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Robert Hill (Lute Harpsichord, Clavichord)

“Bach as Teacher” from Robert Hill


Bach: Bach as Teacher - Keyboard Works from the Cöthen Period (Edition Bachakademie Vol. 107)

CD 1:
Prelude in E flat major BWV 815a [1:43]
Suite in E flat major BWV 819a [16:31]
Sarabande in G minor BWV 839 [2:09]
Courante in G major BWV 840 1:57]
Prelude & Fugue in C major BWV 872a [2:42]
Prelude in D minor BWV 875a [1:22]
Prelude & Fugue in A minor BWV 895 [3:21]
Prelude & Fugue in E minor BWV 900 [4:11]
Prelude & Fugue in F major BWV 901 [2:37]
Prelude & Fugue in G major BWV 902/1a [2:16]
Fantasia on a Rondo in C minor BWV 918 [4:59]
Fugue in D minor BWV 948 [4:47]
Fugue in A minor BWV 947 [3:33]
Fugue in C major BWV 953 [1:43]
Fugue in E minor BWV 956 [3:02]
Fugue in G major BWV 957 [1:23]
CD 2:
Menuett in C minor BWV 813a [1:11]
Menuett in E flat major BWV 815a [1:39]
Suite in A minor BWV 818 [12:45]
Prelude & Fugue in C major BWV 870a [2:56]
Prelude & Fugue in D minor BWV 899 [3:00]
Prelude in G major BWV 902 [3:42]
Chromatic Fantasy in D minor BWV 903a [7:05]
Fantasia in C minor BWV 919 [1:31]
Preludes BWV 924-931 [1:08, 1:16, 1:11, 0:45, 1:25, 0:52, 2:07, 0:45]
Six Little Preludes BWV 933-938 [1:44, 1:57, 1:55, 2:15, 1:49, 1:53]
Five Preludes BWV 939-943 [0:38, 0:58, 0:39, 0:52, 1:37]
Fugue in C major BWV 952 [2:00]
Fugue in C minor BWV 961 [1:42]
Application in C major BWV 994 [0:49]

Robert Hill (Lute-Harpsichord [CD-1] & Clavichord [CD- 2])


Oct-Nov 1999

2-CD / TT 122:53

Recorded at Kath. Pfarrkirche Oberried/Breisgau, Germany.
Buy this album at: | [Box Set]

Donald Satz wrote (July 7, 2001):}
Summary for the Serious Bach Collector: Buy this one and more.

To fully appreciate Robert Hill's "Bach as Teacher" set, the listener needs to be familiar with at least three basic aspects of Bach's musical life:

a. Bach taught keyboard to many students.
b. Bach composed many pieces of music for instructional purposes.
c. These instructional pieces often were used later by Bach as part of or the basis for some of his most famous keyboard compositions.

Like other composers of the Baroque period, Bach didn't compose a work and necessarily let it sit still for posterity; he used these works for as many purposes as applicable. Therefore, when listening to a recording such as the one under review, you will hear music which is quite familiar as it became part of what we now consider "prime-time" Bach. Just to take one example, some of the preludes Bach composed for his son W. F. Bach will remind you of pieces from the Well Tempered Clavier.

Mr. Hill uses the Lute-Harpsichord for CD 1 and the Clavichord for CD 2. These are more intimate and warmer instruments than the harpsichord, and they fit in nicely with the home instructional regimen. Of course, we mainly listen now on audio equipment, so the premise of the greater intimacy might not go over as well in current times. Hill is very fond the lute-harpsichord which sounds very much to me like a cross between the guitar and harpsichord; it certainly is an intimate and friendly instrument. Much the same can be said for the clavichord. These two instruments can be problematic when great power and thrust are required. However, those occasions are rare in the "Bach as Teacher" repertoire. Most of the music on the set is of positive mood without any extreme emotional levels.

Whenever possible, I'll be comparing Hill's performances to these other recordings which include some of the pieces on the Hill set:

Joseph Payne - Klavierbuchlein For W. F. Bach - Hänssler 92137.
Igor Kipnis - Fantasias By Bach - Arabesque 6577.
C. Rieger - Bach or not Bach - Glissando 779011.

How to approach the Hill set? That's not easy to answer; there are a few issues to consider:

The Hill set presents a musical picture of Bach teaching his young students, particularly his son Wilhelm Friedemann, at the keyboard. The set is not just a collection of various teaching works; it is an opportunity for the listener to witness a Bach teaching session and also hear pieces which represented the building blocks of later masterpieces. The listener who is transported to the Bach living room is most fortunate.

This leads to the questions of the most effective instruments to use for the 'time travel' to be effective and the best style for the performer to adopt. Hill's set is not like Rieger's, for example, in that the Rieger makes no attempt to do anything else but provide some works associated with Bach. Hill's set puts us in his home, and Bach didn't live in a castle. A harsh or powerful harpsichord is not appropriate and would pull the listener right back to terra firma. The organ could be problematic as well. Hill uses two intimate instruments, and it's the perfect decision.

The third issue is the performer's style. The playing is taking place in a house of relatively modest means. There's no reason for note banging or powerful utterances. Hill understands this and provides rich and intimate readings beautifully in tune with the subject matter. The music lesson is enlightening.

Now to the comparisons:

The Payne performances tell us how much better the Hill set is. Payne and his harpsichord are too powerful, his clavichord has a booming bass, and his organ is just "too much". Except for BWV 929, both sets have the Preludes BWV 924-931. These are wonderful pieces to listen to as they represent the formative stage of some of Bach's WTC music. With Payne, the listener might as well be at a concert. Hill's intimate and gorgeous clavichord playing is just the ticket to best savor these works. I most like BWV 925 which is seductively stunning in Hill's hands.

Hill and Rieger share the Fugues in G major BWV 957 and E minor BWV 956. Rieger is on harpsichord, Hill on lute-harpsichord. Both pieces have a transparent and delicate nature which each artist conveys superbly. Unlike Joseph Payne's harpsichord, Rieger's is eminently suited for the drawing room atmosphere. If pressed to choose, I'd go with Rieger's slower and more angular performances, but Hill is excellent.

Hill and Kipnis share four works, the most significant being the Chromatic Fantasy in D minor, BWV 903a. Kipnis is a wonderful Bach performing artist, but his harpsichord sounds like a poor second cousin to Hill's. Keith Hill built both instruments used by Robert, and they are delightful messengers of Bach's music.

My favorite extended music from the set is the Suite in E flat major, BWV 819. Each movement is gorgeous, and Hill's lute-harpsichord gives the Suite a rich atmosphere that's irresistable.

Don's Conclusions: There have been quite a few discs issued over the past two or three years with themes surrounding early and teaching works of Bach and works associated with Bach. The Hill set is one of the best within these categories. It's hard to rate recordings such as Hill's to be essential acquisitions. However, a few years from now these 'theme' recordings could well be out of print and you might be very sorry you didn't snap them up when they were on the market. My recommendation is to acquire this Hill set, the Rieger disc on Glissando, and two other Hill/Hänssler recordings of early Bach harpsichord works. Hill also has a 2-CD set on Hänssler titled "Original or Transcription" which is very rewarding. Buy them all and enjoy.


Feedback to the Review

Piotr Jaworski (July 9, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] As some of you already know - I'm the lucku owner of several CD’s recorded by Robert Hill within the Hänssler Bach Edition. Days are passing by and I like those recordinmore and more - especially where Hill playes the Lute-Harpsichord (!). "Very rewarding". Indeed!

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 10, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Well said, Don.

I'll enthusiastically second your recommendation for this set.

A bit about the Lautenwerck:

The instrument is the size and shape of a normal harpsichord, but strung with gut strings instead of metal strings. I've played one built by Willard Martin; it's a delight.

The damping is a bit different, too. On a harpsichord there are felt tabs (dampers) on each jack to stop the string when the key is released. On a Lautenwerck the builder sometimes puts harpsichord-style dampers on one set of jacks but no dampers at all on the other set. This gives the instrument overall a "wetter" sound since the undamped strings can resonate sympathetically whether they're being played or not. The tone dies out quickly anyway, so this resonance is usually welcome. (There is usually also an optional way to stop that entire set of strings when it's not being used.)

As for recordings on Lautenwerck there isn't much competition. In addition to "Bach as Teacher" here, there is Hill's "Original & Transcription" that Don mentioned (Hänssler 92.110), Hill's "Works for Lute Harpsichord" disc (Hänssler 92.109), and two discs by Kim Heindel. Then there is the recent set of the Bach trio sonatas played on two Lautenwercke by Shawn Leopard and John Paul (Lyrichord 8045). At the moment I can't think of any others. There might be others in the Hänssler series that I don't have yet.

Heindel is primarily an organist. His Lautenwerck discs are "The Art of the Lautenwerk" (Gasparo 275: Weiss, Dowland, Duphly, Scarlatti, and Bach's BWV 996) and the all-Bach disc "Aufs Lautenwerck" (Dorian Discovery 80126: BWV 1006a, 1000, 997, 998, 996).

So it's Hill or Heindel in solo works. Hill sounds more spontaneous and fluent, improvisatory. Heindel sounds carefully prepared: every note is delivered evenly and objectively. (That's not to say Hill sounds unprepared at all; he's just looser with his delivery.) Heindel is Apollonian, Hill is Dionysian.

Leopard and Paul play like Heindel: with everything strictly and fastidiously in place, letting the music speak entirely for itself. I'm not as moved by that style of playing (give me some irrationality! too much consistency is numbing!), but I admire it.

A few years ago I asked Chris Greenleaf, Heindel's engineer and session producer, why everything was so strict and objective on that Dorian disc. He assured me it was Heindel's interpretive choice to play Bach that way, and they worked very hard to get everything exactly right. It's rather like the way Hogwood plays harpsichord. Depending what the music is, this approach can be either mesmerizing or deadly boring. I think it works well here.

Heindel is notably freer with his rhythm on the Gasparo disc than the later Dorian.

All around I prefer the way Hill plays, but it's worth hearing all of these Lautenwerck recordings.

All that said, I must confess a bit of boredom listening to that first disc of "Bach as Teacher." The problem is the repertoire. These pieces just aren't interesting to Bach's usual compositional standard. (There's a reason why they aren't played or recorded very often: they're dull! As one of my teachers used to say, "Obscure for the best possible reason.") It's hard to imagine them played better than Hill does, and it's good to have them at all for completeness, do I put this? There are plenty of Bach's contemporaries whose keyboard work deserves an audition but which has never been recorded adequately even once. Who remembers Matt Damon and Julia Roberts for their roles in "Mystic Pizza"? Competent, and entertaining to experience once or twice, but not especially memorable, like these pieces.

(I'll comment on the clavichord disc of this "Bach as Teacher" volume in a later posting.)

Donald Satz wrote (July 10, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Although Matt Damon is now a big star and even though I've seen "Mystic Pizza" a couple of times, I never realized that Damon was the rich brat in the movie. I guess his role didn't have much appeal to me; I get tired of these privileged young adults who have no spine and let Daddy take over their lives.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 10, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Yup. Just as we don't remember Damon for that, we don't remember the very young Blandine Verlet for her LP of Dieudonne Raick. Verlet wins my vote for "most improved harpsichordist of the 20th century." Her playing now is so exquisite. Her playing back then was, um.....

But where else are you gonna get any recording of Raick?

To give the obscure Bach pieces from Hill's "Bach as Teacher" Lautenwerck disc another chance, I played through a handful of them this afternoon. Maybe they'd be more fun to play than to listen to. Nope. No dice. Bupkus. Competent and generic, nothing special. Hill gets them to yield about all they have to offer. I also played through seven pieces by Raick. Raick won. He sounds like a quirky Handel.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 11, 2001):
And now, part 2 of Hill's "Bach as Teacher" set, the clavichord disc:

The clavichord disc is worth the full price of this set, and you get a nice Lautenwerck disc as a bonus. :) That's how I think of it.

As Jim mentioned yesterday, there is a good bit of reverberation around the instrument. The recorded sound is outstanding, especially as clavichords are notoriously difficult to catch accurately on a recording.

As I listen through Hill's disc, I note some overall patterns each time. He does almost all his expression with timing and tempo, not so much with dynamic or articulative differences. It's pretty much the same way he plays Lautenwerck, where dynamic variation is less available...but the clavichord's ability to do dynamic crescendos and accents is important in basic touch, along with the timing control. (Gustav Leonhardt similarly de-emphasizes dynamics in his clavichord recordings.) Within that chosen playing style, though, Hill's control of evenness and his sense of timing are phenomenal. His fingers do exactly what his mind tells them to, and that's more difficult on clavichord than on any other keyboard instrument.

A few other overall trends: I keep wishing for a little more interpretive presence from his left hand, and a more singing tone on individual notes in both hands, a rounded basic touch, listening through the life of each note while holding down the key. Bach gave his students the inventions and sinfonias explicitly to cultivate a singing manner of playing, even in complex music with several parts. The melodies need intensity of tone in all the voices. A clavichord also allows the player to _change_ the tone and pitch of a note while holding it down, to give it more life after the attack.

I was thinking last night: perhaps that lack of singing tone here is due partly to the instrument. Keith Hill's clavichords (at least the several that I've tried) have notably shallow key-dip, and it is difficult to build up a rounded tone when there is so little distance to work with. But I know that Keith devotes as much energy to building a clavichord as he does for a harpsichord, and he charges a similar amount for the finished instrument. He does know about the singing tone that a clavichord is supposed to have, and he knows more about tonal "bloom" (on harpsichord) than anybody. It's one of his favorite ideas.

Back to Robert...on the moderate to slower pieces he _is_ expressive using all the resources, he shapes the phrases nicely, and he gets a good tone. He does bring delicacy to the music; I just wish it were more often present in the fast pieces as well as the slow ones! He could find a bit more depth and grace in the fast music, since he's shown that Keith's clavichord _does_ have that expressive range in it...and I wish he'd go further yet toward the fragile and sorrowful side when the music can take it. (Don Satz has made a similar observation about the emotions being fairly even throughout this set.)

But all these observations about Hill's touch and range are really minor complaints in the big picture. Buy . His doctorate includes a specialty in this early Bach keyboard music, and he knows where all this music is coming from (and going) better than anybody. Buy this. His intellectual clarity with the compositions is wonderful.

He sounds even better on headphones than he does on speakers. That's appropriate, since clavichord is the ultimate one-to-one instrument anyway, extremely quiet even at maximum (that's why it's so difficult to record accurately). Headphones also help to shut out extraneous noises and concentrate on the music.

The music on this clavichord disc 2 is more interesting than the music on the Lautenwerk disc 1, too. (I mentioned yesterday getting bored whenever I listen to that one.) The works on the clavichord disc are better crafted, and more central to the Bach keyboard repertoire. Some are early versions of very familiar pieces; others are standard teaching material for student pianists and harpsichordists today. I know, I know, the whole set is supposedly that teaching material, it says so on the box, but disc 2 has all the pieces that really get much use. (And the Applicatio in C, BWV 994, is the famous Bach piece where he wrote in the fingering.)

I'll go as far to say that this disc 2 is essential listening for anyone who would play Bach on any keyboard instrument (including organ). Bach starts here. If Bach is heard and played only on harpsichord, organ, and piano, part of him is missing. It's important to get to know him on clavichord, played as well as Hill does here.

(To get the real height and depth of the clavichord in Bach, listen to Yuko Wataya playing the 6th partita on Rene Gailly 87 139. That has everything that I report missing from Robert Hill's performance here.)

Jim Morrison wtote (July 11, 2001):
Thanks to our resident clavichord player for his thoughts on Robert Hill's playing. Only a few months ago did I start listening to clavichord music, so it's been fun seeing the traffic on the list about the instrument.

Robert Hill studied with the famous Cristoph Wolff, didn't he, for his Ph.D.?

Count me in as another person who enjoys the disc, and who, somewhat sadly, also thinks the fast pieces go by in too much of an uninflected blaze. As well, I'd say that Troeger also has trouble with expressiveness on some of the faster passages of his Partitas disc, which is the only clavichord disc of his that I've heard.

Is there something about playing clavichord at a fast tempo that makes nuances difficult, such as the shallow key-dip of the Hill clavichord Brad mentioned, or perhaps for performers who came to the instrument after moving from piano to harpsichord to clavichord?

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 11, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Back up! There's something about playing clavichord at all that's especially difficult, and doing it well at a fast tempo is really, really, REALLY tough.

I count myself as just maybe an intermediate player when it comes to playing fast on clavichord; it takes loads more practice than harpsichord or organ or piano do. I'm really a harpsichordist who likes to play clavichord occasionally for pleasure or to work on technique; there's nothing that teaches perfect fingering better than a clavichord does. And it can be very frustrating to have a piece seemingly well nailed on all the other instruments, then bring it to the clavichord and have it sound like garbage because my fingering and expression aren't as solid as I thought they were. The clavichord DOES NOT FORGIVE any problems whatsoever, it shows them brilliantly.

I'm impressed by the clavichord players like Hill, Troeger, Brauchli, Benson, Kipnis, Kirkpatrick, Nicholson, Wataya, Barrell, Spanyi, Dart, Wjuniski, ... who can get through the fast notes as well as they do, because I know firsthand how difficult it is. Hill's evenness is something to hear in awe.

But as a listener I want everything, and "everything" includes much more than awe. I want most of those players to slow down and give it more nuance and 300% more soul, because I similarly know firsthand that it can be done. There can always be more inflection in there even if it's fast, always more layers of subtlety available. The clavichord has a huge range of expression. To control it you have to know _exactly_ what you want from every note and phrase before you play it; that's why clavichord is so tough. The physical motions are so small that the mind must be in complete control of both the music and the fingers. (On piano, harpsichord, or organ one can get away with almost anything, wasting physical energy all over the place and sounding totally fluent. But the clavichord sounds awful if you waste even half a thought in the wrong direction.)

When I hear players zoom through fast notes all the same, I get the impression they worked hard on that fluency at the expense of the musical expression. And as a listener I say "Hey, wait a minute!" whether it's clavichord or recorder or violin or whatever. I want to hear the music, not just a display of somebody's dexterity. I want to be moved by it. That doesn't happen if the music is too fast or too slick. I think it was Couperin who said he's much more pleased by something that moves him than something that astonishes him. I agree.

Simon and Garfunkel also sang it in "Feelin' Groovy."

And there's the quote from Sean Connery (smirking at his own James Bond character) that he'd "rather be stirred than shaken." I agree with that too. The performer should move the listener, not just make him/her exclaim, "*#&(@*#%, that sounds difficult!"

This morning when writing about Hill's disc I hesitated to say anything negative at all. He plays so &^@#% well. But as a listener I'm still entitled to want more out of it. He occasionally suggests more depth than he delivers at other moments, so how can the sensitive listener not want more yet? I want a performance that's already that good to have everything all the time, to be even better.

Meanwhile, at the clavichord myself I focus on playing easier music because the good tone and control have to be there before trying anything more difficult. Even the Bach inventions/sinfonias are pretty tough on the clavichord (and I say that having played almost all the Bach repertoire on harpsichord...the problem's not my general technique, but my _clavichord_ technique since it demands a different approach)!

In my own recordings I was careful to pick music that I can technically handle, rather than wasting effort (and going crazy) on music that is too tough. I'd much rather play something easier with full depth than sound halfway prepared on something tough. It's more important to me to be a musician first than a player of any specific instrument. My criterion was: if I can't put my whole soul into this piece and shape the intensity of every note and phrase, feeling confident about the expression, I should play some different piece.

Too often when I listen to other people's recordings (on whatever instrument) I get the feeling they're totally competent on the notes but haven't given enough to the music that's between the notes. Music is about much more than getting all the notes. Maybe I'm picky in what I listen for, but as I said above, in a recorded performance I want to hear everything and be moved by it. I'd rather hear one or two notes played unbelievably well (for example, Sylvia McNair singing one phrase of Kern) than a whole page full of notes rendered merely competently.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 12, 2001):
I've been spending a little time with the few other clavichord recordings that I have.

I must say Yoko Wataya gets a very enthusiastic recommendation from one. Her version of the Sixth Partita is one of the most impassioned I've every heard. Noticeably looser and freer, with more breath you might say, than Troeger's version on clavichord as well. Not only that, but really seems to be really at home with the instrument. Serious clavichord playing, not Bach on a small instrument that sounds a bit like a harpsichord. Those of you that like Troeger Hill probably should get this CD, which also includes around 35 minutes worth of compositions by CPE Bach. On Rene Gaily CD87 139. A very emotive/expressive performence.

Another nice collection, found at Berkshire's reduced price, is Rolf Junghanns on FSM:Adagio, FDC 91 619. Works include the Capriccio BWV 992 and the French Suite in G major, BWV 816. This record was made in the mid-70's.

And another disc that I'm just now getting to know is Iton Wjuniski 's Iberian Music for clavichord HMC 905236. I don't think you'd be disappointed with this disc either.

As far as the sounds of these instruments go, the all have less reverberation than Hill's disc (which over headphones sounds positively cavernous to me, constantly leading my mind to the image of Hill playing in a cave and hearing the clavichord sounds bounce off the wall. Does the ambient sound roar over the headphones for anyone else.)

Also, the other instrument's have less of that initial slight bending sound when the tangent strikes. Perhaps the strings have a greater tension, or they are striking with less force. I don't know, but the notes are steadier in my opinion.

Did we ever settle on a word, Brad, for that initial variation in pitch when a note is struck?

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 12, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Yeah, the Junghanns disc of Bach...I'm listening through it again right now but his interpretations don't grab me the way Wataya's and Dart's do. They just kind of sit there, and are OK but nothing special. I saw it listed at Berkshire's site Tuesday night but realized I already have it. It's probably still worth the $4 or whatever pittance they're asking for it. Is a recording that merely keeps its hands politely to itself worth four bucks?

Wjuniski does a great service by recording pieces that hardly anybody else ever plays. Cabezon is a grandmaster in the early keyboard world (and he traveled with the Spanish court as their star musician), but it's awfully hard to find many recordings of his music. I got my copy for something like $3.99 from the BMG club a few years ago; definitely worth it. Wjuniski sounds well-involved.

Tangent...if you like that type of music and want something else even more obscure from another 16th century court composer (Hungary and Poland), check out the lute works of Bakfark. It's on Robert Fripp's(!) label, played by a good lutenist, Jacob Heringman. The CD is called "Black Cow" and doesn't look like a classical disc at all until you read all the fine print on the back...I almost missed it when I picked it up in a shop and put it back down, then luckily picked it up again to see what the devil it was. (Oh, it's Bakfark! The guy one of my professors used to disdain because as a student he had had to work on Bakfark manuscripts when he really was a Wagnerian and hated Renaissance music altogether and the horse it rode in on. So I had to buy it. If that guy hated Bakfark, I'll like Bakfark...and that hunch was right!)
Hardly anybody else plays this stuff because it's so difficult, but it sounds great. I learn as much or more from listening to good lutenists than listening to keyboard players. There's something about that direct contact of the strings and fingers.

Anyway, back to clavichord. According to Richard Troeger's book, "The clavichord uses two forms of pitch modification, which have often been described in early and modern accounts of the instrument. Vibrato (Bebung, literally 'trembling'), the more frequently used of the two, is also the more versatile. It can be rendered in degrees from the slightest coloring of sound to long, wailing tones. Variations in speed and degree of pitch modification are of course up to the player, as is discretion to avoid its overuse. Portato (Tragen der Toene) takes the form of a single, sharp inflection of the pitch after the note has been sounded. (Charles Burney's famous reference to the 'cry of sorrow and complaint' that CPE Bach drew forth so expressively from his clavichord may well be as much to this effect as to Bebung.)" Troeger further points out that vibrato on clavichord is really only a half-vibrato, since during it the pitch goes only above the original pitch but not b!
elow. Yep.

Make that clavichord wail, man, make it wail. Keith Jarrett in his "Book of Ways" performance makes two clavichords wail at once, one per hand.

Cave? You want to hear cave? Come out here to Luray Caverns where somebody created the Stalagpipe Organ. They took an electronic organ console and hooked it up to a bunch of solenoids. The solenoids are hooked to little mallets all around the cave, each hitting a stalactite that (more or less) gives the right pitch. So the whole cave is this weird surround sound thing and the listeners stand in the middle of it while it's being played. I'm not making this up. It's a strange but interesting sound.

Michael Grover wrote (July 13, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] It's not Bach, but...

The first thing I thought of when I read your description of the cave organ was the bells/glockenspiel in Sibelius's 4th symphony. Does it sound spooky and ghostly like that? I am going to HAVE to make a visit to Virginia now.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 13, 2001):
It's actually three bucks for the Junghanns disc of decidedly vanilla Bach. Probably worth having because it is the only disc totally devoted to Bach on the clavichord. You might listen to it a few times then put it on your shelf. Maybe pull it out for some friends.

< Portato (Tragen der Toene) takes the form of a single, sharp inflection of the pitch after the note has been sounded. >
Of course, how could I have forgotten. I say Portato, you say potato, and perhaps even tomato. Thanks again.

< Make that clavichord wail, man, make it wail. Keith Jarrett in his "Book of Ways" performance makes two clavichords wail at once, one per hand. >
I'd forgotten I had that recording. I put it on for a few minutes. KJ is so beside himself with the freedom-man-feedom of playing a keyboard with vibrato. It's a wonder he was able to complete the recording without breaking all the strings in stock and forcing a cancellation of the project. Not sure of what to make of that improvisational clavichord set. Worth tracking down if you live near a library that has a copy, but I'm not sure you need to have it.

I've been listening to more of Wataya's recording. Now that, you do need. What a fun performance of CPE Bach's Wurttenberg sonata she gives. Some list members may now that work from Gould's Italian-esqe disc on Sony SMK 52620. Now that's a bargain Gould disc: 78 minutes long, wonderful version of the Italian Concerto (late 50's recording, not the early 1980's) the Italian Variations BWV 989, Gould's whacky Chromatic Fantasy, and the Concerto after Marcello BWV 974, just to name some of the more well-known pieces on the disc. What a shame someone tracked that wayward Chromatic Fantasy directly after that exuberant Italian Concerto. What were they thinking? I love Gould's late 1950's IC.

Jim Morisson wrote (July 13, 2001):
Cave organ? now that's too much.

Where was I one day, taking a tour of a big cave. In Belgium maybe, or perhaps somewhere in the American Southwest, Arizona or New Mexico. At any rate, people that owned the cave, had, in one of the bigger rooms, carved out an amphitheater where classical ensembles came down a played during the performance season. I'm sure this must happen across the world.

I'll have to track down a copy of the Sibelius Fourth. I may have a copy somewhere among my tapes.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 13, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Didn't remind me of Sibelius 4, no. More like the "hammering in the brain" climax of the scherzo of Elgar 2. They have those stalactite mallets rigged so they keep bashing away as long as the keys are held down. OK, well, a little gentler than Elgar 2. But you get the idea. Sort of a cross between Elgar 2 and a steel drums band.

Sibelius 4, what a brooding piece! I like it. Sort of like Bach's "Ich ruf zu dir" chorale prelude, but longer and more wistful. (See, we had to turn this to Bach somehow.)

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 13, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Troeger further points out that vibrato on clavichord is really only a half-vibrato, since during it the pitch goes only above the original pitch but not below. >
Exactly like on a guitar, actually...

Jim Morrison wrote (July 13, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] A guitar without a whammy bar, that is.

They even have double whammy bars, now, I just found out, that allow for bending only three strings at once instead of all six.

Also, you can easily get vibrato on fretless guitars or when playing a fretted instrument with a slide, or in more extreme cases, turning the tuning knobs while sounding a note, or, most extreme, actually bending the neck while playing.

But hey, I bet Kirk was talking about "classical" instruments played in a classical manner.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 13, 2001):
Reading over what I sent to the list yesterday, and I need to clarify/correct something I wrote.

I meant to say Junghanns clavichord disc is one of the few devoted entirely to Bach. Of course, there are Troeger's Invention/Sinfonia, Toccatas, and the Partitas. Wasn't there another clavichord set out there of Bach's Inventions by Jaroslav Tuma ? Dart's French Suites.

Read more about Troeger at Kirk's site:

Anyone know of other discs devoted entirely to Bach on the clavichord. Somewhere on the web there's a page of clavichord recorings, but I can't find it at the moment.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 13, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] No, actually I meant the kind of vibrato you can get just by sliding your finger across the neck of the fretboard; you can get up to a whole tone that way, on a steel string guitar.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 13, 2001):
Just found the page with the listing of clavichord recordings:

Jim Morrison wrote (July 13, 2001):
And yet another way to get vibrato on an acoustic guitar is to bend the string before striking it. That technique will allow you to flatten the note, as well as sharpen it.

Marshall Abrams wrote (July 14, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] You can also simply pull the guitar string back and forth in the direction of its length, i.e. pull toward the end of the neck, stretching it, pull toward the body, loosening, repeating this process rapidly. You have to be pushing down hard enough, and you can't get a very wide variation in pitch, but it's not uncommon, at least on electric guitar and on bass guitar. This gives a subtle but full vibrato without using anything unusual like a slide or a fretless instrument, without a whammy bar, and without first bending the string to a higher pitch.

Now back to clavichord: I wonder whether, consciously or not, clavichord players ever use the ability to raise the pitch of a note in effect as a way of temporarily altering the temperament of the instrument. i.e. the change in pitch is such that it can be viewed as a legitimate pitch in some temperament other than what the instrument is tuned to--perhaps a temperament that works better for that part of the composition.

Jim Morrison wrote (July 16, 2001):
Last week I made a few comments about my disappointment with the sound of Hill's clavichord on the Hanssler disc. I've since come up with a better way to express what I'm hearing and why I object to it.

The reverberation from the loudest moments on the Hill CD, for me, compete on a significant level with the actual notes from the clavichord when played at its quietest. That is the say, the echo from the fortissimo on a purely sonic event plane is competing with the keyboard's pianissimo.

On a decibel level wise, they probably aren't the same, but when I'm listening to the music the echo distracts me from the more quieter passages. My musical mind is constantly being tugged towards listening to the reverberation, why I should be paying attention to the quiet notes.

A similar distraction occurs from what I consider an excessive amount of initial pitch bend when the notes are being struck. I've seen this sort of thing described as a clavichord's meowing. Hill's recording has the most meow of any I've heard.

Anyone else hear it in those ways?

Jim (who nevertheless enjoys Hill's work, just wished it sounded a bit different)


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“Bach as Teacher” from Robert Hill | Bach Harpsichord Discs from Hill and Suzuki
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