05 May 2008

Christiaan Huyghens Revisited

My thanks to Attila for correcting me on the person of Christiaan Huyghens, I had mixed him up with his father Constantijn.

03 May 2008

A Blog of Improvisations


27 April 2008

W. F. Bach: Polonaise in E Minor

Recorded in 2005 during an open-air concert, on my Cristofori-style fortepiano by Keith Hill.

21 April 2008

W. A. Mozart: Adagio from Sonata KV 284 on fortepiano

This is variation XI from the closing movement of the D-Major Sonata KV 284.

20 April 2008

J. S. Bach: Prelude in F Minor BWV 857 (WTC I) played on a Steinway

From time to time I perform on a modern Steinway, here is one excerpt.

J. S. Bach: Sinfonia in g BWV 797 on fortepiano

J. S. Bach: Sinfonia in g BWV 797, Robert Hill, fortepiano after Cristofori (K. Hill, 1998)

D. Scarlatti: Sonata in A Major, K.208 on fortepiano

This fortepiano after the instruments of B. Cristofori was made by my brother Keith Hill in 1998. I prize the warm "golden" sound of the brass strings on this piano. The recording was made in Spring of 2004 as part of a "Bach-Handel-Scarlatti" recital program on the Cristofori.

19 April 2008

J. L. Adam: Romance for Fortepiano, updated

An update of an earlier post, this time as a YouTube video with scrolling score.

An interesting online metronome


I like it because it allows you to work with BPM slower than the usual 30-40 BPM offered by most metronome designers. Programmable beat patterns are also cool.

Postscript: Having received some rather astonished reactions to this post, here a few of my thoughts on the subject of metronomes. I am quite sure that musicianship meant something else than we are generally accustomed to today in the classical world, before the metronome (commercially available in a portable form from ca. 1810) was fully integrated into music instruction (probably rather late in the 19th century, although I don't know of any research on this topic).

My interest in metronomes is two-fold: Certain metronomes (in particular Dr. Beat, and now this online web metronome) can be programmed to click at very slow rates. For example MM=15 represents one beat per bar at quarter-note=MM60 in 4/4 time. I use a very slow beat to train myself to play freely within the bar, while maintaining an awareness that I will have to (in principle) land together with the metronome beat on the next downbar. This kind of musical tension is altogether different than playing with a quicker beat, but also different from trying to play freely, without regard for an underlying pulse. In a way, you could say that the one-beat-per-bar practice method instills skills necessary for the development of tempo rubato in its stricter sense of making up what you have stolen. See also Roger North on the "grand beat" (although we can't say for sure that a slow pulse is what he had in mind).

As far as the programmable beat patterns are concerned, I am simply fascinated by tools that allow me to control what they do easily. I could see this metronome as quite useful for learning bits of the Carter Sonata, for example, or other 20th-C. pieces that have frequent meter changes. But even in the 18th century there is the tradition of Imbroglio which allowed for patches in one meter to be inserted in a movement in another meter. J. S. Bach, for one, is often to be found experimenting with displaced accents that amount to a temporary meter change.

17 April 2008

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Fantasia in C Minor on Clavichord

Last week the Musikhochschule Freiburg held a "Tastenfest", a five-hour keyboard extravaganza in memory of Hans-Jörg Koch, a colleague who died last year, much too soon.

This performance on clavichord (by Keith Hill, 1993 after Hubert) of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's closing Probestück, the Fantasia in C Minor, took place in a large concert hall for ca. 650 people. It was sandwiched between two Sonatas for prepared piano by John Cage and a stunning improvisatory organ piece Gebrochene Flügel (1975) by Tilo Medek.

A "Photograph" from the 1790's?

I couldn't resist adding this, even though it is only in spirit related to the subject of this blog.

This picture of a leaf made by laying it on silver nitrate coated paper may well be one of the earliest photographs ever made, dating back to the 1790's or early 1800's, from the circle of the Englishman Henry Bright. See the New York Times article

14 April 2008

Basso continuo class

I regularly offer masterclass style instruction in advanced basso continuo performance, concentrating on the style of the realisation. Here are a few short excerpts to convey the feeling of the class.

13 April 2008

Francis Planté plays Chopin

Francis Planté (1839-1934) This film contains a short excerpt of Planté playing Chopin's Etude Opus 10 Nr. 7. The film is silent newsreel footage taken during Planté's recording session in 1929. Planté, who heard Chopin play, may well be the oldest keyboardist of the mid-19th century who can be seen actually performing with preserved audio. For the oldest keyboardist, and possibly the oldest musician, ever to make a recording, see the entry below for Carl Reinecke.

11 April 2008

Bach's Temperament?

There is now general agreement that the decorative doodle at the top of an autograph manuscript of the Wohltemperirte Clavier is a diagram encoding a well-tempered tuning. As the three papers below show, there is not a consensus on how to interpret the diagram.

In a nutshell, the diagram is understood to represent instructions on how to temper the twelve fifths in a tuning system. Counting from right to left, there are five circles with each two circles inside, followed by three circles without any internal circles, followed by three circles with only one circle inside each. These circles totaling only eleven, rather than twelve, there is some disagreement about how to understand the value of the twelfth and final circle. At the moment I prefer the reading that sees the little circle on the far left as representing an empty circle.

There is further disagreement about how to interpret the three kinds of circles. I currently prefer to see the simple circles as representing pure fifths, and the total of thirteen inner circles as the number of parts into which the so-called Pythagorean comma is divided. The five fifths at the right of the diagram are all narrowed equally by an amount that is twice that of the three fifths at the left, which are to be each narrowed by one part. I rather like the results that emerge when you temper the latter three fifths by narrowing them at a rate of around one beat per second (MM= 60), and the five fifths on the right at a rate of around two beats per second (MM=120),
starting with E at the left:

B-F# narrow by ca. 1 beat per second
F#-C# "
C#-G# "
G# - E-flat pure
E-flat - B-flat pure
B-flat - F pure
F-C narrow by ca. 2 beats per second
C-G "
G-D "
D-A "
A-E "

I find the resulting temperament highly energized, but not over-wrought, and certainly not polarized in any way. After listening to it recently for a couple of hours, I found it quite refreshing.

Bach's Temperament: Three Articles on the Interpretation of the Diagram on the Titlepage of the Wohltemperirte Clavier Part I

See also: J. C. Francis' website http://bach.tuning.googlepages.com/home

07 April 2008

José Iturbi plays Rameau on a Pleyel harpsichord

Historical performance practice of a different sort. This is the only historical video I am familiar with of someone demonstrating a Pleyel harpsichord. José Iturbi (1895-1980) studied harpsichord with Wanda Landowska at the Paris Conservatoire. He plays Rameau's Rigaudon, Musette and Tambourin (the film appears to have been made around 1940).

21 March 2008

Johann Sebastian Bach's Birthday! Contrapunctus I from the Art of Fugue

Contrapunctus I from the Art of Fugue

The picture compares the well-known Hausmann portrait of Bach (1746) with a recent computer-aided reconstruction by Caroline Wilkinson for the Bachhaus Eisenach. From Der Spiegel, February 28, 2008. The following picture shows how she arrived at her reconstruction.

18 March 2008

Teaching Demonstration: F. Couperin, Les Charmes

In this video I demonstrate my method for "capturing" the quality of movement in a piece by doing a "Tonsatz" or continuo-like reduction, leaving out as much ornamental or decorative information as possible. Once captured, I "overlay" the full version over the practiced-in Tonsatz version, which helps me to understand quickly the final result I want to achieve.

08 March 2008

C. P. E. Bach's Birthday!

In honor of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, here the Adagio in E-flat Minor from his Württemberg Sonata in E-flat Major.

04 March 2008

Vivaldi's Birthday! Largo BWV 972

From a recital on April 28, 2004, here the Largo from J. S. Bach's transcription BWV 972 of a violin concerto by Vivaldi, performed on a fortepiano after Cristofori by K. Hill (1998).

And for comparison, from a recital on Nov. 13, 2005, the same Largo performed on harpsichord.

25 February 2008

Chopin First Editions Online

F. Chopin Preludes for Piano Opus 28 (1839)

I came across this outstanding web resource tonight: the Chopin Early Editions collection of digitized facsimiles put out by the University of Chicago. Here is the link


Carl Reinecke Playing the Larghetto from Mozart's Coronation Concerto

One of the most significant historical recordings is surely this Welte-Mignon piano roll recorded by the 80-year-old Carl Reinecke in January, 1905. Reinecke is thus probably the oldest instrumentalist on record. With a 35-year tenure as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, Reinecke occupied a central position in German musical life in the second half of the 19th century.

Reinecke is today best known for his compositions, but in his own day he was appreciated as a connoiseur of Mozart's music. Here Reinecke with his own transcription of the Larghetto from Mozart's Piano Concerto in D Major, KV 537.

Download link:


24 February 2008

Haydn on a 1798 Broadwood

In February 2007 I played a fortepiano recital entitled Haydn in London at the Neumeyer-Junghanns-Tracy Collection of Historical Keyboard Instruments in Bad Krozingen, near Freiburg. I used several instruments, among them a fine Broadwood from 1798.

Here the encore, an Adagio by Haydn:

23 February 2008

Feb. 23: G. F. Händel's Birthday!

In honor of Händel, here the Prelude to the E-Major Suite, recorded in Aachen in Nov. 2005.

Händel: Suite in F Major, Adagio

Here the opening Adagio of Händel's F-Major Suite, performed on my fortepiano after Cristofori. Händel is known to have had regular access to a Florentine fortepiano at the home of friends of his in London from the 1730's onward.

22 February 2008

Francois Couperin: Allemande à 2 Clavecins

in a concert from 13 February 2008 at the Musikhochschule Freiburg, performed with my post-graduate harpsichord student Yeon Jeong Jeong as part of her final recital program.
Instruments: two Taskin-model harpsichords by Keith Hill, 1993 & 1998

21 February 2008

Mozart versus Clementi

is the title of a fortepiano recital program I performed at the Musikhochschule Freiburg on 28 January 2008. On Dec. 24, 1781, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Muzio Clementi performed in a competition with each other at the court in Vienna, by command of the emperor. This program is a reconstruction of a "virtual" competition between the two composer-pianists, in order to directly compare them as pianists and as piano composers.

The opening piece on my recital was Clementi's Sonata in B-flat Major, Opus 47, Nr. 2, which he performed during the competition before the emperor.

Fortepiano: Keith Hill, 1998 after Anton Walther (Vienna, ca. 1795)

M. Clementi: Sonata in B-flat Major Opus 47, Nr. 2 (1781): Allegro con brio

M. Clementi: Sonata in B-flat Major Opus 47, Nr. 2 (1781): Andante quasi Allegretto

M. Clementi: Sonata in B-flat Major Opus 47, Nr. 2 (1781): Rondo Assai Allegro

Mozart Sonata in C Major KV 330

As the second work in the Mozart versus Clementi program from 28 January 2008, I played Mozart's C-Major Sonata KV 330:

Allegro moderato

Andante cantabile


27 January 2008

Mozart's Birthday! Piano Concerto in A Major KV 414: Larghetto

Mozart intended that certain piano concerti of his could be performed as chamber pieces with solo strings. Here from a performance with my chamber ensemble L'Ottocento from April 2006, the Larghetto from his A-Major Concerto KV 414.

24 January 2008

Clementi's Birthday! Gradus ad Parnassum #42

In May 2007 I presented a keyboard recital entitled Scarlatti in London, in which I focussed on the reception of Domenico Scarlatti's solo keyboard music in England in the later 18th and early 19th century. I performed on harpsichord and two fortepiani.

Here from Muzio Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum (1817), Nr. 42: Finale Allegro vivace.

Instrument: Neupert (ca. 1988) after L. Dulcken (Munich ca. 1805)

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Polonaise in E Minor

My most recent CD release is on Naxos: W. F. Bach Keyboard Works Vol. 1: Twelve Polonaises, Sonata in D Major, Fantasia in A Minor. In January 2008 this disc was awarded the Diapason d'Or from Diapason magazine in France.

Here a live performance of the E-Minor Polonaise, recorded during the Fest der Innenhöfe in Freiburg in July 2005. This was an open-air performance in the courtyard of the Historische Kaufhaus in Freiburg. Fortepiano by Keith Hill 1999 after B. Cristofori (Florence, ca. 1720)

02 January 2008

Veracini's Birthday! Violin Sonata in F Major

On Feb. 4, 2005, I played a duo-recital with Gottfried von der Goltz at the Musikhochschule Freiburg. As the final piece in the program we played Francesco Veracini's Violin Sonata in F Major. Here the Introduction.