Ever since the lockdown last year, I admittedly haven’t played the harpsichord as much as I should have. This was in part due to not having access to one until halfway through the fall, and also due to my work on the clavichord. With a new year, I figure its time to make some resolution I feel confident will push me in some way. For that reason, my current resolution for 2021 is to study more contemporary harpsichord music. Below are a few of my current inspirations/ideas for where to start.
Overture to Orpheus (1982) - Andriessen
One of my current projects, this was the piece that brought me back to considering contemporary music again. The harpsichord has a beautiful sound of resonance. We often get to play around with this feature in improvisational writing, and in unmeasured preludes. Andriessen approaches that sound in a different way, repeating and overlapping the same notes through the two manuals. Although most of the piece focuses on making various harmonics with the resonance, it continues to be a very engaging work. This, at least, is somewhat a rare feeling to me in regards to contemporary music.
Another bonus is the piece’s connection to the Greek myth of Orpheus. I’ll happily take any chance to include a side of storytelling in music.
Various Rags and Pop Music - Angle
Don Angle was my first introduction into the pop-oriented stylings of the harpsichord. The vitality and beauty he puts into each arrangement/performance is infectious, and I owe a lot of my continuing interest in the harpsichord’s possibilities to him. Listening to him also showed how well the ragtime genre transfers over to the harpsichord. Ragtime was always one of my favorite styles to play on the piano, and its always fun being able to bring that to another instrument.
Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27 No. 2 (1802) - Beethoven
Now this really doesn’t fall into the genre of “contemporary harpsichord music”, but it also isn’t part of the classic early music harpsichord repertoire. In Beethoven’s earlier part of his composing career, the harpsichord was already on its way out of the music sphere. There were still a small number of publications that would include the harpsichord alongside the pianoforte on the title page. Whether this was a marketing strategy to reach the widest audience, or a decision by the composer, I’m not sure.
Regardless, to play the famous Moonlight Sonata on the harpsichord would be an interesting experiment. More importantly, it would be a lot of fun to play.
So there’s some fun avenues to explore while I attempt to fulfill this resolution of more new music. In our next post, we’ll further this idea while we interview some of our composers from our last call for scores.