On Mon, 7 Nov 1994, D. Kelzenberg wrote:
> Actually, of course, this [the Pleyel] IS the correct
> historical instrument for the Poulenc and a number of other works from
> the first half of this century.
I had always thought so too, but during the SEHKS conclave last weekend I
mentioned this to Joyce Lindorff--who's done a lot of work, including her
Juilliard DMA thesis, on 20th-century harpsichord music--and she
suggested that many composers, including Falla and Poulenc, were aware of
more historic instruments and are assumed to have composed for the Pleyel
only because of their association with Landowska.
I can't vouch for this; however, a number of harpsichordists have assured
me that Carter, whose harpsichord pieces were written with Challis
instruments in mind, is happy to hear them played on Dowd-style "classic"
instruments (with the composer's registrations suitably altered). This
reflects the facts that composers don't always know what sounds best when
they write a piece and that they can change their minds. Thus, especially
in 20th-century pieces, playing the "historical" instrument may not
necessarily be "correct," since 20th-century composers (unlike
18th-century ones) have often demonstrably been ignorant of the technical
capabilities of the instrument or have written for it outside of
well-established genres and performing traditions, making it doubtful that
merely recreating some alleged historical condition (e.g., use of an
instrument favored by an early player of the work) will automatically
present a valid (historically or otherwise) view of the work.
I've played on a Pleyel only once, and as it was in poor condition I
wouldn't want to judge all Pleyels by this one. But I've played Carter's
Sonata for harpsichord, flute, oboe, and cello on a Dowd and not found it
wanting, and I consider myself fortunate to have heard Paul Jacobs, in one
of his last public apperances, play the Double Concerto on his Dowd (with
half-hitches and 16-foot stop) at a concert for Carter's 70th birthday at
Lincoln Center, where Carter and Cage sat together in a balcony box.
Carter somewhere expresses his approval for this instrument, and in his as
in most 20th-century music I would think it "correct" to use the best
harpsichord available that can get all the notes.
Dept. of Music
Univ. of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill
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