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of the other strings, and the very specific hammer touch and pedal noise are all not reproduced by the admittedly outdated technology that my Roland RD-700 uses.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

My Repertoire

Fingerings are highly personal; they must be adapted to the size and form of the hands of the performer. This is the crux with all musical score editions, for they must find a certain ‘middle standard’ where the fingerings fit for most hands. If pianists and composers like Rachmaninov, Rubinstein or Richter were to write fingerings, the result would probably be unusable for most people—simply because of the immense size of their hands!

Let me elaborate a little more here on the topic of consistent fingerings. The ground rule is namely internal consistency, which is often just not respected by score editors, not even the famous Urtext edition by HENLE, Germany that I am using.

Often what you can observe is that in the two parts of a piece, you have two different fingerings—even in HENLE—for basically the same passage but transposed to a quint higher or lower. Memorizing a piece inter alia depends on the consistency of fingerings across all the parts of a piece.

I take lots of time now to think about the fingerings before I start practicing, for I have not done that in the past with the sad result that for one, I did not reach perfection in rendering a piece, and for two, the piece vanished out of my ‘finger memory.’ Why is that?

The human brain loves nothing more than similarity, to clone patterns, to repeat the same pattern instead of making up a new pattern. That means when you apply the same fingerings to a musical pattern that appears in Part 1 of a piece, and then re-appears in Part 2, your brain will help you memorize the pattern in its two different transpositions if only you apply the same fingerings.

Hence, it really makes sense to think profoundly about the fingerings to use when you start looking at a new piece.

As a result of my lacking attention to this matter in the past, I have had to change fingerings across all my repertoire of Baroque music, both with Bach and with Handel. This was a pure waste of time of course, and I also had to re-practice the pieces then with the new and definite fingerings. So do not do it like I did, but be attentive to the fingerings from the start, and adapt them as is best for the size and ability of your hands!

Good luck!


Johann Sebastian Bach

Little Keyboard Book

—BWV 924 (Moderato)
—BWV 927 (Allegro)
—BWV 928 (Allegro)
—BWV 841 (Minuet)
—BWV 691 (Adagio)
—BWV 924a (Moderato)
—BWV 925 (Moderato)
—BWV 933 (Moderato)
—BWV 934 (Allegretto)
—BWV 935 (Allegro)
—BWV 936 (Allegro)
—BWV 937 (Moderato)
—BWV 938 (Allegro)

Inventions

—BWV 772
—BWV 775
—BWV 779
—BWV 785

French Suites

—BWV 812 (Allemande)
—BWV 813 (Allemande)
—BWV 814 (Allemande)
—BWV 815 (Allemande)
—BWV 816 (Allemande)
—BWV 817 (Allemande)

English Suites

—BWV 808 (Allemande)

Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1/2

—BWV 846 (Praeludium)
—BWV 858 (Praeludium)
—BWV 862 (Praeludium)
—BWV 868 (Praeludium)

Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 2/2

—BWV 871 (Praeludium)
—BWV 881 (Praeludium)
—BWV 884 (Praeludium)
—BWV 887 (Praeludium)
—BWV 893 (Praeludium)

Goldberg Variations

—Variation 1

Partitas

—BWV 825 (Allemande)
—BWV 826 (Allemande)

George Frideric Handel

—Suite 2 (Allegro)
—Suite 3 (Allemande)
—Suite 3 (Variations 1, 2)
—Suite 8 (Allemande)
—Suite 11 (Allemande)
—Suite 12 (Allemande)
—Suite 15 (Allemande)