If you’re a fan of Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Brüggen then you might just have heard of the Dutch recorder virtuoso Kees Otten; but he is not much acknowledged, even in Holland. Yet Otten was a musician of great importance for the emancipation of the recorder in Holland, its acceptance as a serious instrument in the concert hall, and the establishment of what we now call historically informed performance practice.
It was largely thanks to Otten’s tenacity (and, in part, the fact that J. S. Bach wrote recorder parts in his works) that the recorder was taken seriously by the Dutch Ministry of Education and given full status as a “proper” musical instrument.
Because of his influence, it began to be taught in schools for the first time, and from the mid 1950s it became possible to take a nationally recognized qualification in the recorder at Dutch conservatories. And this widespread recognition of the recorder, an instrument that is affordable and easy to play to a satisfying standard, helped early music to become established for amateurs in the Netherlands.
A dual musical life
Kees Otten (1924–2008) came from a musical family: his mother was a piano teacher who gave lessons for more than 50 years, but it was his uncle, Willem van Warmelo, who taught him the recorder from 1930 to 1937 – “until I could play it better than he could!”, as Otten remarked – and laid the foundation for what was going to become his ultimate career.
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Van Warmelo, a music educator since the 1920s keen on the German idea of hausmusik (broadly speaking, domestic music-making), was one of the first to bring the recorder to Holland. He was friends with Poulenc and Hindemith, who shared his musical philosophy and, according to Otten, “used all kinds of music in his teaching method, not just old music”.
As it was impossible at that time to study the recorder as a “proper” instrument, Otten took up the clarinet and began classical training at the Amsterdam Muzieklyceum (Music Lyceum) in 1941. But it was jazz, particularly the music of Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, that caught his imagination and, aged just 15, he had jammed – on the recorder! – with the great American jazz tenor saxophonist, Coleman Hawkins at a club in Amsterdam.
From 1942 he was playing in Bach cantatas conducted by the Bach-expert and harpsichordist Hans Brandts Buys, who was a major influence on Gustav Leonhardt. He was invariably joined by Joannes Collette (1918–1995) who is widely considered the first “real” recorder-player in Holland.
(Collette came from a famously fanatical early music family, where both parents and all five children played different instruments including recorders, a lute, a spinet and, by 1938, they also had a quartet of German-made viols.)
Not surprisingly, it was Brandts Buys, Otten and Collette who were the first people ever in Holland to perform the fourth Brandenburg Concerto with recorders instead of flutes, in a concert in the small hall of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.
Although he played baroque repertoire in semi-professional “underground” house-concerts, Otten continued to play jazz and “contemporary music” as a member of various cabaret groups, including the Canadian “liberators” band, the Sing Song Shakers.
His jazz breakthrough could have occurred in 1945, when he was offered a place in a well-known jazz orchestra by Kid Dynamite, for a 30-month tour of North Africa, the Balkans and Spain. But at this time he had a serious girlfriend, Marijke Ferguson (b. 1927; his student and his first wife, from 1950) and had been invited by Brandts Buys to take part in concerts and broadcasts of Bach cantatas. “After some hesitation”, said Otten, “I chose the girl and the Bach cantatas.”
So, in 1946 he was involved in the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Dutch Bach Society, performing in the Actus Tragicus (Bach’s Cantata BWV 106) conducted by Anthon van den Horst, and from 1947 onward he participated every year in the Society’s St Matthew Passion.
In the following years, he was to perform internationally with the lutenists Walter Gerwig (from 1952) and Julian Bream (whom he introduced to Holland in 1955), and in ensembles with Carl Dolmetsch (son of Arnold), among others. According to interviews, there were “lots” of concerts with these people, although only a handful are documented in what is probably Otten’s rather incomplete archive.
His recorder teaching career began in 1947 at his old school, the Music Lyceum in Amsterdam, and he was so successful as a teacher that he was later to work at four Dutch conservatories simultaneously.
The Amsterdam Recorder Ensemble
The Amsterdam Recorder Ensemble in 1954 www.semibrevity.com
By 1948 Otten had established the Amsterdams Blokfluit Ensemble (Amsterdam Recorder Ensemble), then the only professional recorder group in Holland, which consisted of Marijke Ferguson, Frans Douwes and, later, his most famous pupil, Frans Brüggen (second from the left in the photo above). Occasionally they were accompanied by harpsichordist Jaap Spigt.
Interestingly, Jaap Spigt was so uncertain whether he should play with Otten at all – as the recorder at that time had the reputation of being a children’s toy – that he asked his teacher, Janny van Wering, at the time the foremost Dutch harpsichordist, who gave her blessing. Spigt’s relationship with Otten was to prove important for him, as it led to concert tours of the UK, where they played with Carl Dolmetsch, the important English recorder pioneer Edgar Hunt, and others; he was also to accompany Otten in his solo debut recital at the Concertgebouw in 1956, and in almost 90 other concerts. Spigt was later to become a noted choir conductor and was a harpsichord teacher on the staff of the Amsterdam conservatory at the same time as Leonhardt and Ton Koopman.
The repertoire of the Amsterdam Recorder Ensemble ranged from the 15th century through to the 20th and included pieces specially written for Otten. Looking at the programmes, you see works by Ibert, Rubbra and modern Dutch composers such as Henning and Zagwijn paired with madrigals, Praetorius, Handel and Purcell, plus a liberal helping of arrangements from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and Bach’s keyboard music, particularly the Art of Fugue.
Otten was later to become a member of the first incarnation of the Leonhardt Consort, though only for a relatively short period, and to set up Muziekkring Obrecht and Syntagma Musicum, two important groups specialising in the performance of medieval and Renaissance music.
More about Otten in future blog posts.
Thanks are due to Marina Klunder (Kees Otten’s widow), and to Jolande van der Klis for her excellent book, Oude muziek in Nederland, which has been a valuable source in writing this post. The English translation of various quotes is my own.
Almost two years ago, I attended the funeral of Gustav Leonhardt and wrote a brief blog post which I quickly withdrew, despite the fact that it attracted more attention than anything else which I’ve ever written. Somehow, publishing it just seemed wrong.
On the second anniversary of Leonhardt’s passing, I’ve decided that it’s now appropriate to share what I wrote.
Gustav Leonhardt’s funeral was held yesterday in the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, where he and his wife were regular church-goers. The church is just round the corner from Leonhardt’s house on the Herengracht.
Seven hundred people were invited and there were a further 100 places available. Although I’ve not always gone to Leonhardt’s concerts when I could have, I felt sure that I should attend this “farewell gathering” – which was not a service, as no priest was involved.
The church was, obviously, bristling with early music celebrities, from cellist Anner Bijlsma and violinist Lucy van Dael, who both played with Leonhardt from the earliest days, to Bart and Sigiswald Kuijken, who’d joined in later; the recorder player Marion Verbruggen; ex-student Pierre Hantaï; the bass Max van Egmond and Harvard professor, Christoph Wolff, to name but a very few.
Bernard Winsemius who, with Leonhardt, had been joint organist of Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk for more than 30 years, unsurprisingly played only Bach, on the main organ.
In the opening remarks – given in both English and Dutch – we were told that Gustav Leonhardt himself had exactly specified what should happen today, apart from choosing the short Biblical quotations and hymns, with only two or three of the verses of each being sung. We also learned that Leonhardt had written some “profound observations at the end of a long and beautiful life”, which would be read at the end.
When these came, I tried to make notes, but there was just too much to take in, and this distillation of Leonhardt’s philosophy and religious beliefs (given in Dutch with quotes in Latin, French and German) was simply too complicated to grasp fully at first hearing.
The ceremony ended with a reading of the text from the final chorale of Bach’s St. John Passion, “Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein”.
As we all put on our coats, I smiled and nodded to complete strangers whose eyes, like mine, were welling with emotion and respect for this exceptional musician. He will stay in our memories for a very long time to come.
This short biography of Charles Thornton Lofthouse was sent us by his daughter, Hermione Lockyer, and it is published here with some editorial additions and clarifications. We are very grateful to Ms Lockyer for her generosity in providing this valuable information.
My father, Charles Thornton Lofthouse (1895–1974) had a long and busy career as professor at the Royal College of Music, London (1922–71), director of music at Westminster School and Reading University, founder and conductor of the University of London Music Society, music examiner, and researcher, but he would have most liked to be remembered as a harpsichordist.
He played an important and distinguished part in the re-establishment of the harpsichord as the only instrument for the performance of music originally written for it, and in the development of the art of continuo playing.
The harpsichord had not been his first instrument, however. Early in his career, after the First World War, he had studied the organ with Walter Parratt and conducting with Adrian Boult at the Royal College of Music, and the piano with Alfred Cortot in Paris. As accompanist and continuo player with the London Bach Choir for many years from 1921 onward, he played continuo at the choir’s performances of Bach’s Passions on the piano under Ralph Vaughan Williams’ baton (1921–28) before turning to the harpsichord in performances with Reginald Jacques (conductor 1932–60) and becoming the first person to play a harpsichord in the Royal Albert Hall [c. 1940].
A lifetime at the keyboard
My father made a lifetime study of a wide range of keyboard instruments. In the years before he could afford a harpsichord of his own, he was lent a Pleyel belonging to Sir Adrian Boult (conductor of the Bach Choir 1928–31). After the Second World War, he used the cheque presented to him on his resignation as Head of Music at Reading University to acquire a clavichord made by his friend Thomas Goff, a harpsichord and clavichord maker who had also designed a lute for Julian Bream. Tom made him a lovely instrument (now in the possession of Christopher Hogwood) with beautiful hinges and ‘C.T.L.’ inscribed in brass at the end of the keyboard [see a photo here].
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Later my father bought another Goff clavichord with an extra octave in order to play Scarlatti. When Hubert and I, his children, left our Chelsea home my father was able to buy his longed-for harpsichord – a beautiful instrument, also made by Tom.
To Londoners who attended the Bach performances in the Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall in their thousands, my father was a familiar figure, seated at the modern harpsichord in the centre of the orchestra and playing from a copy of the original full score by Bach of the St Matthew which he had obtained via a friend in Germany.
From its mere figured bass he wove “with a thousand delicate nuances” (as one distinguished critic put it) the extempore harmonies which link orchestra and voices into one organic whole. Another critic commented, “There is a wizardry in the Doctor’s touch”; while Gordon Jacob wrote, “His realisations of thorough-bass were distinctive, yet always idiomatically sound, and added much to the stylishness of the Bach Choir’s performances.”
Over his long career he performed in many places around Britain (Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Reading, Winchester, Liverpool, as well as London and the East Sussex & West Kent Choral Festival) with many well-known musicians, including the pioneering viola da gamba player Ambrose Gauntlett. He played the continuo with Cuthbert Bates conducting in Bath Abbey from the inception in 1946 of the Bath Bach Festival until 1973. At the 1954 Festival he also performed in a concert with four harpsichords, with George Malcolm, Eileen Joyce, and Boris Ord, with Raymond Leppard as harpsichord continuo.
Perhaps the most famous singer he accompanied was Kathleen Ferrier, who made her London debut in 1943, with the Bach Choir at Westminster Abbey. Peter Pears was also a soloist in this performance. She appeared several more times thereafter in the St Matthew up to 1952. Early in the 1950s Decca made a recording of the Bach Choir conducted by Reginald Jacques in a complete performance of the St Matthew. The recording took place in the Kingsway Hall, with Kathleen Ferrier as one of the soloists and my father playing the harpsichord continuo.
He himself conducted the St Matthew Passion, with Ann Dowdall, Helen Watts, Kenneth Woolam, Gordon Clinton and John Shirley-Quirk, in 1962, and on 31 January 1965, he directed the East Sussex & West Kent Festival Choir and Orchestra, at a concert in honour of the 60th birthday of Michael Tippett, in which the Deller Consort, Walter Bergmann (harpsichord) and William McKie (piano) took part.
My father was also an inspiring harpsichord teacher who influenced many students at the Royal College of Music during his fifty years there. He taught the harpsichord from 1934 onward; and later in his life, in 1960 [aged 65] he himself returned to study of the harpsichord, taking sabbatical leave to research harpsichord playing with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam and Aimée van der Wiele, a Belgian harpsichordist and former student of Wanda Landowska, in Paris.
In 1956, while on an examination tour in New Zealand for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, my father and Sir Keith Falkner took part in a performance of the St Matthew in Wellington, with my father playing the continuo and Keith singing the part of Christ. [Hear Falkner singing Purcell here, recorded in 1935, with John Ticehurst, harpsichord, and Bernard Richards, cello.]
The New Zealand broadcasting company had ordered a Goff harpsichord from London. Amazingly it arrived at the same time as my father’s visit, and he was the first artist to play it, at a 2YA [radio station] concert broadcast with the National Orchestra from Wellington.
From 1961 to 1965 he toured continental Europe with the Anglian Chamber Soloists. He appeared as a continuo, chamber or solo harpsichordist throughout Europe and in the USA, for instance at the Schloss Mirabell in Salzburg, the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich – on an ornate harpsichord decorated in white and gold to match the baroque ornamentation of the building – and the Eggenberg Palace in Graz.
My father’s contribution to the study and interpretation of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach stands out with particular prominence in his many-sided career. Not only did he take a leading part in the remarkable revival of Bach’s music during his lifetime, but his special and important achievement was that he revived the harpsichord continuo to its original and intended function in the interpretation of the works of the great master. He gave lecture recitals “In Praise of Bach” and other great composers around the world. He also published Commentaries and Notes on Bach’s Two- and Three-Part Inventions (London, 1956). The cover of this publication was designed by Irene Lofthouse, his artist wife.
In the words of The Times, he was “one of our senior Bachians”, and a doyen of English continuo players.
I didn’t know that the Bishop of Durham’s former residence at Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland (yes, really), had been bought by a millionaire – until I started to research visiting there, as a possible day trip, last summer.
The initial draw for the new owner was keeping together a set of thirteen stupendously large biblical oil paintings with a price tag of £15 million. Ultimately, he ended up buying the whole castle and the 800-year-old estate as well; see the full story here.
Prince Charles talks here (on video) about Auckland Castle
Surprisingly, there was nothing on the new glossy website about there being an organ. Once inside the ancient chapel, however, it didn’t take me long to notice that there was what looked like an impressive seventeenth-century pipe organ perched on the back wall, but maybe – as in the chapel of Durham Castle – it was just an old case.
All anyone could only tell me was that the organ was still used for services. At the ticket counter, though, they managed to rustle up a copy of a booklet (reprinted from the Church Quarterly Review, in 1935) by Canon C.K. Pattinson, called The Father Smith Organ in Auckland Castle.
The organ superstar of the seventeenth century
Bernard “Father” Smith was born as Bernhard Schmidt in Germany in around 1630, and was trained there as a master organ builder. At a certain point, he moved to Holland, where he became Barend Smit and, in 1663, built the sensational organ in the Grote Kerk in Edam. See also this article.
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In 1667 he emigrated to England and anglicized his name. The organ historian, Stephen Bicknell, suggested that this career move was in order to profit from the rebuilding of London churches, following the Great Fire in 1666. There was certainly a shortage of organ builders in England during and after the Commonwealth, as a result of the destruction of church organs by the Puritans. Sir John Hawkins noted, in his General History … of Music in 1776:
the makers of those instruments [organs] were necessitated to seek elsewhere than in the church for employment; many went abroad, and others … became joiners and carpenters, and mixed unnoticed with … those trades.
After around ten years in royal service Smith was formally appointed King Charles II’s “organ maker in ordinary” in 1681 and as such – according to Pattinson – occupied apartments in Whitehall with a salary of £20 a year.
Battle of the Organs
Smith was the most successful organ builder of his time, and beat his arch-rival, Renatus Harris, in the famous Battle of the Organs held in 1684, which was to decide who should get the contract for the new organ in the Temple Church in London. The fact that Smith employed John Blow and Henry Purcell to demonstrate the capabilities of his organ, which he had specially erected in the church, clearly didn’t hurt his cause.
The signature and seal of Bernard Smith
Apart from making the organ which was the prize in this contest, Smith also built instruments for Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, the chapel at Windsor Castle and many other churches.
The gift of a Bishop
The organ at Auckland Castle Chapel was specially built for this location in 1688, as a gift from Nathaniel, Lord Crewe, who was the Bishop of Durham from 1674 to 1721.
Although there’s no documentation, which is apparently common with gifts, the Crewe family crest is incorporated into the case decoration, and a slightly cryptic Latin inscription (not shown on the photo above) states that it was given by Nathaniel, Bishop of Durham, and refers to his previous post as Bishop of Oxford.
Is it really a Father Smith?
Pattinson mentions a “tradition” that the organ was by Smith, but there are no documents to support this either and, as Bicknell wryly comments, there are as many organs attributed to Father Smith as beds which were supposedly slept in by Queen Elizabeth I.
However, local organ adviser Richard Hird, who has written an excellent web page on this instrument, giving the current specification and details of the organ’s chequered history, makes a strong case for Smith:
The Bishop was the secular as well as the religious head of the Palatinate of Durham, a state within the kingdom, which had been largely reinstated after the Commonwealth.
Much of his time was spent in London – living at Durham House on the Strand – and moving and working in Court and government circles. He was a member of Charles II’s High Commission and was “prepared to go [to] all lengths with the Court”.
Smith had already built the Durham Cathedral organ just a few years before (for which a contract and letters exist), which the Bishop would have known well.
Therefore, the organ could not have been built by anyone other than the “royal organ maker”.
In addition, Cecil Clutton observed that Lord Crewe was a man “for whom the best was just good enough”.
The organ case is also very Smith-like, according to early organ expert Dominic Gywnn. And, in an entry in his diary in 1826, the organ builder Alexander Buckingham, who worked on the instrument himself, wrote:
The original maker was Father Smith in 1680 [perhaps a slip of the pen, as 1688 is carved on the case] … names incl. “Mr Smith, organ maker” are wrote on the back of the organ.
These “signatures” have since disappeared.
Even though the organ, in its current state, is a 1903 Harrison & Harrison two-manual and pedal rebuild of a single-keyboard seventeenth-century instrument – which no longer has its original insides (and the internal layout has been rotated 90 degrees and the console is now on the side, not at the back) – it does still have mechanical action, all the pipes from five of the six original stops, the original reverse keyboard and even the ebony stop knobs, as shown below.
Despite these many changes, this instrument is still very important, as it is one of very few Father Smith organs that is in playing order, albeit in altered form.
Thanks are due to Richard Hird, for answering my many questions and for the photos; to Alan Cuckston, and to Peter Hill of Foxglove Audio, for giving permission to use their recordings of this organ; to Dominic Gywnn; and to Ian Lackenby, of Harrison & Harrison Ltd., for specially inspecting the organ on my behalf.
Sadly I never knew Diana Poulton (1903–95). She died just one year before I ‘discovered’ the Lute Society and began to understand the crucial role she had played in the revival of the lute and in developing a modern audience who understood the instrument and the sensibility of the music which had been written for it.
Of course it is true that Arnold Dolmetsch himself is the figure most remembered for the renaissance of interest in early music performance in the early 20th century, but without the link provided by Diana Poulton I suspect that it would have taken much longer to establish the wide circle of makers, players and musicologists that we have today in the UK. [See also here]
I have recently published a biography of Diana Poulton, and this short overview gives a few of the details of her life contained in the book, some of which are surprising. For instance, people who felt that they knew Diana quite well (as a teacher and fellow musicologist) have been amazed to read about her membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain and her relationship with a refugee from the Spanish Civil War.
When she was a child Diana showed no sign that she would make a name for herself as a musician; she was originally expected to follow her mother, Ethel Kibblewhite, and her aunt, Dora Curtis, and become an artist. She studied at the Slade School of Fine Arts from 1919 to 1923, but was spirited away from the visual arts when she began to accompany her mother to Arnold Dolmetsch’s recitals in London.
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Dolmetsch’s first lute student
She was entranced by the sound of the lute and determined to learn to play it herself. She became Arnold’s first lute student. Her lessons with him were not happy, but when she later began to teach herself her experience of Arnold’s teaching led her to seek out many the original tutors and instruction books which were to be found in the British Museum and elsewhere.
In 1926 she made her first broadcast for the BBC, live from Battersea Public Baths! She never forgot the terror of playing on gut strings in the humid atmosphere of the boarded-over swimming pool.
Two years later, when she was preparing for a recording session with the tenor John Goss, he took her to meet his friend, the modernist composer Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine), at his home in Eynsford in Kent. At that time Warlock was interested in John Dowland and he and his partner Philip Wilson had begun to collect music and information towards a possible “Life and Works”.
Warlock had never heard the lute played and was intrigued and captivated when Diana played for him; in exchange he played the Dowland Lachrimae for her on his piano and she was moved by the beauty and melancholy of the music.
As she and John Goss were leaving, Warlock reached under the bed at the side of the room and pulled out a large box containing his transcripts of Dowland tablature, and gave it to Diana. It was a treasure trove of material which must have taken years to assemble, and which could have been found nowhere else outside the British Museum, certainly not in any published edition.
Fascination with John Dowland
Diana’s biography of John Dowland, though out of print, is still the only one available, and her edition of Dowland’s complete works for lute is unsurpassed even today.
Her fascination with Dowland amounted almost to an obsession, and Paul O’Dette told me a story about a conference in the Netherlands: when he came down to breakfast he overheard a conversation between Diana and the German lutenist Michael Schäffer.
Schäffer was telling Diana a dream he had just had in which Dowland had been performing when one of his lute-strings broke. Schäffer immediately offered him a spare nylon string. Sadly he had woken up before Dowland had been able to give any opinion of the strange material. O’Dette said that Diana had become very excited and kept asking Schäffer, “What did he look like?” Unable to accept Schäffer’s answer that he just didn’t remember, she went on asking, “But how tall was he? What colour were his eyes? Surely you remember something!”
Most of today’s most influential lutenists studied with Diana at some time, from Anthony Bailes to Chris Wilson and from Jakob Lindberg to Paul Beier. They all tell delightful stories about their lessons in her Islington house, recalling the cats, her generosity with instruments and manuscripts, and above all her wonderful food – garlic-studded lamb, beef in red wine, chocolate and prune cake are often mentioned.
When Anthony Bailes was a young and very hard-up student travelling to London from his home in South Wales, he was particularly grateful for the meals which enabled him to extend his lessons with Diana for several hours, rather than just the one or two hours for which she charged him.
In 1956 Diana Poulton and Ian Harwood (who was 28 years younger than her) co-founded the Lute Society. The association began with just 20 members, including Carl Dolmetsch, Desmond Dupré [lutenist of Alfred Deller], Michael Morrow [director of Musica Reservata] and Robert Spencer, and today has over 1,000 members from all around the world.
Thea Abbott, Diana Poulton: the lady with the lute, is available in hardback, direct from the publisher, Smokehouse Press, £15.00 plus postage and packing.
Also of interest:
The Dolmetsch Family with Diana Poulton: Pioneer Early Music Recordings, volume 1 (See blog post) Recordings, mostly from the 1930s, of Arnold, his third wife, Mabel, their children and musical friends playing small ensembles and viol and recorder consorts by the Lawes brothers, Purcell, Dowland, Marais, Leclair and others. This CD is not available in record shops, but you can order it here.
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I was very pleased recently to come across a copy of the Vanguard LP – issued on the Amadeo label – made in May 1954 which, apparently, was this group’s first recording played on historical instruments, albeit with modern bows and strings.
It’s an all-Bach programme, with Cantatas numbers 170 and 54 and the Agnus Dei from the B Minor Mass, which according to Pierre-F. Roberge of www.medieval.org became something of a “cult” recording.
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In an interview, Gustav Leonhardt recalled:
Because of the strength of the dollar, the American companies had found out that they could come to Vienna and record for almost nothing. So they swarmed there in droves, and I met the people of the Bach Guild [Vanguard], for whom I made a lot of records.
This was not the first time that Deller and Leonhardt had worked together, as they had previously made a live broadcast, for Dutch radio in April 1952, which was happily recorded and is now online.
Although all the tracks from this record have been reissued on CD, there’s something rather special about having the original, with its simple stylized church window on the white sleeve and a more spatial analogue quality to the sound.
This predates the Leonhardt Consort days; and the group was called the Leonhardt-Barockensemble back then. The billing on the sleeve suggests that Eduard Melkus rather than Leonhardt’s wife, the violinist Marie, led the single string band, but maybe this was simply because his name was better known at the time. (I’ve always been puzzled as to why Melkus never went over to gut strings and, as a consequence, his fame as a Baroque specialist became eclipsed by others who did make the change.)
The other players were Alice Hoffelner (the future Mrs Harnoncourt), Kurt Theiner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Alfred Planiawsky and the oboist Michel Piguet.
The texts of the cantatas are printed on the back of the sleeve, and there’s a blurb – in German – about the music, but nothing at all about the musicians. Curiously, Deller is described as a “Tenor (Altlage)” [alto range], as the term ‘countertenor’, revived for him by Michael Tippett, had at that stage not made it to Vienna. For more on Deller’s career, see my blog post.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt described his experience of Deller as follows:
We had never heard a male alto before, and now this! A magnificent sound, handled with refinement, effortless, light, ideal for our old instruments; exceptionally individual and used with great expressiveness. To accompany him was sheer pleasure.
The recording was made in the Franziskanerkirche, described on the sleeve as having “world-renowned acoustics”. It is no coincidence, however, that this church also contains the oldest organ in Vienna, built by Johann Wöckherl in 1642. This instrument is used to great effect by Leonhardt and I particularly liked his playing, and the chirpy registration, in Wie jammern mich doch die verkerhrten Herzen, below.
Leonhardt said of the recording: “Deller was superb, we were atrocious;” while Marie Leonhardt remembers:
Deller sang the Agnus Dei beautifully, and we accompanied him on three baroque violins that sounded as out of tune as a crow [translated from the Dutch kraaievals]. Whenever I hear this record, I just want to die of shame.
Despite its flaws, this record was an important milestone, and must have sounded strikingly different from anything else that was on offer almost 60 years ago.
Christophe Rousset + Les Talens Lyriques – Wed 21 August 2013 – The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
by Guest Blogger: Mandy Macdonald
One of the greatest treats for me – and for all Baroque music lovers – at this year’s Edinburgh Festival was the three memorable performances by French harpsichord virtuoso Christophe Rousset on no fewer than six of the instruments in Edinburgh University’s Raymond Russell Collection. There were two solo recitals in St Cecilia’s Hall, the home of the Collection and Edinburgh’s oldest (and most elegant) purpose-built concert hall, and a morning concert with members of his band Les Talens Lyriques in the Queen’s Hall.
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Rousset is as much at ease with delicate, reflective works where emotional intensity springs from rubato and inégalité as with flashy, rattling display pieces. In each case, the music chosen and the style of playing were sensitive to the demands and possibilities of the instrument. So sensitive, in fact, that the instruments themselves, brought gloriously into voice by Rousset’s playing, threatened to steal the show.
The Russell Collection is the core of the university’s large collection of early keyboard instruments. It was gifted to the university after Raymond Russell’s death in 1964. St Cecilia’s Hall, dating from 1763, is Scotland’s first purpose-built concert hall. A link to the catalogue of all the instruments in the collections is here.
St Cecilia’s Hall and the Russell Collection are intimately linked, and the instruments rarely leave their home, so it was particularly exciting to see the exquisite Goermans/Taskin harpsichord on the stage of the Queen’s Hall with Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques. This instrument (see the soundboard painting here), originally built in 1764 by Jean or Jacques Goermans, French harpsichord-makers of Flemish origin, was much altered in 1783 by Pascal Taskin, the foremost Paris maker at the time. Rousset himself singles it out as “the jewel of the collection”. See the whole instrument here.
Christophe Rousset talks here (on video) about playing the Russell Collection’s harpsichords
More beautiful even than the famous Taskin harpsichord of 1769, probably the most widely reproduced harpsichord in the world?
Well, Rousset doesn’t specifically say so in the interview above, but the 1769 instrument featured in his second solo recital in works by Rameau and Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1727–99) and hectic encores by Pancrace Royer, music teacher to the daughters of Louis XV.
The Goermans/Taskin, though, was the perfect vehicle for the refined, deceptively simple textures of François Couperin’s seventh Ordre, especially the velvety lower register Couperin uses to heart-wrenching effect. I was ready to agree with John Kitchen’s programme note:
The textures, ornamentation and many other subtle aspects of French harpsichord music, and arguably of Couperin’s in particular, are inextricably bound up in the sound and touch of contemporary French harpsichords. The music cannot be played convincingly on any other instrument – not even on 18th-century harpsichords from other traditions.
A musical “cake shop”
Other instruments being tasted in this musical “cake shop”, as Rousset calls the Collection, were:
an anonymous Italian harpsichord of 1620 or thereabouts, originally with an enharmonic keyboard – splitting the G sharp and E flat keys in the middle octave – but subsequently updated by Bartolomeo Cristofori (inventor of the piano) or one of is pupils; used for four lesser-known Scarlatti sonatas (K34, 450, 308, and 309);
a 1755 harpsichord by Luigi Baillon, who may have been born in Italy but who seems to have incorporated both French and Saxon features into his instrument; used for a spectacular sonata (H32) by C. P. E. Bach;
an English harpsichord (1709) by Thomas Barton which also combines Italian and English styles; on this one the elfin Rousset gave us works by J. J. Froberger (1616–67), Louis Couperin (c. 1626–1661), and Henry Purcell.
While the differences in sound and timbre between the plangency of the early instruments and the fuller sound of the 18th-century harpsichords were clear, those between the several 18th-century machines were subtler, but still detectable.
For instance, John Kitchen notes a contrast between the luscious fullness of the Taskin and the less rounded tone of the Baillon harpsichord used for the Bachs (J. S. and C. P. E.): the latter, with a reedier tone than the typical Parisian instrument of the time, would have sounded more familiar to Bach, and was perfect for the F sharp minor Prelude and Fugue from Das wohltemperirte Clavier II, where its less rounded tone let the fugal structure speak out.
It was truly wonderful to have the opportunity to hear all these important instruments in excellent playing order. The pleasure was only increased by Rousset’s introductory remarks as he moved smoothly from one instrument to another, giving both him and the audience a moment to “change gear” into a different playing style and listening mode.
The series of performances, and the restoration of the instruments to good playing order, were generously supported by Dr George & Mrs Joy Sypert, who are to be heartily thanked for choosing the Collection as the focus of their benefaction and enabling so many of these “wondrous machines” to be played to such a virtuosic standard.
I, for one, hope that these important instruments can be seen more often beyond St Cecilia’s Hall, and that perhaps recordings of Rousset playing them will be forthcoming to re-cement the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France!
A programme of music by Purcell, Couperin, Rameau, and Froberger from one of these concerts, recorded for the Early Music Show by the BBC.
Rudolph, Cécile and Arnold Dolmetsch recording a Dowland lute song (www.semibrevity.com)
The Dolmetsch Family with Diana Poulton: Pioneer Early Music Recordings, volume 1 (published by the Lute Society in association with the Dolmetsch Foundation) is an important historical document for anyone who’s interested in two generations of early music pioneers who were active before the Leonhardt/Harnoncourt era even began.
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This CD is also a small homage to Diana Poulton (1903–1995), lutenist, founder of the Lute Society, editor, and biographer of John Dowland. Poulton was the first person in Britain to make a serious study of the lute. She primarily taught herself, had three years of tearful lessons with Arnold Dolmetsch (described in the sleeve notes as “a very irascible teacher”) and then continued her researches into original sources at the British Museum, encouraged to do so by Rudolph, Arnold’s mild-mannered and brilliant son. For a fuller account of her life, see this appreciation.
Interestingly, a Dolmetsch lute, reportedly made for her, has just turned up at an auction in New Zealand. See here.
The recordings are taken mostly from 78s issued by Dolmetsch Gramophone Records between 1937 and 1948, with two additional tracks from the Columbia series History of Music through Eye and Ear, which was produced around 1930. I stumbled across this CD while checking out original 78 rpm recordings of the Dolmetsches on Worldcat. Some master acetate discs were offered online, and I was curious to know to what extent these had been issued commercially (many early Dolmetsch recordings – including the 1929 full set of the Brandenburgs – were never released). Given the scarcity of the original 78s and the historical importance of these performances, I was surprised to see that only one library (in Buffalo, New York) has this CD.
Arnold, his third wife, Mabel, their children and musical friends play in small ensembles and viol and recorder consorts by the Lawes brothers, Purcell, Dowland, Marais, Leclair and others. The extraordinary basso profundo of Artemy Raevsky and the “natural” voice of Cécile Dolmetsch are featured on several tracks, Arnold plays William Byrd’s pavan and galliard “The Earl of Salisbury” on the clavichord, along with the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata, on a piano of 1799. There are also several compositions by Arnold himself: three are in “early” style, but his Easter hymn for tenor, piano, organ, violin and violone sounds nothing like what you would expect.
The sleeve notes give full details of the record labels and the original 78s plus tantalizing information about other old recordings, some of which may be issued in a second volume.
I’m writing about this now, as I have a feeling that this CD is known only to members of the Lute Society and dedicated Dolmetsch aficionados, and it deserves to be heard by a wider audience.
This CD is not available in record shops, but you can order it here.
Guest blogger: Dr. Jed Wentz (Flutist and operatic conductor, founder of Musica ad Rhenum, teacher at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.)
One of the joys of working on the STIMU [Foundation for Historical Performance Practice] symposium entitled Much of what we do is pure hypothesis: Gustav Leonhardt and his early music has been to discover just how subtle and consistent the thought processes of Leonhardt were over the course of his performing career. Indeed, he showed a marked difference to those in the early music business who believe they know what authentic performances should sound like.
Leonhardt was quite different, and although adoring fans were happy to see in him the reincarnation of J. S. Bach, he himself stressed, over and over again, the hypothetical nature of early music performance practice. That he offered solutions to problems presented by the music of the past to performing musicians of today is beyond question; that he found a musical language that spoke to generations of music-lovers in a profound way is almost a platitude; but that he himself realized the fragility of the entire early music construction is much less well understood.
The STIMU symposium brought to light just how great a difference there was between Leonhardt’s thought and that of the ‘authenticity’ movement on which American musicologist Richard Taruskin heaped so much scorn in the 1990s. Our intent was to explore the earliest portion of Leonhardt’s career (up until the presentation of the Erasmus Prize that he and Nikolaus Harnoncourt received in 1980 for the Bach cantata cycle), as well as to showcase the latest research into the Northern European repertoire he so loved: that of Sweelinck to Bach.
The symposium opened with a showing of the Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach by Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet, introduced by the American musicologist Kailan Rubinoff. The theatre was full and the film made a deep impression on the audience, though it is by no means an easy one to digest.
The first session of the symposium examined the conflicts between the early music approach of Concertgebouw conductor Willem Mengelberg and the Naarden Circle (who founded the Dutch Bach Society in the 1920s in order to present Bach’s Matthew Passion as a liturgical, rather than as an aesthetic, masterpiece). Presentations by Frits Zwart and myself worked in tandem to compare this early material: Zwart played examples from Mengelberg’s very passionate and Romantic Matthew Passion performances and explained his philosophy of early music, which was not informed by notions of authenticity.
My own contribution examined Leonhardt’s musical education at the hands of Anthon van der Horst, who at that time conducted the Dutch Bach Society. Van der Horst, in contrast to Mengelberg, had a liturgical and ‘authentic’ approach to Bach’s music. In the course of the lecture I also presented new information about Leonhardt’s period at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, including a discussion of his master’s thesis. I argued that the Basel period was most notable for Leonhardt’s in-depth study of J. S. Bach’s notation, as well as for the discovery of much earlier repertoire (early Renaissance polyphony and monophony) in performances led by one of the founders of the Schola, Ina Lohr.
The second session of the day invoked the post-Basel period, in which Leonhardt’s career began to take off. Nicholas Clapton presented fascinating evidence of the influence that the English countertenor Alfred Deller had on Leonhardt, comparing recordings both artists made in order to draw conclusions about Leonhardt’s famous ‘rubato’ technique.
His lecture was followed by that of Kailan Rubinoff, who presented Leonhardt’s early career in the context of 1960s Dutch politics, the rise of new-fangled ‘hi-fi’ sound systems and the radical, historic events that shook the world in 1968.
The afternoon ended with a round-table discussion, led by Leo Samama, in which Ton Koopman, Menno van Delft and Richard Egarr summoned up memories of Leonhardt as teacher and source of inspiration.
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The North German School
The second day of the symposium, which was curated by Dutch musicologist Pieter Dirksen (who has published important works on both Sweelinck and J. S. Bach), was devoted to the study of the works of composers from the so-called North German School. Dirksen and Stephen Rose examined the works of Georg Böhm; Lars Berglund and Geoffrey Webber explored Italian influences of Baltic composers and on Buxtehude; and Ulf Grapenthin (who gave a moving personal testimony of Leonhardt as colleague and source of inspiration) and Peter Wollny looked at Johann Adam Reincken’s work and influence.
These presentations all looked at stylistic characteristics of the music Leonhardt had so loved, and they hypothesized about how musical styles were transmitted from country to country and between composers, during the course of the 17th century. Michael Maul however, in the first presentation of the day, revealed new information from the archives of the Thomasschule in Leipzig that undoubtedly will have ramifications for the one-to-a-part theory of Bach’s choral works. Leonhardt himself was violently against the one-to-a-part theory, and would certainly have been pleased to know that an important new contribution to the debate was made during a symposium dedicated to his legacy.
The final day of the symposium saw a return to the theme of Leonhardt’s career.
It began, however, with a lecture by Thérèse de Goede which showed how the study of hexachords and the contemporary rules of voice-leading can result in fresh and exciting performances, a perfect example of how theory and practice can go hand and hand to create exciting music-making.
In the afternoon, Martin Elste, of the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung PK, Berlin, talked about the differences in conception of the harpsichord in the work of Wanda Landowska and Leonhardt, giving each performer their due without judging one or the other.
Gaëtan Naulleau spoke of the Bach Cantata cycle and its influence, and exposed some of the clever marketing techniques which would eventually steer the course of the entire early music industry firmly towards ‘authenticity’.
In what was surely, for many in the audience, the highlight of the afternoon, John Butt gave a thrilling talk, in a typically virtuosic fashion, on the larger context of the early music movement, and proposed its best way forward.
I also presented a selection of film footage drawn from the Dutch Television archives. [Leonhardt was shown, in his very early days, playing continuo while someone else conducted; playing in a children’s programme of fairy tales and in a Saturday night variety show – wearing tails – after the BBC Toppers (famous for the Black and White Minstrel Show) had performed a pseudo eighteenth-century dance routine. Finally, we saw him being interviewed at home, looking slightly ill at ease, in the early seventies.]
This was already an embarrassingly rich programme of events, but there was more: Johan Hofmann and Kathryn Cok both presented hour-long Summer school events, the former about a reconstruction of Sweelinck’s harpsichord and the latter on little-known Dutch basso continuo sources. Both of these topics would have interested Leonhardt deeply.
As I mentioned above, the symposium was meant both as a retrospective of Leonhardt’s career and influence, and as provoking thought about the future of the early music movement. But here, once again, Leonhardt was ahead of us. He himself had thought about the way forward. When he told a friend and former student in 2010 that he wanted all of his recordings to turn to dust, he did so because he believed that it was for the good of the movement itself: he had no desire to become an icon, and in so doing, become an obstruction between a new generation of performers and the works themselves.
Leonhardt knew that the masterpieces of the past must continue to be approached directly, not through the medium of editors or interpreters, no matter how great or revered such editors or interpreters might be. He understood that the way forward lies not the preservation, but in the destruction, of the immediate past.
No matter how great the legacy of Leonhardt, imitation is not the path before us.
Here’s a video of Leonhardt playing the harpsichord that he used in his last concert in Italy.
Last week I sampled two small slices of the Emma Kirkby master class, on Purcell and his predecessors, held for two days at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
The second was much more to my taste, as it was undiluted by the extensive coaching of the instrumentalists which spoiled the first day, and sometimes left Emma with nothing to do. To all intents and purposes, the second session was a singing lesson, which is what it was supposed to be. Lovely.
Emma, charming and polite to a fault – always beginning with “ Sorry, …” – obviously knows this repertoire inside out, and it showed, even when she was not that familiar with a particular piece.
Hearing her sing even a snatch of melody in her immediately recognizable, undiminished flutey tone, was pure joy; and seeing how she could help others to make this music really speak was quite extraordinary.
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Her comments about where to breathe, singing from your core, and her emphatic and exemplary Italian and French pronunciation were as appropriate as you would expect. In each case, Emma understood completely what was going wrong and knew instinctively what to suggest. It was striking how much changed in the students in the course of the class.
Creating the right mouth shape is key, as was shown in Barbara Strozzi’s Le Tre Grazie a Venere, the all-girl trio with a rather racey text, in which the merits of clothes and birthday suits are compared. Though still “half-cooked” (Emma’s description), and accompanied in the rehearsal room on a Taskin copy, it was a delight, and just got better with each repetition.
Pulling a face, though, even for your art, comes at a price. I was reminded of hearing Emma speak previously about the horrific snapshots taken of her in full flight, where – as ever – she was focusing on getting the right sound and making sure the words were understood, rather than being early music’s poster girl.
As one of the students commented, it is all about expressing the meaning of the words, and not just singing the music on the page. Obvious, really.
In everything she said, Emma was very kind, encouraging and supportive of the choices made, even when rather artificial-looking French rhetorical hand movements – which seem currently the flavour of the month here – threatened to scupper otherwise good performances.
Of course it is very hard to change the way in which you’ve practised a piece. Standing stock-still won’t work either, as was ably demonstrated in a Purcell number about a jilted lover. “An angry, complaining hand by your heart, makes it easier to sing”, she said.
The rule, with movements – according to Emma – is eye … hand … voice, and going with what feels natural.
Speaking of the same piece, she also said “ take time over these ingredients”.
Although she is a most definitely a prima donna (see also this article), there was no trace of ego or of affectation of any kind. Her genuine, down-to-earth teaching style was as pure as the quality of her voice.