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Gustav Leonhardt symposium report, Utrecht, August 2012.

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.

Early Influences

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.

Leonhardt’s career

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.

Summing up

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.

 © Jed Wentz 2012

 © Semibrevity 2012

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​Emma Kirkby – Singing master class, Amsterdam

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.

Copyright © 2012 Semibrevity – All Rights Reserved

 

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Arnold Dolmetsch remembered

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Mabel Dolmetsch, in later life

I’d been meaning to buy Personal Recollections of Arnold Dolmetsch (published in 1957) for ages, and finally it arrived just after the recent conference in the Netherlands on Gustav Leonhardt (report from organizer, Jed Wentz, to follow), in which one of the speakers described Arnold as an amateur!

This is, of course, not at all true, even in the most literal sense.

Although the book hardly mentions money, we know that Arnold charged fees for his violin teaching and frequently for his performances, and sold the instruments he made.

His loss-making project to popularize triangular harpsichords for £25, which he announced without making any calculations, showed “the buoyant optimism which (come what may) supported Arnold through fair weather and foul”. The outbreak of war in 1914 halted the influx of orders, allowing Arnold to adjust the price for what was to become a “very popular and serviceable instrument”.

As for the slight disparagement with which the word ‘amateur’ is so often loaded, a contemporary reviewer of Personal Recollections described Arnold’s place in music history like this:

“He was the first modern musician to have an unqualified faith in early instrumental music, and to put this faith into practice by performing it on its original instruments and in its original form, instead of doctoring it up for modern consumption with patronizing “improvements” of scoring and presentation.”

The author, Mabel Dolmetsch, was Arnold’s third wife, 16 years his junior, who had started taking violin lessons from him in 1896 and, within a year, had become part of the concert-giving “family”, mostly performing on the violone or the viola da gamba. At the same time, she worked as Arnold’s instrument-building assistant, as she’d been learning wood-working, on the quiet.

The book is crammed with detail – about journeys and concerts and how the rooms looked; the costumes worn by the children (who, from an early age sang, played or danced); the variable quality of the catering; explanations of who was related to whom, and how which musicians came to play which instruments and why. It’s all rather rose-coloured, and not much is made of Arnold’s fiery temperament or his bankruptcy.

Famous people

The narrative is quite stiff with famous names, reminding the reader that Arnold was something of a superstar, having played the clavichord for President Roosevelt. He was a friend of many, including the antiquarian Fuller Maitland (co-editor of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book), Sir George Grove (of the Dictionary) and the pianist and composer Busoni (to whom Chickering – AD’s generous American employer – gifted a harpsichord).

His literary connections with W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and others are much less well known (to find out about them, see this blog). There’s also his involvement with the Arts and Crafts crowd (you know, the “green harpsichord” and all that), with Arnold playing the virginals to William Morris, as he lay dying.

Violin lessons

Arnold’s first violin teacher was a gypsy (really!), who disappeared one day, taking with him a violin borrowed from Arnold’s father’s music shop.  Later, Arnold studied with the famous virtuoso Henri Vieuxtemps at the Brussels conservatoire and followed this by enrolling at the Royal College of Music, in its opening year of 1882, where his teachers included Sir Hubert Parry for harmony and Henry Holmes for violin. He then became a rather over-qualified part-time violin teacher at Dulwich College, the posh boarding school.

Searching for repertoire for his newly acquired “honey-toned” viola d’amore, in the Reading Room of the British Museum, Arnold stumbled upon stacks of 16th and 17th century English music for viols, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Instrument-making

Arnold learned the family trade of piano-making in his father’s workshop and was a skilled cabinet-maker by the age of fourteen, when he made a mahogany-veneered chest of drawers which Mabel described as “so faultless that not a thing has been altered from that day till this”. It’s amusing that Arnold had to be reminded that he had these skills, as he’d just been playing music for a period of ten years, and had quite forgotten (reportedly) that he knew how to restore instruments.

The whole story of the loss of the Bressan recorder, on Waterloo station, is given here in detail, and young Carl wasn’t as remiss as suggested elsewhere, but was rather overtaken by events. Arnold believed that this instrument was the only surviving playable recorder and set about making a copy, which ultimately brought about a huge revival.

Reviews from 1958

In one review, Mabel is criticized for “provided little insight into her husband’s methods of recreating a lost art through research, the reconstruction of ancient instruments, or the performances in which his labor culminated”.

Another, kinder reviewer – who obviously knew the family well, and later wrote Mabel’s obituary – wrote that this book “will give much pleasure to those who knew and loved [Arnold] well … and convey a little of the remarkable atmosphere in which he worked, to those who did not”.

She ends by saying, “Mabel’s loyalty and her serenity had more to do with [Arnold’s] success than this modest story tells.”

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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My Ladye Nevells Booke: old news retold

 

by Guest Blogger: Mandy Macdonald

 

A page from William Byrd’s My Ladye Nevells Booke

 

This recording of the lovely Fifth Pavane, played by the English harpsichordist Colin Tilney, is one of the 42 compositions for virginals by William Byrd (c. 1540–1623) in My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal Music, one of the most beautiful Tudor manuscripts in existence. Continue reading My Ladye Nevells Booke: old news retold

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The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the man who made it famous. Part 2

 

Boris Ord and members of the King’s College Choir, taken in the Chapel at King’s, 1956

 

In an earlier post I introduced Boris Ord, the conductor of King’s College Choir for nearly 30 years. But what else do we know about him?

His biographical details – including active service in both wars – can easily be found online.

Briefly, he was an accomplished organist while still at school and studied at the Royal College of Music on a scholarship. In 1920 he went as organ scholar to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he founded the Cambridge University Madrigal Society, which toured abroad and so memorably sang madrigals during May Week on the river Cam from 1928. In 1923 he was elected to a fellowship at King’s College. Continue reading The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the man who made it famous. Part 2

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Baroque orchestra, La Petite Bande, loses vital funding

 

 

Despite having amassed almost twenty thousand signatures on an internet-based petition, Sigiswald Kuijken’s baroque orchestra, La Petite Bande, has been definitively told that it will receive no more money from the Belgian government.

According to the committee which decided to pull the plug, the orchestra is no longer “innovative enough” and has outlived its usefulness, as there are now plenty of other similar groups! Continue reading Baroque orchestra, La Petite Bande, loses vital funding

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Alfred Deller, 100 years on, and what a lot has changed.

 

Alfred Deller was born on May 31, 1912 in the seaside town of Margate, in Kent, England and died on July 16, 1979 while on holiday in Bologna, Italy.

 
Alfred Deller can truly be called a pioneer of early music, developing his own voice and taking it to the public sphere in the face of frequent misunderstanding and even prejudice from his hearers. Considering the superstar status of Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky today, it’s odd that the clear, high-pitched voice of Alfred Deller was thought peculiar, even unnatural, during the early days of his career. Continue reading Alfred Deller, 100 years on, and what a lot has changed.

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The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the man who made it famous. Part 1

 
Part of an official photo of the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, taken c. 1950; Boris Ord is in the light suit with choral scholar Grayston Burgess on his right. You can just make out the top hats on the knees of the boys sitting on the ground.

 

When Boris Ord became director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge, in 1929, he took over a “fine choir” which had been developed by Dr A.H. Mann during his period of office, which had spanned 53 years! It’s not surprising, perhaps, that Dr Mann’s nickname was “Daddy”.

Although Mann had “a personality of great charm and kindliness [and] Boris had the highest respect for the achievements of his predecessor, he himself had a wider knowledge of music and a more comprehensive approach”. This is a quote from the slim postcard-sized commemorative booklet, written by composer Philip Radcliffe and privately printed for King’s College in 1962, the year after Ord’s death. Continue reading The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the man who made it famous. Part 1

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Frans Brüggen on Gustav Leonhardt

 

 

 

This is an extract from a 1971 interview, in which Frans Brüggen was asked to explain the “phenomenon Leonhardt”.  At that stage, they had already been friends for more than 10 years and had become internationally famous through their records and for giving concerts together. Continue reading Frans Brüggen on Gustav Leonhardt

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In Early Music, how famous is “famous enough”?

Mary Potts and Gustav Leonhardt

© Estate of Mary Potts 2012
 

Following on from my last post on Mary Potts, the forgotten harpsichord teacher of many, including Christopher Hogwood and Colin Tilney (who, like Professor Peter Williams, went on to study with Gustav Leonhardt), I’ve been looking into who else, from Mary’s circle, is remembered – or not.
 
What’s clear is that being commemorated apparently has little to do with recordings made, concerts given or academic posts held. Many musicians who were very famous in their lifetimes have now disappeared almost without trace. Perhaps it’s more important to have tenacious musical executors who are determined to keep someone’s memory alive, or at least get some recognition for them. Continue reading In Early Music, how famous is “famous enough”?

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