Harpsichords, Pianos & a Clavichord!

In our last online event for the summer, we were treated to a very special lecture-performance on several fascinating keyboard instruments by harpsichordist and conductor Jory Vinikour. Jory performed a fantastic selection of repertoire from various style periods selected to showcase the characteristics of each instrument. This week’s blogpost features a write-up of the event, sharing some of what we learnt during the course of a highly enjoyable and interesting afternoon!

Harpsichordist Jory Vinikour (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

Jory’s debut in our online events programme was part of our Piano Day festival in which he gave a performance-lecture on the workings of the harpsichord and Baroque style featuring works by Bach, Couperin, Rameau and Scarlatti. However, in this session Jory took us on an informal tour of his collection of instruments which included revival harpsichords, two 19th C pianos, a selection of traditional harpsichords and a clavichord!
Revival harpsichords
The tour started with two revival harpsichords (click here to read Jory’s blog post about revival harpsichords), the first of which was an instrument by Pleyel from either 1939 or 1952. Unlike traditional harpsichords, this one has an iron frame which allows it to retain it’s tuning more effectively and gives a powerful sound. The first piece featured in the session was a Bach Concerto after Vivaldi in D major.

Jory playing Bach on his Pleyel harpsichord

The other revival instrument was built by the renowned British builder, Anthony Sidey. This instrument is Jory’s preferred for concerts and he played Scarlatti’s Sonata in A minor, K175 Sonata for us. It was interesting to note that this instrument has been built in a more traditional manner than the Pleyel, but also produces a powerful sound capable of carrying in a concert hall.

Harpsichord by Anthony Sidey

Another interesting observation was that  both of these instruments have a much heavier action than traditional harpsichords. Jory mentioned that caution is required when playing them in order to avoid injury. This is partially because harpsichord technique tends to rely far more on finger action than modern piano technique which thinks about finger and arm combined.
The pianos
After the revival harpsichords, we took a brief step back in time to listen two beautiful 19th C pianos by Bosendorfer and Erard. The Bosendorfer dates back to 1846 and is from the end of the period which featured the lighter Viennese action. Weighing a third of a modern Steinway D, this instrument is effectively a bridge between a classical fortepiano and the modern piano. Jory played Mendelssohn’s beautiful Song Without Words, Op. 19 No. 1 for us and explained that a greater use of pedal is required as the instrument has less resonance than a modern one.

Jory playing Schumann’s Aufschwung on his Erard piano

The other piano was made in 1843 by Erard who has a significant impact on the development of the piano with numerous patents to their name. Apparently, Liszt preferred the Erard pianos to those of the other great French maker of the time, Pleyel (which was Chopin’s preference). Jory played Aufschwung from Fantasiestücke, Op.12 by Schumann, demonstrating that this is much more powerful than the Bosendorfer and closer to the modern instrument that we are now familiar with.
The clavichord
The first half of the session closed with a demonstration of a rather intriguing instrument which is from a distinct family to the harpsichord and could be seen more as the grandfather of the piano. Unlike a harpsichord which plucks its strings, the strings of a clavichord are struck and therefore it was callable of producing dynamic variation, albeit at the softer end of the dynamic range. Jory played Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor and demonstrated how difficult the instrument is to play in that they keys have to be hit in the right place inn order to produce the desired sound!

Mozart’s D minor Fantasy played on a clavichord!

Traditional harpsichords
The last instruments featured were copies of traditional harpsichords, the first being a copy of a 16th century Italian design built by American builder Clyde Parmalee in 1985. Like the Italian instruments of the time, this is much lighter than French or German counterparts with a shallower case. Jory played a Toccata by Frescobaldi and discussed various fascinating topics relating to the harpsichord, including the short octave, the multiple registers and different stops.

Harpsichord by Clyde Parmalee

The last instrument was built by David Rubio with features from Franco-Flemish instruments combined with some modern revival elements, therefore isn’t a museum standard copy. Jory demonstrated this instrument with a Bach Toccata  and works by Byrd and Bull from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. The session came to a rousing end with a dance suite by Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer.
If you missed this workshop or the previous session then you can still purchase access to the recordings for each of them here and here. Jory also has an extensive collection of albums available to listen to on Spotify. Click here to view his profile.
Next events
We will be taking a short break over the summer with our events programme returning in mid-September. Our next events will include presentations on healthy, expressive technique, learning pieces and the Trinity piano examination syllabus. We will also be celebrating the Online Academy’s fifth birthday in October with a special line-up of events. Please sign-up to our mailing list for information and updates regarding upcoming events.

A particular Harpsichord Revival

In this week’s guest post, harpsichordist and conductor Jory Vinikour explores the harpsichord revival which started in the last 19th century and discusses two of his instruments from this period. Jory will also be presenting an online tour and demonstration of his extensive collection of keyboard instruments, including these two, on Sat 31st July as part of our online events programme (please click here for further details).  
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Towards the end of the 19th century, interest in the harpsichord began to spark. It might be said that it hadn’t entirely died out, as famous performers such as Ignaz Moscheles performed occasionally on the harpsichord. The Dolmetsch family began to build copies of historic keyboard instruments in England, inspired by a collection of early instruments in the British Museum.  
Perhaps the most notable change was brought about by Wanda Landowska. Already a famed pianist, Landowska was passionately interested to hear, and to play, Bach, and other great composers of the Baroque, on the instruments of their epoch.

Wanda Landowska, 1937

Although she had some familiarity with harpsichords in museums and private collections, she inspired the French piano company, Pleyel, to create a harpsichord to her specifications. Built to withstand contemporary demands, these instruments diverged greatly from historic harpsichords by the heaviness of their frame, a uniquely complicated action, and the addition of a 16’ stop – a register of strings sounding one octave below concert pitch. Although Johann Sebastian Bach certainly had one harpsichord with a 16’ stop, this feature is most atypical during the Baroque period, with merely a small number of German instruments featuring it.

Landowska’s favoured instrument, the Pleyel Grand Modèle de Concert, 1927

After Pleyel, many harpsichord builders began creating instruments for a new generation of performers. Companies such as Neupert, Ammer, Sperhakke in Germany, or Gobel, in England. Mechanically, these instruments frequently had more in common with the Baroque models than did Pleyel.
The first of my revival instruments is by Pleyel, either 1939 or 1952 (there is confusion about the date). Although this instrument is not fully restored, it has a distinctive tone quality – far heavier than a historic harpsichord, very organ-like in its sustaining qualities. Its pedals are also capable of controlling rapid changes of stops.

Harpsichord by Pleyel, ca. 1950

The second of my revival instruments is by Anthony Sidey, 1968. Although Sidey has gone on to become a god-like figure in the world of harpsichord building, with his instruments sought after in all of Europe, he initially learned his craft with Pleyel. This instrument is interesting in that we see very clearly the backward glance towards Pleyel – the heavy frame, 16’ stop, etc. However, Sidey’s mechanic already resembles much more closely historic models. 

Revival harpsichord by Anthony Sidey (1968)

Pleyel continued to make harpsichords into the early 1960’s. As performers began to demand exclusively historic models, new builders arose throughout the world. Some of the older builders, including Gobel and Neupert, mostly set aside their revival harpsichords, building to an entirely historical aesthetic. Yet these older instruments occupy an important place in the harpsichord’s history.

Harpsichords, Pianos and a Clavichord!

Jory will be returning to our online events programme on Saturday 31st July @ 13:00 BST (GMT + 1) to give an informal tour of his extensive collection of keyboard instruments in Chalon-sur-Saône, in the heart of Burgundy. In this double-bill online event, you will meet a collection of keyboard instruments, including:

Rubio, Franco Flemish harpsichord copy (ca. 1975)
Italian harpsichord, after Baffo (Parmalee, 1985)
Clavichord, after Hass. Tom and Barbara Wolf (1993)
Pleyel harpsichord (ca. 1950)
Revival harpsichord by Anthony Sidey (1968)
Bösendorfer piano (1846)
Erard piano (1843)

Jory will perform and discuss works from various style periods selected to showcase the characteristics of each instrument. Do not miss this rare opportunity to see a live demonstration of such a unique collection of instruments delivered by a highly engaging and accomplished presenter! Click here for more information or to book your place.