electric harpsichord explorations or how I spent my day off


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Yesterday I naturally spent the day hiding away playing my electric harpsichord. Maybe I was inspired by the fact that Nick Palmer asked me to play harpsichord in his upcoming Messiah sing along. But I have been missing harpsichord music anyway.

Image result for francois couperin dover edition

I started out with François Couperin. I own the Dover two volume collection of his complete keyboard works. Interestingly Johannes Brahms helped edit this work.  I suspect he might have had something to do with how good this edition is, since it respects the original source and doesn’t edit it much. This is contrary to the editorial practice of Brahms age and even later into the early 20th century so that as a performer I have to be careful about thinking and executing what is on the page when the editorial work is suspecct. This is the case with the Longo edition of Scarlatti.



I compared my understanding of a piece called “La Couperin” with Kenneth Gilbert’s performance on YouTube. If you’re curious, you can access it at this link. My intention is that link will begin at 00:27:26. where “La Couperin” begins. In the first comment, Álvaro Moreno has provided times and links to all the piece in Volume IV of Couperin. Thank you, Mr. Moreno.

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The first thing that struck me was that Gilbert (who my teacher’s teacher and who I have heard lecture and play) applied notes inégales very sparsely. (Notes inégales = notes unequal and refers to changing rhythm without indications in the notation, much like a jazz musician “swings” a line of eighth notes)In his book, François Couperin, Philippe Beaussant says that “Le Couperin” is actually an allemande. My teacher, Ray Ferguson, taught me that  notes inégales applied pretty consistently throughout an allemande in the French style. I began to wonder if Gilbert’s thinking changed or maybe I misunderstood. Whatever the reason I found Gilbert’s discretion liberating and sat down with my Beaussant and began playing movements and checking to see what he said about them.

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I began to wonder about how the current thinking on French classical interp might have changed. Recently  I have been updating myself about the current conversation on early music. It is mind boggling and encouraging how much this field has opened up and  changed since my own schooling in it. Why would French interp be the same?

After doing a bit of googling I discovered the work of John Byrt.


This is a link to his web site. He is an enthusiastic supporter of using French interp in other musics of the period. When I was in school I asked a lot about this sort of thing.  At that time it was not clear if one could pursue it and an academic career at the same time. Byrt is doing that. His examples of how he applies notes inégales on his site are startling but I find them very interesting. 

So all this is to say that yesterday was a very liberating day for me providing me with a wider array of legit options playing the French classical music I love, even on an electric harpsichord.

Protesters Disrupt Speech by ‘Bell Curve’ Author at Vermont College – The New York Times

This headline caught my eye today. I was looking at Google news this morning and noticed the stories on Charles Murray.

Charles Murray | Southern Poverty Law Center

I was surprised to see the Southern Poverty Law Center link and read the essay there before going to the news story. Murray is someone I have wrestled with his bogus notions since the 90s. I have read most if not all of his Bell Jar, so it was satisfying to see some clear rebuttal of his weird ideas.

I do believe he is full of shit. However, I don’t think that shutting down conversation makes sense, much less attacking him physically. I keep thinking of the title of a book by the late Nat Hentoff: Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee.

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George Saunders Has Some Thoughts About Art in the Trump Era | Vanity Fair

This is a recent interview of a writer I admire. I like his thoughts on the “art mind” and the “daily mind” and also this:

“Well, after coming back from the Trump thing, I’m like, wait a minute. We didn’t, as a culture, value art enough. We marginalized that beautiful, complex, supremely capable artistic mind. We put way too much stock in this second kind of mind, which is so much harsher and more aggressive.

We put a lot of faith in that and now I think we’re kind of reaping the bounty. But that made me feel strangely happy. Like, O.K. so this thing I’ve spent my life doing is actually not a sideshow. It’s the essential show, and so maybe we can somehow move it back to a more central position. It’s essential that we do so.”

I bookmarked the following article by Saunders from July of last year for future reading:

Who Are All These Trump Supporters? – The New Yorker


2 thoughts on “electric harpsichord explorations or how I spent my day off

  1. Did I tell you Saunders spoke last spring at Calvin at the Festival of Writing? He is so great in person. For one thing, he is SO funny. And then he’s just so down to earth and friendly and kind. He signed books afterwards and even though there was a big line, was chatting with people. I’m a big fan! Have to check out that link from Vanity Fair.
    The NYT piece on the rallies is really good too, and trademark GS – thoughtful and fair and self-questioning.

  2. I remember when Saunders came to town. I was sorely tempted to go hear him but didn’t. I like his writing. You probably mean the New Yorker piece instead of the NYT piece, eh? Thanks for dropping by yesterday. I enjoyed visiting.

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