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Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Played by Richard Egarr

Discussions

K-4

Bach: Goldberg Variations · 14 Canons [K-4]

 

Goldberg Variations BWV 988 [90:24]
14 Canons on the Ground from Goldberg Variations, BWV 1087 [8:43]

Richard Egarr (Harpsichord)

Harmonia Mundi 907425/907426

Mar 8-11, 2005

2-CD / TT: 99:07

Recorded at Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente, Haarlem, Holland.
Review: Egarr Goldbergs [B. Lehman]
Review: Richard Egarr Performs Bach's Goldberg Variations [D. Satz]
Review: Goldberg Variations Review: Egarr [P. Bright]
Discussions: Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - played by Richard Egarr
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Goldbergs being released for US tour

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 1, 2006):
Richard Egarr's new recording of the Goldberg Variations is now showing up on Harmonia Mundi's web site: http://www.harmoniamundi.com/usa/album_fiche.php?album_id=1047

According to a quick browse through the Amazon offerings in several countries, it might be released on March 6 or 14, or various dates in April, at different places....

Egarr is touring the US playing this piece and other Bach repertoire. Schedule: http://www.moens-artists.nl/moens_artists/homeEgar.html

=====

Peter Watchorn phoned me yesterday with news that his own recording of WTC book 1 is due for release by March 21st, Bach's birthday. That's on a Ruckers-style harpsichord plus a pedalboard (at 16-foot pitch: big resonant bass).

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 2, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Richard Egarr's new recording of the Goldberg Variations is now showing up on Harmonia Mundi's web site: http://www.harmoniamundi.com/usa/album_fiche.php?album_id=1047 >

And oddly enough, Egarr in his booklet essay: http://www.harmoniamundi.com/Publish/document/416/HMU907425.pdf
has drawn some snippet quotes from me (some that I didn't remember really putting a huge amount of thought into, for any permanence...), from the off-the-cuff dialogue that happened here on-list in January 1-12, 2005. They look pretty funny and disconnected to me, out of context!

The original context was day-to-day discussions here, which then became part of the BCW, archived at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV988-Quodlibet.htm

Looking back on those archived messages, the topic was apparently a discussion whether the folk song "Mein junges Leben hat ein End" is really part of the Quodlibet or not, or if it's just simple scales in there.... Another member had made some claims that I thought were rather far-fetched and contrived, posting it as a BCW page purporting to be serious musical analysis, and then I responded to the arbitrariness of that presentation. Now, some excerpts from that informal dialogue have become enshrined in Harmonia Mundi booklet notes. Hmm. Well, at least I still agree today with what I wrote on that day in 2005, if seen in the broader context of that whole posting.

One never knows who's going to be looking at the BCW, for what purpose, or how seriously (or not) any portion of it is going to be taken -- away from the context of informal day-to-day discussions.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 2, 2006):
Brad Lehman stated:
>>Looking back on those archived messages, the topic was apparently a discussion whether the folk song "Mein junges Leben hat ein End" is really part of the Quodlibet or not, or if it's just simple scales in there.... Another member had made some claims that I thought were rather far-fetched and contrived, posting it as a BCW page purporting to be serious musical analysis, and then I responded to the arbitrariness of that presentation. Now, some excerpts from that informal dialogue have become enshrined in Harmonia Mundi booklet notes. Hmm. Well, at least I still agree today with what I wrote on that day in 2005, if seen in the broader context of that whole posting.<<
The point here is that you still believe that my investigation of the Quodlibet variation (30), very specifically regarding the inclusion as a possible folk-song reference to "Mein junges Leben hat ein End" is "rather far-fetched and contrived" and that what I have attempted to demonstrate is only "purporting to be serious musical analysis' and that my presentation of this additional melody reference is based upon 'arbitrariness'." I would ask you and anyone else who feels this way to consider the meaning of word "Quodlibet" which Bach wrote as the designation of this variation. You might find Michael Praetorius' explanation in his Syntagma musicum (II) helpful in your reconsideration of your former opinion: he states that a Quodlibet is a 'beggar's coat' made "aus vielen stücklin und fläcklin gleichsam ein gantzer Peltz zusammen gesticket und geflicket" ("of many pieces and patches out of which a whole (fur) coat can be sewn together and repair patches (to cover the holes or empty spaces) applied.") Here Bach is again doing what he had frequently done in his sacred vocal music (even instrumental music - listen carefully to the Memento mori recording of the Bach Ciaccona with the help of Helga Thoene's explication) where untexted chorale melodies appear in various guises. In this instance, variation 30, Bach has packed in an unbelievable number of compositional techniques being applied to a wide range of folksongs, some, as this one ("Mein junges Leben hat ein End") quite sad and serious while others are rather mundane, even crude folksongs, all of which, somehow as part of the text which the listener must supply, seem to point to the notion that this is the end of a grand connection toward which everything before it has been building and which one is either reluctant or in other instances eager to leave - the choice is up to you (Quodlibet) and the puns/double entendres abound if you wish to seek them. I do not believe that Bach would have allowed his compositional skills to be limited by someone who seriously claimed that a descending musical scale simply cannot carry any meaning or significance. It all depends upon the context in which it is used and the musical memories of those who are familiar with the chorale melodies or folk-songs. It is very difficult for anyone who has truly studied Bach thoroughly to deny that puns and puzzles (symbols, 'Augenmusik', etc.) were not part of his very essence. To be sure, these 'built-in cryptic messages' will need to be reexamined again and again in light of their reasonableness, but simply calling them far-fetched or arbitrary because a downward scale was the incipit of a folksong (the listener can identify most folk-song references immediately upon hearing the sequence of first notes) seems to misunderstand completely what Bach was trying to accomplish here and why he named this variation "Quodlibet" accordingly.

On the positive side, it is very encouraging to hear from Egarr that he is beginning to take the word 'cantabile' as understood by Bach more seriously as a singing style of playing (this implies a more legato style), a style which does not attempt to emulate the disintegrative (is this close in meaning to the word "deconstruction" which Egarr mentions in his essay?) vocal style used by Harnoncourt in his cantata recordings.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 2, 2006):
< (........) On the positive side, it is very encouraging to hear >from Egarr that he is beginning to take the word >'cantabile' as understood by Bach more seriously as a singing style of playing (this implies a more legato >style), a style which does not attempt to emulate the >disinteg(........) >
Richard Egarr obviously knows how to play the harpsichord better than most people currently living, and hardly needs to be condescended against in that manner: especially with such a harsh and loaded word as "disintegrative".

See also my own recent posting elsewhere, about cantabile playing (from Bach's title page of inventions/sinfonias), related directly to this same tuning: http://tinyurl.com/pc3mz
...It fosters melodic and generally gentle playing, and rewards that approach very well.

As for Peter Watchorn's forthcoming recording of WTC, which I've already listened to more than 20 times straight through (in a preliminary temporary edit), I believe you'll be very pleased with his cantabile manner and usually rather ruminative tempos. I am deeply satisfied by it. It makes both the music and the instrument sound tremendous. He, too, has said that some of this musical decision has been due to the way this tuning has caused him to rethink the music and approach it differently, since the summer. He also gives a large amount of credit on this cantabile style to his former teacher, Isolde Ahlgrimm, about whom he has written a forthcoming book.

Peter Bright wrote (March 2, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< As for Peter Watchorn's forthcoming recording of WTC, which I've already listened to more than 20 times straight through (in a preliminary temporary edit), I believe you'll be very pleased with his cantabile manner and usually rather ruminative tempos. I am deeply satisfied by it. It makes both the music and the instrument sound tremendous. He, too, has said that some of this musical decision has been due to the way this tuning has caused him to rethink the music and approach it differently, since the summer. He also gives a large amount of credit on this cantabile style to his former teacher, Isolde Ahlgrimm, about whom he has written a forthcoming book. >
While we're on this subject, here's a short review of another forthcoming WTC recording (from the UK Independent):

"Bach is, of course, the ideal candidate for inventive recreation, and Andrei Vieru's set of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book One (Alpha/Harmonia Mundi 087, two discs ) scores pretty high on the novelty front. In terms of style, Vieru can switch mood even during the course of a single piece, as he does in the final fugue where by gradually pushing the tempo he ferries us from relative darkness to blazing light. An avowed enemy of artists who side with "the archivists of art rather than with art itself", he dares to open his cycle with two performances of the First Prelude. He then goes on to repeat the Eighth Prelude after the Twelfth Fugue, and tail the Nineteenth Fugue with a second performance, as if it were a written repeat. All "second" performances are called "variants", which they are (in the subtlest terms), their principal appeal being that we can virtually hear Vieru's brain tick in time with the music. He certainly makes you think."

bwv846_893 wrote (March 8, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Peter Watchorn phoned me yesterday with news that his own recording of WTC book 1 is due for release by March 21st, Bach's birthday. That's on a Ruckers-style harpsichord plus a pedalboard (at 16-foot pitch: big resonant bass). >
Is there an internet-based merchant where one can find this recording?

Donald Satz wrote (March 9, 2006):
[To bwv846_893] I don't know where you live, but the U.S. release date for the Egarr is 14 March. It can be ordered through ArkivMusic as an "Advance Order". Personally, I wait until I know a disc is in stock, because "advance order" can quickly change to "backorder".

 

Egarr's Goldbergs - first encounters

Piotr Jaworski wrote (March 9, 2006):
[To Donald Satz] Since Egarr's Goldbegrs are available in Poland at least for two weeks, I could approach that recording twice to date. First time - when I was picking i.a. the last disc of Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin with Maurice Steger performing Telemann Concertos - simply terrific performance - then I'd only noticed it; and for the second time - almost in purpose, after the lecture of the RE essay so kindly submitted by Brad Lehman.

I must say that no mater how interesting it was I didn't like the RE reasoning and found certain passages almost irritating. And most of all - knowing that artist and several of his recordings - I simply found no reasons for such justifications. Therefore was so much interested to hear what the very music had to express.

And I must say that if there wouldn't be one secured copy of Vivaldi "Motezuma" under Alan Curtis I might end up with Egarr's set.Had no time to listen a lot, but it seems to be a very good performance, and from the technical side - it's fabulous. Recording engineers did really great job. Certainly it must be an excellent performance to push me towards another set of Goldberg Variations but to my surprise, I'm not so much engaged by "Motezuma" these days as by Egarr's playing .... provocative and captivating ... much more than his essay.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 9, 2006):
Egarr is supposed to be interviewed on the radio this morning, about 10:15 Pacific time (about four hours from now), by KPFK in Los Angeles: http://www.kpfk.org/
"Global Village" program presented by John Schneider: KPFK
The web site has a "LISTEN LIVE" link.

 

Egarr's Goldbergs available online

Jan Hanford wrote (March 11, 2006):
For those who can't wait for the cd release this coming week, the new Richard Egarr Goldberg Variations recording is available as a download at iTunes and emusic.com. Previews are also available at each site.

His essay, which I assume is from the cd booklet, is available to download at the Harmonia Mundi web site in pdf format: http://www.harmoniamundi.com/usa/album_fiche.php?album_id=1047

click on:

"Richard Egarr's Goldberg Essay (English Only) "

Juozas Rimas wrote (March 13, 2006):
[To Jan Hanford] As I see Egarr's Goldberg's will feature the discovered Bach's temperament. The story of discovery is really fascinating: it reminded me the short story by Edgar Allan Poe titled "Purloined Letter".

BTW, I have seen the positive answer in the FAQ of LaripS.com to the question on whether non-technical listeners to music hear the difference, but so far I can't confirm it, after listening, in succession, to Bradley's, Ruzickovas's, Leonhardt's and Gould's recordings of the BWV 797 sinfonia.

I don't know where to expect tuning-related problems, therefore can't identify where they have been solved. A casual listener like me, is thinking in the terms of "Ruzickova's wild fast trills are too much", "Gould's piano lacks the color of the harpsichord but has access dynamic differences as an artistical means" etc. The most such
listeners are able to do, is to identify a singer singing out of tune or a keyboard instrument playing seriously out of tune :)

I must admit, though, the sound of Bradley's harpsichord was the most pleasant, of all four. However, the recordings have been made on four different instruments with different recording conditions, so comparison is impossible for a non-trained ear. I haven't found side-by-side samples on the LaripS website - they would help to illustrate the practical application of the discovery.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (March 15, 2006):
[To Jan Hanford] Thank you for this Jan. I downloaded the first CD this morning. I have not listened closely enough to make a comment. I appreciate the link to the notes. The bad part about buying from emusic is the lack of liner notes.

Sato Fumitaka wrote (March 16, 2006):
< For those who can't wait for the cd release this coming week, the new Richard Egarr Goldberg Variations recording is available as a download at iTunes and emusic.com. >
Thank you for letting me know about this.

I have downloaded Egarr's Goldbergs through iTunes, and I am listening tothe tracks. With the nice tuning, the harmony is very clear in tunes of frequent modulation. Every voice can be heard much more easily and I feel very pleasant with the sound.I ordered a CD set expecting for more clear sound quality.

 

Egarr's Goldbergs

bwv846_893 wrote (March 22, 2006):
What are listeners' initial impressions of this recording?

I received a copy in the mail at the beginning of the week and have a few comments based on my listening thus far:

1. I like the sound of the Ruckers copy instrument. This is a "machine that can sing." Perhaps it is the quill voicing (seagull feathers - I can almost hear the sea. But, no, I am thinking of conch shells, the proto-baroque horn).

I do have a confession, though: I own a number of recordings of the Goldbergs on harpsichord (e.g., Pinnock, Gilbert, Hantai I and II, Cole), which I listen to on a regular basis. But I can't, for the life of me, detect the difference that the Lehman tuning system makes to this music. Am I missing something obvious? Maybe it is my "lay" ears? Or maybe the recording itself?

2. The tempi variations and (relatively discreet) use of legato jarred me at first. But I take Egarr's point about how the 80-minute CD can be a Procrustean bed for the GV. I think that placing the variations on 2 discs is useful here, particularly since he wants to bring out the "cantabile" in the variations.

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (March 22, 2006):
bwv846_893 wrote:
< What are listeners' initial impressions of this recording? >
I agree your impressions.

< I do have a confession, though: I own a number of recordings of the Goldbergs on harpsichord (e.g., Pinnock, Gilbert, Hantai I and II, Cole), which I listen to on a regular basis. But I can't, for the life of me, detect the difference that the Lehman tuning system makes to this music. Am I missing something obvious? Maybe it is my "lay" ears? Or maybe the recording itself? >
You are not alone. I have Gustav Leonhart and Ralph Kirkpatrick on harpsichord. While the sound of the instruments varies, I don't think many people could detect a difference in the tuning.

< 2. The tempi variations and (relatively discreet) use of legato jarred me at first. But I take Egarr's point about how the 80-minute CD can be a Procrustean bed for the GV. I think that placing the variations on 2 discs is useful here, particularly since he wants to bring out the "cantabile" in the variations. >
I do agree with Egarr that some performers whizz through the variations much too quickly. His playing sounds plodding to me. His use of rubato really bothers me. In Variation 1 he leans on the first beat of the bar. This can be effective, but he over does it. In Variation 9 he sometimes plays the eighth notes unevenly almost like a jazz player. Again this can be effective, but Egarr's music most certainly does not swing. I do not like music which sounds metronomic, but rubato which distorts the rhythm is not for me.

bwv846_893 wrote (March 22, 2006):
<< 2. The tempi variations and (relatively discreet) use of legato jarred me at first. But I take Egarr's point about how the 80-minute CD can be a Procrustean bed for the GV. I think that placing the variations on 2 discs is useful here, particularly since he wants to bring out the "cantabile" in the variations. >>
Anne Russell wrote:
< I do agree with Egarr that some performers whizz through the variations much too quickly. His playing sounds plodding to me. His use of rubato really bothers me. In Variation 1 he leans on the first beat of the bar. This can be effective, but he over does it. In Variation 9 he sometimes plays the eighth notes unevenly almost like a jazz player. Again this can be effective, but Egarr's music most certainly does not swing. I do not like music which sounds metronomic, but rubato which distorts the rhythm is not for me. >
Thank you for the correction. I meant "rubato" not "legato."

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2006):
bwv846_893 wrote:
< What are listeners' initial impressions of this recording? >
My copy of the CD hasn't arrived yet, but I heard about 15 minutes of excerpts in Egarr's interview on a Los Angeles radio broadcast a few weeks ago.

He spoke for at least five minutes before that about the quills, and the difference that makes in the overall sound/responsiveness of the instrument. (I've played on quilled harpsichords too myself, and concur about those musical advantages: but mine have the more usual plastic.)

< 1. I like the sound of the Ruckers copy instrument. This is a "machine that can sing." Perhaps it is the quill voicing (seagull feathers ­ I can almost hear the sea. But, no, I am thinking of conch shells, the proto-baroque horn). >
It takes a good player--which Egarr is--to let the instrument sing. Some of those harpsichord techniques are to listen especially carefully for lines instead of chords; and not hit the notes exactly together; and accent some of the notes by altering their timing; and hold some of the notes considerably longer than it says on the page. But all of that has to be subtle, and natural-sounding....

< I do have a confession, though: I own a number of recordings of the Goldbergs on harpsichord (e.g., Pinnock, Gilbert, Hantai I and II, Cole), which I listen to on a regular basis. But I can't, for the life of me, detect the difference that the Lehman tuning system makes to this music. Am I missing something obvious? Maybe it is my "lay" ears? Or maybe the recording itself? >
Here is yesterday's New York Times review of Egarr's concert: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/21/arts/music/21egar.html

A point of the tuning is not to be obvious, or to call any attention to itself: but merely to reveal the music and instrument with beautiful sounds. It catalyzes excellent performers to give outstandingly sensitive performances,
listening closely to the music while playing it.

It is sort of like having a pet in perfect health. The marvel is not the health itself (drawing any attention to itself), but the long delight in the vigorous life, and the ease of maintenance. Always behaves smoothly, never has a crisis. Or substitute "car" or "good stereo system" for "pet"....whatever.

Other temperaments fail (sound harsh, or directly ugly) especially in the Bach pieces I have listed here, drawing attention to themselves as unsatisfactory: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/testpieces.html

Uri Golomb wrote (March 22, 2006):
bwv846_893 wrote:
< I do have a confession, though: I own a number of recordings of the Goldbergs on harpsichord (e.g., Pinnock, Gilbert, Hantai I and II, Cole), which I listen to on a regular basis. But I can't, for the life of me, detect the difference that the Lehman tuning system makes to this music. Am I missing something obvious? Maybe it is my "lay" ears? Or maybe the recording itself? >
It's possible that listeners do respond to different tuning systems without quite realising it's the tuning they're responding to. I remember being in a master-class directed by Andrew Parrott, in which he instructed the violinist to alter their tuning (in a Corelli trio sonata, IIRC). I couldn't hear the difference in terms of tuning -- but the TIMBRE of the instruments certainly changed after they retuned them in accordance with his instructions; and it did seem that the re-tuning was the most substantial change they made.

So, it's quite possible that part of what seems like different timbre, different resonance etc. might actually be traceable to difference in tuning. But it might also be traceable to other factors. Ultimately, I suspect that you have to have had experience in doing tuning yourself (something I've had very little experience in, myself) in order to isolate which differences are due to tuning and which are due to other factors. A live lecture-demonstration might help, though.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2006):
< It's possible that listeners do respond to different tuning systems without quite realising it's the tuning they're responding to. I remember being in amaster-class directed by Andrew Parrott, in which he instructed the violinist to alter their tuning (in a Corelli trio sonata, IIRC). I couldn't hear the difference in terms of tuning -- but the TIMBRE of the instruments certainly changed after they retuned them in accordance with his instructions; and it did seem that the re-tuning was the most substantial change they made.
So, it's quite possible that part of what seems like different timbre, different resonance etc. might actually be traceable to difference in tuning. But it might also be traceable to other factors. Ultimately, I suspect that you have to have had experience in doing tuning yourself (something I've had very little experience in, myself) in order to isolate which differences are due to tuning and which are due to other factors. A live lecture-demonstration might help, though. >
These are good points.

Yesterday I listened again to part of a Goldbergs recording that I've liked for a long time: Kipnis's, on Seraphim. Marvelous playing by a master harpsichordist. But already within the first several minutes I found myself increasingly annoyed by the way the B is tuned so high above the G in equal temperament. No chance to build up much resonance when both are played together, as they are at the beginning of so many of the variations. The effect I get from this is "harsh and unsettled" among some other words.

Then I switched to the beginning of Leonhardt's 1954 recording on Vanguard: same problem from the same cause. The B is just too blankin' high in its melodic/harmonic contexts vis-a-vis G. The music never really settles. The note B that high above the G (for equal temperament) reverses the relationship of "consonance" and
"dissonance", at least for me as a listener. The whole G-B-D triad--home base for the Goldberg Variations--sounds perpetually dissonant when the B is so high.

Then I switched to Verlet's, and Leonhardt's 1976. Both of those are played in temperaments that are much kinder to the G-B interval, and the whole instrument already sounds more resonant and warm.

And no, this is not only from being a different mike setup, different recording studio, different pitch, and different instrument; I've done these same experiments here myself for several years directly on harpsichords, comparing equal vs other temperaments while keeping everything else constant. I did a public lecture/demo in November, to that same effect, with two nearly-identical harpsichords next to one another: one in equal and the other not. The resonance of the two instruments was qualitatively different, playing identical music in the simplest keys.

Jan Hanford wrote (March 22, 2006):
bwv846_893 wrote:
< What are listeners' initial impressions of this recording? >
It is the worst performance of the Goldbergs on harpsichord I have ever heard.

< I do have a confession, though: I own a number of recordings of the Goldbergs on harpsichord (e.g., Pinnock, Gilbert, Hantai I and II, Cole), which I listen to on a regular basis. But I can't, for the life of me, detect the difference that the Lehman tuning system makes to this music. Am I missing something obvious? Maybe it is my "lay" ears? Or maybe the recording itself? >
I can't hear any difference in the tuning compared to equal. I don't think we mere mortals can actually hear the difference.

< 2. The tempi variations and (relatively discreet) use of legato jarred me at first. But I take Egarr's point about how the 80-minute CD can be a Procrustean bed for the GV. I think that placing the variations on 2 discs is useful here, particularly since he wants to bring out the "cantabile" in the variations. >
His rubato is so annoying that I had trouble sitting through the cd. I think it's a mess. Oh well. Thankfully I have at least a dozen other performances I can listen to and enjoy so Egarr's becomes irrelevant for me.

bwv846_893 wrote (March 22, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< A point of the tuning is not to be obvious, or to call any attention to itself: but merely to reveal the music and instrument with beautiful sounds. It catalyzes excellent performers to give outstandingly sensitive performances, listening closely to the music while playing it. It is sort of like having a pet in perfect health. The marvel is not the health itself (drawing any attention to itself), but the long delight in the vigorous life, and the ease of maintenance. Always behaves smoothly, never has a crisis. Or substitute "car" or "good stereo system" for "pet"....whatever. >
This is an interesting comparison. I am intrigued by this discovery and look forward to hearing more of it "in action." I see that Watchorn's new recording of WTK Book I is available at musicaomnia.com: http://www.musicaomnia.org/newreleases.asp

The sound sample (mp3 audio -- Prelude 1) sounds very promising. I am ordering a copy today.

Thomas Braatz wrote (March 23, 2006):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>A point of the tuning is not to be obvious, or to call any attention to itself: but merely to reveal the music and instrument with beautiful sounds. It catalyzes excellent performers to give outstandingly sensitive performances, listening closely to the music while playing it.... Other temperaments fail (sound harsh, or directly ugly) especially in the Bach pieces I have listed here, drawing attention to themselves as unsatisfactory....<<
The unproven, undocumented assumptions here include:

1. beautiful sounds of the music and instrument are not revealed by equal temperament, nor are excellent performers catalyzed into giving outstandingly sensitive performances, really listening closely to the music while playing it

2. equal temperament (and all other unequal temperaments other than the chosen one by the respondent) sounds especially harsh and ugly, thus it can be classified as being unsatisfactory

Just last night I came upon more information about a Mr. Hänfling who calculated equal temperament for Bümler in 1703 who then applied it immediately and never switched back to any other non-equal temperament. It turns out, as often happens in the German language, that "Hänfling" can also be spelled "Henfling" and by the process of simple comparison a connection can be established between this Hofrat Hänfling and the Conrad Henfling (now we know his first name) who carried on rather significant correspondence on the subject of music with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a famous German philosopher (1646-1716) who also may have made Händel's
acquaintance when the latter was on Hannover.

From the Grove Music Online (Oxford University Press, 2006, acc. 3/21/06) Rudolf Haase states: "In a letter
dated 30 August 1706 which deals with many music-theoretical issues, Henfling set out detailed calculations for a method of temperament. After making some revisions of his own, Leibniz had Henfling's work published as 'Epistola de novo suo systemate musico' in Miscellanea berolinensia, 1710.<< There is great likelihood here that the temperament which Bümler obtained from Mr. Hänfling is the same temperament referred to here.

Now we have a probable distribution of at least the knowledge of equal temperament to Händel via Leibniz
and through Bümler in Ansbach there is a probable connection as well to the Jena Bach, an important relative of J. S. Bach.

Why didn't true musicians and composers at the beginning of the 18th century turn their backs on equal temperament and return to the unequal temperaments, if it (equal temperament) had revealed all the musical disadvantages and flaws which are ascribed to it by the respondent above?

Julian Mincham wrote (March 23, 2006):
Bradley Lehman writes:

A
< live lecture-demonstration might help, though. >
I can certainly vouch that it does. Some years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture recital by the great violinist Isaac Stern, then at the height of his powers. Someone asked a question about tuning and Stern replied that for him it was certainly a live issue. He then proceeded to play a section of a sarabande from one of the Unaccompanied JSB violin sonatas, in two ways. The first, he claimed, was how he wouplay it if it were accompanied by a keyboard instrument tuned in equal temperament. The second was how he would play it on the violin, unaccompanied.

There was no doubt that, when heard side by side there was a discernable difference which is difficult to describe, especially after all these years--the only words I can think to use is that the second sounded more flowing, natural and mellifluous. The melodic lines did seem to take on a different quality.

This convinced me that tuning does make a real difference to the sound of the music. But even so I would find it difficult, if not impossible to recognise the differences in isolation. It's a bit like hearing the same piece, performed by the same player on two similar pianos one immediately after the other--you can hear that they are different but it's difficult to describe precisely what the differences are (we tend to use terms like, 'harder', 'softer', 'more or less brittle.' ) But if you hear the same two instruments a month apart they may sound very much the same. Like so much in the performance arts its a matter of 'feel' which is difficult to describe or explain rationally.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 23, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I can certainly vouch that it does. Some years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture recital by the great violinist Isaac Stern, then at the height of his powers. Someone asked a question about tuning and Stern replied that for him it was certainly a live issue. He then proceeded to play a section of a sarabande from one of the Unaccompanied JSB violin sonatas, in two ways. The first, he claimed, was how he would play it if it were accompanied by a keyboard instrument tuned in equal temperament. The second was how he would play it on the violin, unaccompanied. >
Yes, years ago, I heard John Holloway and Davitt Moroney play some of Biber's Rosary Sonatas. Since they use very strange tunings, the performers gave a lecture in the afternoon explaining the whole principle. It was quite enlightening. This sort of thing should be done more often to help people understand what lies behind the music.

bwv846_893 wrote (March 23, 2006):
Jan Hanford wrote:
< His rubato is so annoying that I had trouble sitting through the cd. I think it's a mess. Oh well. Thankfully I have at least a dozen other performances I can listen to and enjoy so Egarr's becomes irrelevant for me. >
I would be curious to know your top 5 recordings (on harpsichord).

I encountered a refreshing antidote to Egarr's rhythmic irregularity today. I have been trying to track down a copy of Christophe Rousset's Goldbergs (for a reasonable price) for a number of years.

Decca has recently reissued his Bach recordings (the Clavier-Ubung series: Partitas, Italian Conc., French Overture and Goldbergs). This four-disc set does not appear to be available in North America. I found it at mdt.co.uk for a very good price: J8.51 ($14.95) + J3 ($5) shipping.

Gramophone's Lionel Salter gave this recording a very positive review over a decade ago: http://www.gramophone.co.uk/gramofilereview.asp?reviewID=9511082&mediaID=42676&issue=Reviewed%3A+Gramophone+11%2F1995

I concur with this recommendation. The rhythmic control and vitality of this recording are remarkable. It reminds me in some ways of Pinnock's brilliant recording. The recorded sound is also excellent. No frills with quills and new tuning systems, but the Hemsch instrument sparkles.

bwv846_893 wrote (March 24, 2006):
Classicstoday.com review of Egarr's Goldbergs

http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=9834

Jed Distler takes exception to Egarr's lack of "lilt and rhythmic impetus."

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 24, 2006):
long Goldbergs

http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=9834

"These include artists whose overall timings rival or exceed Egarr's 83 minutes, like Glen Wilson (Teldec), Sergio Vartolo (Tactus), and Igor Kipnis (EMI). So much for the single-CD conspiracy theory."

Actually, Glen Wilson's recording is now only 79'41". He has re-edited that 1992 recording in 2005, judiciously omitting a few repeats, so the whole performance will now fit onto a single CD. I don't know if it's destined for official re-release or not, but he sent me one and it's lovely.

bwv846_893 wrote (March 23, 2006):
Lionel Salter's (Gramophone) Review of C. Rousset's Goldbergs

The link that I provided in my previous posting does not seem to be working. I paste the review below:

At last, thank heaven, the Goldberg Variations are ceasing to be regarded as a recherche intellectual exercise by the ''old wig'' (as his irreverent children called Bach), to be performed with awed solemnity by some high priestess of the keyboard or with stylistic anachronisms by eccentrics more interested in their own experiments than in what the music indicates. In the last decade, or so, it has begun to be fully realized that, for all its astonishing ingenuity, the work is also something to be enjoyed by both player and listener. Some artists, notably those listed above, have helped to change public perception of the Variations, and Rousset joins their number in presenting the work as something that would have entertained the insomniac Count Keyserling and not sent him to sleep again.

As the proverb has it, it's the first step that counts; and nowhere is this more true than here. Even Pinnock, whose account of the Variations is stimulatingly lively, states the theme at a funereal pace quite out of keeping with what follows. Rousset treats it as the sarabande it is, with the stateliness of that dance yet with a subtle freedom. From then on, the music exudes cheerfulness - the first variation has an engaging light-hearted energy - and speeds are fast throughout (which incidentally allows all repeats to be included on the disc). Variation 7 is a real gigue (as it has now been established to be), and the fughetta of Var. 10 is positively chirpy: the alla breve Var. 22, crisply articulated, has an invigorating spring. There is no undue slowing-down for the minor-key variations, and no sentimentalizing of the famous 'black pearl' Var. 25; but Rousset can bring a true affettuoso feeling to Var. 13. All the complex passagework of the Variations is nimbly and cleanly played: a slight overhang of resonance noticeable in the theme and at the start of the minor Var. 21 is undetectable elsewhere. Rousset feels no need to add extra ornamentation other than an occasional mordent or appoggiatura, and he observes the dotting conventions of the period, as in the upbeats of Var. 26 (though I was mildly surprised that he does not dot the two-semiquaver figure in the second half of Var. 13, to match the first half). There is a robust sound from the Hemsch instrument employed, and Rousset is sparing in changes of registration. I suppose some people may accuse him of a lack of gravitas overall, but to me this issue is extremely recommendable: the only thing I didn't like was the convulsive out-of-rhythm treatment of the alternating chords of Var. 29.

A word of praise, incidentally, for the insert-notes, which in their comprehensiveness and succinctness are a model of their kind.'

 

Egarr on BBC 3 yesterday

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 1, 2006):
Yesterday's live broadcast of BBC 3's "Early Music Show" featured harpsichordist Richard Egarr playing music by Frescobaldi, Louis Couperin, Handel and Bach. He used my temperament as a convenient tuning for that program, and talked about it briefly between the pieces.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/earlymusicshow/pip/g94in/

It is available through this week on the "Listen to the latest programmes - Sunday" link at this page:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/earlymusicshow/

He talked about his recent recording of the Goldberg Variations, and played several of the variations live in the studio; also part of a Handel chaconne on the same bass pattern.

=====

The Taylor & Boody organ Opus 46 is being dedicated next Sunday, also using this tuning. That one is a two-manual, 13 stop instrument at a Presbyterian church in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.

Other recent and upcoming usage (but I usually don't know about it very far in advance):
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/usage.html

 

Egarr Goldbergs

Kirk McElhearn wrote (May 31, 2006):
I got the Egarr discs the other day, and gave it an initial listen through. I'll say right away that the difference in tuning is interesting, though it will take something like the WTC to appreciate it fully...

However, I don't find Egarr's reading of the Goldbergs very interesting. First, the instrument sounds poorly miked - it sounds muddy at times, and with all his ornamentation, it's easy to lose track of the melodic lines. Either there's too much reverb, or the harpsichord is miked to closely.

Second, the ornamentation. Usually, one ornaments the repeats, playing through the first time more according to the score. It sounds here as though Egarr is trying to show off, Frenchifying the Goldbergs, and it gets annoying after only a few variations.

Finally, the tempi. He seems to want to make the longest Goldbergs ever recorded, and, at times, it sounds that way. Intentional, dispassionate, plodding...

All in all, I'm disappointed. It's a good thing this was a cheap set, because I'm really not sure I'll be listening too it much. If I've missed anything, do point it out - for a first listen, this was quite a disappointment.

Donald Satz wrote (June 1, 2006):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I was also disappointed after a first listen to the Egarr Goldbergs. With additional hearings, my opinion of the set has improved (up to a point). The playing is elegant and beautiful, reaching the cantabile heaven that Egarr places so much priority on. Unfortunately, the interpretations have little depth, and Egarr's very slow tempos for Bach's faster variations saps them of their excitement and drive.

Henri Sanguinetti wrote (June 8, 2006):
[To Donald Satz] I totally agree. I have lived listening to the Golbergs almost every day of my life. I am not a musician, just loves listening and will not dare judging as I am no expert and could always find some beauty in any of the different interpretations I know. More or less...My criterion is listening day after day to one version, first thing in the morning, until I feel tired of it. In that game I would say that on harpsichord the first Hantai, the Rousset and the Frisch are leading. Funny that reading through the fantastic list of comments on this list, some real experts found the Frisch's quite boring. What would we say about the Egarr; after four days I haven't been able to listen to it again; even if coming back to it I really loved the end (aria da capo) and the 15th. Nothing to do with the music, I also find the accompanying text slightly irritating. I must say may be because I discovered Gould's Goldberg after having been familiar to many others....

Just joking but I am happy in a way that Richard Egarr did not come "before" Gould, happy for JS Bach's Goldberg popularity as well.

PS: I really like the sound of the harpsichord in Egarr's. I believe even if I cannot clearly explain why, that the tuning is the key of it.

 

Egarr's Goldbergs

John Pike wrote (August 11, 2006):
I had been meaning to get this for some time, knowing that it uses the Brad suggestion of Bach's own temperament, and having heard Egarr live (and on recording) several times, and knowing him to be a fine player. Lack of availability on Amazon.uk delayed this. A week ago, I found a review of it in BBC Music Magazine by Nicholas Anderson, a specialist in baroque music, and a normally reliable critic in that magazine. Anderson gave it only 3/5, and I was initially put off buying it. However, fortunately curiosity overcame me and I bought it.

I could not put my hand on my heart and say it is my favourite recording of the Goldbergs. I prefer both Schiff's second recording and Tureck's recording from a concert in a private house, both on piano of course. However, I feel Anderson's comments are a bit unfair, and this is, in my view, a very worthy performance. I can easily imagine his style of playing being well suited to whiling away the sleepless night-time hours. There is much grace in the playing, and pleasing characterisation of the different variations. It is a nicely gestural performance, but the gestures seem natural and gentle, so they don't interrupt the natural flow of the music. I would be hard placed as an amateur to tell the difference between the different temperaments used for this sort of music, but the one used here certainly creates a very pleasing effect throughout the variations. (I am now eagerly awaiting Peter Watchorn's recording of book 1 of the WTC, recorded using the same temperament.)<B! r The addition of the 14 Goldberg canons is a welcome addition to Egarr's nicely presented 2 CD set.

Donald Satz wrote (August 11, 2006):
I read the BBC review. Although I don't share the reviewer's particular views, I would likely also give the performances three stars out of five. My review of the recording can be found on MusicWeb International.

I should also point out that some other review sources have praised Egarr's interpretations.

Peter Bright wrote (August 15, 2006):
I've also just reviewed the Egarr Goldbergs (finally!). My views converge in places with Don's although I think I have a more favourable impression overall. I have pasted the main part of it below:
See: Goldberg Variations Review: Egarr [P. Bright]

John Pike wrote (August 15, 2006):
Hi, Peter. I am interested to read this. I agree with you about Egarr's variation 25 but have to disagree about the quodlibet. For me, that was one of the most enjoyable things in this recording. Much as I love Schiff's second recording of the Goldbergs, I was a bit disappointed by his quodlibet. Glenn Gould's two recordings of the quodlibet are my favourites, but this new recording from Egarr comes close to that. I find he really gives the music time to speak, and it is very nicely phrased and gestured. The ornamentation in the repeat is very attractive to me though no doubt some would disapprove of this.

I found Perahia's programme notes very interesting and parts of his performance I enjoy very much, especially variation 25, but overall I don't think it dances as much as, say, Schiff or Tureck.

I am now listening to Peter Watchorn's WTC book 1, also recorded using the Brad/Bach temperament. Initial impressions are extremely favourable. i am concentrating on trying to note the difference the new temperament makes to an untrained ear and I think I am beginning to detect it. It does seem very warm. My father asked to hear the E major, a favourite of ours, and this gave me a chance to hear the temperament at its most bright and spicy, and I certainly detected that. The programme notes in Watchorn's recording are really excellent. I know there are those who are not convinced by this temperament but, for myself, with every encounter I have with it, and the more i read the experiences of experienced harpsichordists, the more convinced I am that Brad is spot on. I told my wife at the weekend, after reading the programme notes, and listening to a bit of it, that I thought Brad was a genius for sorting out the temperament encoded in that innocent looking squiggle at the top
of the title page (and he didn't pay me for saying so, in case anyone wondered).

 

Goldberg Variations BWV 988: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019
Comparative Review: Goldberg Variations on Piano:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Comparative Review: Round-Up of Goldberg Variations Recordings:
Recordings | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
GV - R. Barami, J. Crossland, O. Dantone, D. Propper | GV - M. Cole | GV - J. Crossland | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr [Lehman] | GV - R. Egarr [Satz] | GV - R. Egarr [Bright] | GV - Feltsman | GV- P. Hantai | GV - P. Hantaï (2nd) | GV - K. Haugsand | GV - A. Hewitt | GV - R. Holloway | GV- H. Ingolfsdottir | GV - J. Jando | GV - B. Lagacé | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV- K. Lifschitz | GV - A. Newman | GV - T. Nikolayeva 3rd | GV- J. Payne | GV - W. Riemer | GV - C. Rousset | GV - S. Schepkin, M. Yudina & P. Serkin | GV - A. Schiff [ECM] | GV- H. Small | GV - M. Suzuki | GV - G. Toth | GV - K.v. Trich | GV - R. Tureck [Satz] | GV - R. Tureck [Lehman] | GV- B. Verlet | GV - A. Vieru | GV - J. Vinikour | GV - A. Weissenberg | GV - Z. Xiao-Mei
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Quodlibet in GV | GV for Strings
Discussions of Individual Recordings:
GV - D..Barenboim | GV - P.J. Belder | GV - E. Dershavina | GV - S. Dinnerstein | GV - R. Egarr | GV - V. Feltsman | GV - C. Frisch | GV - G. Gould | GV - P. Hantaï | GV - R. Holloway | GV - J. Jando | GV - K. Jarrett | GV - G. Leonhardt | GV - V. Makin | GV - A. Newman | GV - S. Ross | GV - A. Schiff | GV - R. Schirmer | GV - H. Small | GV - G. Sultan | GV - G. Toth | GV - R. Tureck | GV - S. Vartolo | GV - B. Verlet
Article:
The Quodlibet as Represented in Bach’s Final Goldberg Variation BWV 988/30 [T. Braatz]

Richard Egarr: Short Biography | Recordings of Non-Vocal Works
Reviews of Non-Vocal Recordings:
Review: Harpsichord Works by Richard Egarr | Egarr Goldbergs [B. Lehman] | Richard Egarr Performs Bach's Goldberg Variations [D. Satz] | Goldberg Variations Review: Egarr [P. Bright]
Discussions of Non-Vocal Recordings:
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - played by Richard Egarr

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Last update: żNovember 5, 2006 ż16:06:06