Organ and Harpsichord Recordings, 2019

Youtube Playlist

In this series of recordings from 2019 I play a few pieces of my repertoire, and some of them both on the organ and the harpsichord. I am of course using internal sounds of my Roland RD-700 stage piano, while I did have to creatively modify the existing sounds for both instruments, which took me quite a while and a sustained effort.

There are several reasons why I prefer to record Baroque music with instrument sounds that are closer to their origins than the modern concert grand piano. First off, an electronic keyboard will probably never reproduce an original Hamburg Steinway D, with all that this involves. Especially the resonance of the piano’s body, the internal reflections of the sound, the resonance of the other strings, and the very specific hammer touch and pedal noise are all not reproduced by the admittedly outdated technology that my Roland RD-700 uses.

Kenneth Gilbert, the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 and 2

Second, and more importantly, the music when played on the instruments it was composed for, sounds more convincing, more integrated somehow, more at ease with itself, so to speak, and more tranquil. Let me give an example. Take the recordings of the WTC 1 and 2 by Svjatoslav Richter played on a Steinway D, and compare that with Kenneth Gilbert’s rendering of the same pieces on a historical harpsichord. Well, there is an entire philosophy behind both ways to render Baroque in our time, and the two groups shall never meet …

For me, the Gilbert recordings are ultimately convincing, as here not only sound and content are matching, but also speed and Baroque mentality. With Richter’s recordings, the tempi of the Preludes are often either two fast or too slow given the Baroque ideal of ‘temperance’ in all kinds of self-expression.

Temperance means to go a ‘Middle Way’ between the extremes. That excludes to hammer down a piece without any sensitivity in the way Richter did for example with Prelude 2 from WTC 2. What excels in his play is piano technique, and you hear that he must have endlessly repeated the piece to get it so perfect, but that kind of perfection comes at a high price: it denies the music its originality, its embeddedness in Baroque, which was a time where no extremes in art and music were tolerated. The ‘performance paradigm’ dates from the late times of Beethoven till today but was not part of Baroque mentality. Hence, to hammer these pieces or any other Baroque pieces down, for that matter, is not what musicology suggests, and it is not for the palate of musicians who prefer originality over imitation! And I am one of them …

The Gilbert Album excels in precisely avoiding all such extremes, and the pieces are all played in a balanced, reposed, laid-back manner that is in sync with the Baroque ideal of moderation. In addition, the instrument has its say as well: you cannot ratter down a piece on a historical harpsichord as you can do that on a modern concert grand, because the instrument has its natural limitations, and those need to be respected!

And we all know that Richter respected no pianos at all, and played on pianos that were absolutely impossible for recording, for he just did not care! That is not responsible musicianship, for there is not only the performer but also the instrument, and this instrument must be a total expression of the musical philosophy behind the composition!

Here is all the contents of the Youtube Playlist:

J.S. Bach

—Invention 1, on both the Organ and the Harpsichord (BWV 772)
—Invention 4, on both the Organ and the Harpsichord (BWV 775)
—An Adagio from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 691)
—A Minuet from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 841)
—A Moderato from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 924)
—Two Allegros from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 927, 928)
—A Moderato from the Little Keyboard Book (BWV 939)

G.F. Handel

—Suite 8, Allemande
—Suite 15, Allemande

Musical Performance, a Craft

I never developed a philosophy for jazz music and related genres. Regarding classical music, this was different, for I had from the start the intuition that classical music has some sort of philosophical basis. This intuition of mine was fully confirmed by the play of Svjatoslav Richter that I discovered in my early 20s.

—See my site, Svjatoslav Richter: A Retrospective, where I try to convey details about Richter’s musical genius and provide many Youtube links to his immensely convincing recordings.

Now, it was only in the interview with Johannes Schaaf in Tours, in German language, that Richter conveyed details about his own musical philosophy. He said he considered musical performance as a craft and the performer as a craftsman. This, he explained, was an important attitude that reflected itself in the way a pianist would practice the piano on a daily basis.

Let us inquire more deeply into this for I found this view really uncanny in the beginning and now have made it to my own musical philosophy and guidance for piano practice. To begin with, a craftsman differs from the virtuoso in that the public performance as well as fame and glory are largely secondary for him or her. What counts is the firm attitude that invites to a stoic handling of performance difficulties as well as a steady track record of daily piano practice. Richter emphasized that there should be at least 3 hours per day reserved for piano practice which consisted primarily in repeating the pieces over and over again to learn them. This repetition, he urged, is the basis of perfection, the perfection needed for playing any classical piano piece convincingly for any audience.

Contrary to pianists who emphasized the emotional impact of the music offered in public performances by the pianist—such as Arthur Rubinstein and Claudio Arrau—Richter’s view is by and large unemotional and rational, as well as analytical and philosophical.. Through my own accidented pianistic development, I found that indeed repetition is fundamental in learning the pieces and in handling them pianistically in the best mode possible. For when you see things that way, you become largely unafraid to play mistakes over and over again for you know that with the repetition this will reduce by and by, being replaced by ‘valid code’ so to speak, and beautiful lines of expression.

Richter has expressed himself often times about the uselessness of piano etudes and I have to give here an additional argument. Next to being useless, what the regular practice of playing etudes does is to induce feelings of inferiority, as there are no limits to the mechanical mastering of those, and anxiety. Emotional satisfaction and reward, on the other hand, is gained from playing ‘real music’ instead of fooling around, hacking around and trying around music that was composed ‘for a purpose.’ In other words, playing etudes is a waste of time; instead playing real music brings progress, but proper repetition has to be built-in the daily practice.

You can compare it with learning a foreign language. Everybody agrees that for learning languages lots of repetition is needed. Now, the practice of a musical instrument is also a language: the language of the music herself, and the language of the piano, with its mechanical details. How does the human body relate to the playing mechanism, for example, is one of those questions. Some piano teachers emphasize these technical aspects quite a lot but it is the wrong attitude, in my opinion, for one gets too much on the technical side of matters, while the focus should always be the music herself.

With this attitude of a craftsman, as a craftsman-pianist, so to speak, you will master every difficulty in piano performance, for the difficulty is no more difficult when you repeat the passage over and over again. This is a good thing, for you stop dissecting musical wholeness through judging musical pieces are ‘easy’ or ‘difficult.’ As this is constantly the habit of most students at music conservatories, they thereby inhibit their free learning and expression of piano music for they focus on the negative instead of being positive-minded overall. And it’s all arbitrary after all. For example, is Schumann’s Carnaval easy or difficult to play? Is Album for the Youth or Kinderszenen easier, or more difficult?

Well, this depends entirely on your attitude. The simple-looking pieces for beginners by Schumann and other composers are really not simple to play, most of them are difficult to perform in their childlike expressiveness, for you need to get down to this level of purity, which is not easy today, in our society of mass consumption and gadget-addiction! Carnaval is easy to play for the dedicated pianist, who practices stoically on a daily basis, and with a consistent framework of commitment: 3 hours! Or 2 hours only, but consistently and persistently and regularly!