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Joined: Mar 2011
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Hello everyone,
I'm in repertoire search mode, and after listening to some glorious Sweelinck played by Gould and Rameau and Couperin played by Sokolov, I decided I just have to learn something pre-Bach.

I'm not very familiar with this repertoire: I know that Sweelinck has at least three >10 minute works that are effective on piano, and of course all the Rameau and Francois Couperin suites, but recently I heard a performance of and was intrigued by the earlier unmeasured preludes of Louis Couperin and the fugal works of Buxtehude, not to mention Froberger and Frescobaldi.

Anyone have some knowledge of this repertory?

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I really like Buxtehude's suites. Here's Earl Wild playing movements from one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKXHeDAD3o4

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the English virginalists?


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I agree with dolce. You might want to check out the two volumes of The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book published by doverpublications.com.

It contains Elizabethan airs, variations, fantasies, toccatas, pavanes, galliards, allemandes and courantes by Orlando Gibbons, John Bull, William Byrd and many others.

It's interesting playing through some of these pieces, which seem to be in a different musical language than the baroque/classical/romantic repetoire.

I wonder if any major pianists have put out Fitzwilliam Virginal recordings.

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Along with Louis Couperin, Chambonnieres and D'Anglebert are major 17th C harpsichord composers well worth exploring. Pachelbel's Ciacona in D (not the famous Chaconne for orchestra) is attractive, effective and not too hard; likewise some of Kuhnau's Sonatas on Old Testament stories. If you fancy going still farther back (to a musical language different again from the Elizabethans) there's the anonymous 15th C Buxheimer
Orgelbuch, for example.

Frescobaldi's "big" pieces are his Canzonas. They're difficult to interpret effectively without a sound knowledge of Italian Renaissance performance practices, but essentially they're built to portray sudden and often extreme contrasts of mood, sometimes reflective, sometimes impetuous and dazzling, and certainly not to be played in strict tempo throughout. An excellent introduction to the idiom would be to hear recordings of his (less ornately complicated) canzonas for solo instrument and continuo, if you can come across any. Froberger's style follows on from Frescobaldi's, but is often more intricate and, I think, even more difficult to put across its intended effects.

Book I of the Fitwilliam, to my mind, has the best pieces. Byrd is particularly well represented as regards quantity and variety, and to my mind stands as the bedrock or standard fare on which to begin exploring the many other composers included. Some of the sets of variations, like Carman's Whistle and Sellinger's ground are splendidly effective whilst being quite (but not impossibly) exacting for the fingers, and one or two of the Fantasias (which are, interpetationally speaking, quite close to Frescobaldi). Other favourites (all of which I used to perform frequently in my harpsichord-playing days)include some of the Peter Philips set (Passamezzo Pavan & Galliard, Pavana & Galliarda Dolorosa, Amaralli), the Sweelinck Fantasia-Toccata and Farnaby's Spagnioletta variations. But arguably the truly exceptional contributions are those of John Bull, exceptional because, alongside everybody else's, you get the unmistakable impression of music truly conceived for (and at) the keyboard, as opposed to merely set for it - like that of Liszt centuries later - and indeed, so far as I know, he was the only extensive contributor to the Fitwilliam to have been a renowned virtuoso performer.

As with Frescobaldi's music, that of the English virginalists should be played with a considerable degree of metrical freedom, allowing clear expression of musical shapes, phrases, climaxes, lulls, etc. You get pages of rapid passage work, but this isn't Czerny. Play it as if it were and it sounds like nonsense, a sort of keyboard diarrhoea. On the harpsichord it also sounds utterly monotonous, because of the instrument's complete lack of tonal shading possibilities. These lines have to be audibly broken up into shorter gestures that progress to a definite point, and which recommence from such points to the next one.That's important not only expressively, but also as regards fingering, which is often problematic if one is thinking strictly in terms of unbroken fingering successions. Quite apart from the fact that the virginalists used an entirely different scheme of fingering from ours, it would have been commonplace to take the hand off the keys momentarily at such points and reposition it on a more convenient finger for starting the next phrase.

Ton Koopman and David Roblou, two of my favourite much-recorded harpsichordists, are both really instructive as regards how to present and shape this kind of music.







Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

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Great topic, and something that I've been getting more interested in lately. The tonalities and approach of the renaissance era I find fascinating. So to pose a similar question (excuse my threadjacking):

What is some of the earliest purely instrumental European music? I've been doing some on and off research into this but I only come up with Organum stuff, which is vocal. What I want to find is the earliest non-vocal point in European history. The furthest back I've seen is the renaissance dances, but I'd like to go even further. Any suggestions?

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Sorry - mistake in my post! The name of the Sweelinck piece in Fitzwilliam Bk.1 is actually "Praeludium Toccata".

Two other English composers I should have mentioned: Blow and Purcell!

As to recordings of modern pianists, Glenn Gould springs to mind in respect of Byrd - I'm not sure he didn't also record Bull's "Walsingham" (the large set of variations opening Fitzwilliam Bk.1)


Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

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I am an admirer of Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre's works. She is the only female keyboardist and composer of that time; she was a child prodigy and by all accounts a sensational harpsichordist. She was employed by the court and thus was allowed to compose freely.

There is a collection of unmeasured preludes called Le Pupitre. It is fairly hard to find I believe. The only copy of it I have ever seen was in the office of one of my professors. It translates to, "the desk." Try looking for it!


Pianist and teacher with a 5'8" Baldwin R and Clavi CLP-230 at home.

New website up: http://www.studioplumpiano.com. Also on Twitter @QQitsMina

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