For details of the instruments, the players, and their comments about rehearsing with Leonhardt, in the early days of the Consort, see the first post about the second phase.
Wim ten Have estimated that the Consort gave around 75 concerts in Holland, in museums, churches, town halls and old houses. Sadly, there’s scarcely any remaining documentation.
Leonhardt prepared everything very well, including non-musical matters. When we had a concert, on each music stand there was a sheet of paper for each of us with our name on, the order of the pieces to be played and, at the bottom, the dates of the next concerts, and what time we needed to be at the railway station. I always thought that this was very considerate of him.
Lodewijk de Boer:
Leonhardt always played a couple of harpsichord solos at concerts, and I turned the pages for him. So I saw, from close by, how much mental and physical energy he put into his playing. He often sat there, snorting like an animal, but when it was finished he once again hid behind his façade of impassivity … [He was] a brilliant man, a great master, and I learned a great deal from him.
The Consort played in Denmark, a tour which included, at least, concerts in Copenhagen and radio broadcasts, and Antoinette van den Hombergh mentioned playing in Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg. They also played in the Stockholm Music Museum (in March 1963), and in Brussels and Heidelberg. Wim ten Have joked that playing in Basel was like being in the “lion’s den”, as they performed there at the invitation of August Wenzinger, head of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where Leonhardt had studied.
According to the viola player Wim ten Have, there were some Dutch radio broadcasts from 1958, but I’ve been unable to find any information and the tapes have, of course, all been destroyed. I have, though, found some details of their broadcasts for Swedish radio.
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Wim ten Have also told me that they received a good deal of negative feedback on their radio broadcasts and at live performances. And they were mercilessly teased by orchestral colleagues, after a concert they gave in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw during “Bach Week”, when they were repeatedly asked if they had had cold hands, as they played with almost no vibrato.
Dutch critics at the time also complained about the small squeaky sound of the baroque violins and the professorial atmosphere at concerts, which consisted mostly of completely unknown music, about which they could find nothing to say.
Nevertheless, the popularity of the Consort, albeit from a small audience (as Leonhardt himself often said), increased steadily throughout the late 1950s and early sixties. It ran parallel, of course, with Leonhardt’s growing international reputation as a harpsichordist and organist – his first American tour was in 1960 – and was consolidated not only by the record deal in 1961 (see below) but also, later, by the Consort’s much-anticipated performance at the 1965 Holland Festival.
According to an interview with the record producer, Wolf Erichson, Leonhardt signed with Telefunken in 1961, and their first record came out as part of the series Das Alte Werk.
I’ve not been able to find any pre-Telefunken commercial recordings of the Consort, despite the fact that Leonhardt had been making records since 1950 for Oceanic, Philips, Vanguard (see here) and the small Dutch label CNR (C.N. Rood).
In fact, the Leonhardt Consort only made around 25 records, excluding versions and not counting the Bach Cantata series, which involved an expanded group that wasn’t formed until 1968.
Here’s Leonhardt, speaking about his repertoire choice:
It included things like Biber’s Fidicinium sacro-profanum, which at that time was not published, like most of the music we played.
But it was all a revelation to us, and if I listen now to the records we made then it surprises me that although I can find things to criticize, I find nothing to be ashamed of.
Although the instrumentation of the Consort (on record) varied over the years, depending on the repertoire, and included one or more of the Kuijken brothers and the gamba player Veronika Hampe, the core members of the group were almost always involved.
To all good things … an end must come
Apparently Leonhardt suffered a burnout in 1967 after filming The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (see this interesting article), and doing his solo work, teaching and the Consort became just too much for him, so it was “pruned”.
In around 1972 the Leonhardt Consort officially ceased to exist as a concert-giving group, though the players continued to come together, sometimes with other colleagues, for specific projects, most famously for their fêted Bach cantata recordings.
Here they are, in the harpsichord and single-string formation, in
John Dowland’s Pavane in C Major
For nearly two decades, the Leonhardt Consort had played a key role not only in revolutionising historical performance style but also in introducing a number of forgotten composers to twentieth-century audiences. Their work remains an important reference point for early music ensembles to this day.
Thanks are due to the late Antoinette van den Hombergh (and her son, Felix), Wim ten Have, Jaap Schröder (who occasionally played with the Consort pre-1960), Janneke van der Meer (who played in the expanded Consort), Inger Enquist (of the Music and Theatre Library of Sweden), and to Jolande van der Klis for her excellent Oude muziek in Nederland, which has been a valuable source in writing this post. The English translations of various quotes are my own.
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Also of interest
The Leonhardt Consort – The second phase 1955 – 1972, Part 1
The Leonhardt Consort: the early days – with recorder pioneer Kees Otten
Gustav Leonhardt & Martin Skowroneck – Making harpsichord history
Alfred Deller, Leonhardt & the Harnoncourts: the first recording
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