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).