Amy Moar: Harpsichord and Piano
27th May 2014: Sighthill Campus, Edinburgh College
The Development of the Keyboard; Purcell to Mozart.
Traditionally the harpsichord was a continuo instrument, underpinning compositions for chamber ensembles or voice. Purcell and Bach wrote music for the solo instrument as there was a fledgling market for this. Mozart took keyboard playing to another level with the development of pianoforte, first with the use of knee lever damping and later with early pedaling techniques to create varied dynamics and articulation. These three composers were also teachers on the keyboard therefore they would have had to think about making their music accessible to their pupils. Much of the solo keyboard music of Purcell and Bach was written for teaching purposes. Mozart taught the pianist/composer Hummel and the English composer Thomas Attwood.
Henry Purcell (1658–1695) Suit no. II in G minor (1696 – posthumously)
Purcell was born in the parish of Westminster near the cathedral where he would, become tuner then organist under John Blow 1649 - 1708). After Purcell’s death John Blow returned to the post. During his short lifetime Purcell was employed under three royal patrons Charles II, James II and then William and Mary. He witnessed the Little Ice Age, scientific innovation and the development of opera and the Tragédie Lyrique. Purcell was an active performer during the beginning of an era of public performances and theatres re-openings. After Purcell there were no well-known British Composers until Edward Elgar (1857-1934) and Benjamin Britten (1913 - 1976).
The Suite as a form is a piece of dance or background music used for social occasions, which was developed in the Baroque era but also featured in the Renaissance. Purcell wrote eight such suites for the keyboard one of which is suit no 2 in G minor, which includes six dances.
The characteristics of these are as follows:
Prelude - an introduction to the proceeding movements in a Suite.
Almand - translates from the French word, Allemande, for ‘German’ and is a slow stately dance in the time of 4/4.
Courante - is a slow French dance in 3/2.
Saraband - is a slow and stately Spanish dance in 3/4.
Chacone - a dance in 3/4, which contains variation over harmonic progression and a recurrent chord structure. The Chacone is famous for the short insistent bass line also known as ground bass.
Siciliano - is a dance in 6/8 time involving syncopation. Although it is in a minor key, which may sound somber, I am interpreting this piece as light and cheerful using a light touch on the keyboard.
All these movements are in binary form A-B-A. and rotate around a circle of fifths in the key of G minor.
The English harpsichordist and conductor Trevor Pinnock played Suite No.2 in G minor for his solo debut concert as a Harpsichordist in 1968. The Siciliano was used in Luis Bunuel’s film The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954).
J.S. Bach (1685 -1750) Minuet I and II from English Suite no 4 BWV 809 F major (1724-5)
Born to a musical family J.S. Bach worked in Germany all his life. Serving under noble patronage he held several musical posts as Kapellmeister (director of music) to Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen, Cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig, and Royal Court Composer to August III. The composer H.N. Gerber, a pupil, noted that Bach began teaching with his Two Part Inventions, progressing to The French and English Suites and concluding with the 48 Preludes and Fugues. In this way he gradually initiated a wide variety of works whilst teaching technical elements of their performance. As a composer Bach’s accomplishment was to give attention to the natural qualities of the keyboard instruments he used. These included the harpsichord, clavichord, lute-harpsichord and fortepiano.
Bach’s English and French Suites were composed in sets of six. The French Suites are in the style of the composer Francois Couperin (1668 -1733). The English Suite no4 is comprised of a Prelude before the dances of the Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Minuet I, Minuet II and the Gigue.
The first Minuet is in the tonality of F major and the second is in the relative minor of D. Both are in binary form (A-B-A). Each section has two parts, each sixteen bars long. The A section of Minuet I is in the tonic of F major then the tonality moves to the dominant, C major, for the B section then resumes the tonic in the return to A. In the second Minuet A, the tonic, is in D minor and moves to the dominant, A major, in the B section. However the work then does a complicated shift through F and C major all in the B section before returning to the tonic, D minor for the final A section. Then we have a recapitulation of Minuet I. Both Minuets include moto perpetuo; an unchanging rhythm played with a quaver movement in the bass. The treble and bass contain regular four bar phrases, which is a key feature in Baroque music. In my interpretation I have added extra ornaments to both Minuets. This is appropriate, as Baroque composers did not specify the ornaments to be played but left the interpretation to the musician; a form of early improvisation.
W. A. Mozart (1756- 1791)–Fantasia in D minor, K. 397/385g (1782)
Mozart was a prolific composer of over 600 works. He travelled broadly throughout Europe performing and meeting many of his musical peers. Johann Christian Bach whom he met in London in 1764 influenced him. In Vienna by the end of 1781 Mozart had established himself as an outstanding pianist. Emperor Joseph II initiated a piano contest between Mozart and Muzio Clementi (1752 - 1832). Mozart was judged to have won. Clementi praised Mozart’s playing afterward but Mozart, unsettled by the contest, criticised his rival’s musicianship in correspondence.
Mozart elevated solo keyboard performance to a new level with rich, contrapuntal musical textures. He had the ability to capture the transience of improvisation and embed it in his compositions. In the Fantasia in D minor Mozart uses a variety of dynamics as well as harp like opening cadenzas. The work introduces ‘style gallant’ which contrasts with Baroque counterpoint being less complicated and easier to listen too: fluent, light and sometimes playful. Style gallant rejects the figured bass and replaces it with the Alberti bass: a smooth arpeggiated accompaniment. This is a key feature in Mozart’s piano compositions. The Fantasia in D minor features this stylistic technique of the melody (tune) in the right hand and the left hand accompaniment.
The sad sounding emotional passages within the Fantasia are expressed in the use of minor chromatic scales, interrupted twice by explosions of ornamental playing. Towards the end of the piece, melancholy is replaced by the happier sounding D major theme in the style of Opera Buffa (comic opera). The different styles we hear within the sections of this piece slightly echo the movements of a Suite. Mozart did not finish the work. Paul Hirsch suggests that the final bars were added by drawing on the themes heard earlier in the work by the Breitkopf editor August Eberhard Müller (1767 – 1817), Thomascantor of Leipzig.
Gill, D. ed. -(1981) The Book of the Piano, Phaidon Press Ltd, Oxford
Jones, R. ed. – (2001) Mozart, Mature Piano Pieces, ABRSM (Publishing) Ltd., London
Scholes, P.A. – (1992), The Oxford Companion to Music, Oxford University Press Oxford
Wolff, C. – (1984), The New Grove Bach Family Macmillan Publishers Ltd., London
Moar, A- (2012) Henry Purcell, Programme Note
Web: Oxford Music Online http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/41799pg3?q=Henry+Purcell&search=quick&pos=2&_ - S41799.3.3 25/5/14
Harris A. (16m30s) 16/11/12