it than many other claimants, for at least 
six reasons:
1) Geographically, it's close to JSB, who went often to the court at 
Dresden, and Graebner was court instrument builder. JSB of course, 
during the 1730s, was trying very hard to be at Dresden even more, 
was busy there going to the opera with Wilhelm Friedemann, 
inaugurating Silbermann organs, etc. Plus there was at the very least 
a minor but direct personal connection since Bach taught one of the 
Graebner boys at St Thomas's.
2) In terms of date, 1739 is the period from which I, personally, 
most want a "Bach harpsichord." I look for the "ideal" instrument for 
the Italian Concerto and French Ouverture (1735), the Goldbergs 
(1741), WTC vol 2 (1742), the Musical Offering (1747), and the Art of 
Fugue (1745-50). (Mietke, for example, simply died too early -- in 
relation to JSB's great works for the harpsichord -- for his 
instruments to be so compelling for me in that context.)
3) In terms of quality, it's a splendid instrument. (Yes, I know, 
others are, too, in different ways...)
4) It also fits in with JSB's recorded preference for smaller 
French-style keyboards, and is wonderfully comfortable to play. All 
the large stretches in the Art of Fugue, for example, are playable, 
including the big tenths in Contrapunctus 12 and even that augmented 
11th between the Bass and the middle voice in Contrapunctus 13.
5) I just like that low, low D, which means it's also a great 
instrument for continuo when playing with an ensemble that includes a 
string contrabass.
6) It's a sober, relatively undemonstrative instrument that, when 
playing JSB's music, is a perfect "tool" for the job in hand, one 
that is responsive to the player's demands while also having a strong 
personality of its own.

Best wishes,

DM


>Zach wrote:
>>  Hi Jack,
>>
>>  Fascinating. Has any builder faithfully made a replica of Bach's
>>  harpsichord? I would love to hear the WTC on such an instrument! Do
>>  any exist?
>>
>>  Zach
>>  
>Zach, Firstly, be careful about using the term "Bach's harpsichord". The
>instrument which I refered to in the Bachhaus is a lowly example which
>has been placed there because of it's supposed reference to South
>Turingia.  It's been almost 20 years since I built my close copy and I
>don't think I took any pictures. Here in Seattle at that time any mostly
>since then individual instruments by local makers don't make the news. I
>got better recognition in Pennsylvania this summer for my reconstruction
>of the newly authenticated Tannenberg clavichord. So what do you want to
>know?  I bought a poster in the museum showing the instrument and forgot
>it was hanging on the wall here next to the computer and I had a brief
>discussion about the project with a collegue the other night. He said he
>remembered it sounded like most virginals. Perhaps I should dig out the
>audio cassette and see if the antique deck still plays. Interesting how
>the internet speeds up the communication process!
>      At this time, my main comment is that this instrument proves again
>that not everything said in print is true and that small single manual
>instruments often reveal special secrets which large,fancy instruments
>don't reveal probably because of their status. I don't really think
>there is much need to duplicate this instrument, but it's made it into
>Kottick's book and a few other recent articles. Much like germany of the
>times, there was no unified style of building and even Hubbard says
>this. The instruments found in today's Germany reflect all sorts of
>regional influences. The Berlin Mietkes were very much trying to be
>French. The southern instruments were cobbled together by locals who had
>seen only a few harpsichords. The Hamburg makers really did produce
>distinguished instruments but did Bach favor them?
>       J.S. was a mainly provincial soul who test new organs and wrote
>down reams of keyboard pieces. If we were to speak to him today. it
>would be like asking a bus drivers which buses did he prefer. Sorry!   
>Jack Peters


-- 
Davitt Moroney
Professor of Music; University Organist
Department of Music, 210 Morrison Hall
University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1200, USA
email: [log in to unmask]
Office:  +1-(510) 643-4580 / Fax: +1-(510) 642 8480
http://music.berkeley.edu/Moroney.html

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