Although the Leonhardt Consort is perhaps best remembered today for its complete recordings, as a baroque orchestra, of the Bach Cantatas (shared with Concentus Musicus, Wien), it began life as a chamber music ensemble with the recorder players Kees Otten and his wife, Marijke Ferguson. In 1955 the group became a five-part string band with harpsichord.
The players of the second phase of the Leonhardt Consort and their instruments
All the stringed instruments used by the Consort were tuned a semitone below modern pitch, and either had their original short neck or had had it restored.
Initially modern bows were used, but then Leonhardt provided the players with new baroque bows from a maker in Vienna, which each cost him the princely sum of 30 Dutch guilders. Later, they were to use old bows, and Marie Leonhardt commented that Wim ten Have was particularly good at tracking these down.
Marie Leonhardt (Leonhardt’s violinist wife, whom he had met at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis) played in both the first and second phase of the Consort. She started, in 1954, with her newly-acquired 1676 Jakob Stainer violin, which they had found in a dusty corner of a violin-maker’s workshop, somewhere on the train route between Vienna and Amsterdam. It had been caste aside, because it was still in an almost original unaltered state (alter Mensur) and, as such, was not of interest!
The cellist Dijck Koster also played in the Consort in both phases. Her connection to the group was that she was a conservatory friend and an ex-roommate of Marijke Ferguson. She was lent a small cello made by Giovanni Battista (II) Guadagnini in 1749, which had previously been used by Leonhardt himself.
The violinist Antoinette van den Hombergh, joined for the second phase. She had also been a conservatory friend and ex-roommate of Dijck Koster, and had been playing the medieval fiddle in Kees Otten’s early music group Muziekkring Obrecht, from the time it was established in 1952. She had the use of an 18th-century Klotz, which had been used by Marie Leonhardt prior to her finding the Stainer.
The viola player, Wim ten Have, who joined for the second phase, was recommended by his former teacher, Mieke Feldkamp, whom Leonhardt had initially approached, but she thought herself to be too old (aged 50) to start something so very new! He was given the use of a viola made by Giovanni Tononi, from around 1700, which belonged to Leonhardt’s mother, who was a conservatory-trained violinist.
Leonhardt knew Lodewijk de Boer through the historical performance practice classes which he taught at the Amsterdam Conservatory. He invited him to become the second viola player, for the second phase, while he was still a student. He was lent an 18th-century German viola, restored to its original condition. It’s unclear if this instrument was already in the family, or was purchased specially. In 1968 De Boer left the Consort (and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, in which he also played) to pursue his career as a playwright and theatre director. He was replaced by Wiel Peeters.
Gustav Leonhardt, obviously, led both versions of the Consort.
On the records, he used an organ by Klaus Becker made in 1961, consisting of 8’, 4’ and 2’ stops, with wooden pipes, “after original specifications”. The harpsichords he used were a Rainer Schütze, made in 1963 “after a Dutch model c. 1700”; the famous Skowroneck, 1962 “after Dulcken 1745” (see this comprehensive article), and the Skowroneck, 1960 – 2 x 8’ “after an Italian model of the 17th century”.
For the concerts, he probably used a Neupert or an Ammer, and perhaps also his 1952 Goble, on which he had played solo recitals at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The two-manual Jacobus and Abraham Kirkman harpsichord (1775) which Leonhardt bought from Raymond Russell in 1957 – shown in the photo above – was also used in concerts, sometimes in combination with the 1775 Shudi and Broadwood, owned by Leni van der Lee, who had been his very first Amsterdam student. Post 1960, it’s most likely that the very gutsy, small and easily portable Italian Skowroneck, mentioned above, travelled with the group.
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Rehearsals with Leonhardt
As all the string-players except Marie Leonhardt were in other “conventional” ensembles and orchestras, there was no question that the cellist should not use an end-pin or that of any of the others should play without a shoulder-pad and chin-rest.
Lodewijk de Boer says:
[W]e were not at all ideological, the two [playing styles] just went on at the same time … the use of a baroque bow already made a huge difference … And when we started to play in unequal temperaments, Leonhardt [who was a cellist himself] marked in the parts when we should play sharp or flat and added the fingering … it was a completely new sensation, with pure intervals which produced many more upper harmonics …
The rehearsals were very businesslike and efficient, and not at all heavy with scholarly references to historical treatises … Leonhardt knew exactly what he wanted, and so his approach was very clear to him, and [in the course of time] we developed [some of] this clarity, too. In fact, they were very normal rehearsals: we played the notes, and he told us what it should sound like.
In the Leonhardt Consort, there was only one person in charge, and that was my husband. He knew exactly what he wanted and, as he played the cello and gamba, he could demonstrate if necessary. He [also] knew how you should use the bow, and when there should be a messa di voce and so on. He told us what the result should be, and as he had such a clear vision, it was easy for us to do what he wanted.
Antoinette van den Hombergh:
[The knowledge of] Leonhardt was the basis of the Consort, and I grew enormously [in my understanding and playing]. It was wonderful working with someone like that, where something [new] actually happened. It was a revelation to play such beautiful [unknown] music … but it took a very long time before we formed a “whole”, in terms of style.
According to Wim ten Have, they practised weekly, for about a year and a half, at Leonhardt’s house, which was then above a café on the Nieuwmarkt No.20, in Amsterdam, before they began to give professional concerts. Some house-concerts did take place during the “experimentation” stage, he said.
More next time, on the concerts, the foreign tours, recordings and the audience response to this very new way of performing early music.
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