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#3021932 09/06/20 10:58 AM
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Throughout my life, after falling in love with listening to jazz piano in New York in my twenties, I have loved classical music, and particularly baroque. But I did not come from a musical family and was never offered to learn and play an instrument. An international business carreer luckily allowed me to spend years in big cities where the opportunity for concerts was endless. I faithfully attended all Gardiner in London and Christie in Paris could offer, and became fascinated with period instruments.

When I retired I decided to take up the piano at the young age of 71. After two years of basics with a good teacher, I could do level 2/3 (Henle) stuff, and now in my fourth year I progressed, among others, to Mozart's "facile" 545. What I lack in youthful flexibility I try to compensate with rigorous discipline (2 hours everyday) and in depth knowledge of the repertoire. Of course I have no illusions : all is simply geared to my day by day enjoyment. But also to the enjoyment of my friends, some of which are excellent musicians, and their children, grandchildren or protégés. I am therefore assembling some high grade instruments at home so music can be played together in convivial surroundings (although this damn virus is not helping right now). I always dreaded the loneliness of the piano learner.

However to complicate things, on the advice of a guitarist/luthenist friend, I also decided recently to practice the harpsichord, and I would welcome advice on how to combine learning of the two (piano and harpsichord).

The issues are the following :

Instrument. I immediately discovered it was useless to practice on the "harpsichord setting" of my digital piano, as the major differences are in keyboard feel. I ordered a new harpsichord, rather than buy an used one, so I could specify two "interface" devices that would help transitioning to and from the piano : first whitish naturals and dark sharps (the reverse is customary in France), and second a piano-like octave width of 165 mm, rather than the usual narrower keys. The builder is in high demand, and my new harpsichord will be ready for Christmas, but he has generously loaned me an instrument for the past year. It will be a two keyboard Ruckers/Hemsch type in a modern case.

Teacher. My piano teacher is as wonderful elderly gentleman and pedagogue, but does not play (and, frankly, like) the harpsichord. Because of the virus, my last six months have been with few lessons, and only on the telephone. I now have several options for next year : Switch for a harpsichord specialist teacher, at least to get through the basics for a year; or continue with my piano teacher, giving the piano a sort of priority, and working out the plecters on my own. I do not fancy dealing with two teachers simultaneously. What to do ?

Repertoire. Again, I quickly discovered that practicing the same stuff on both instrument was a bad idea : confusion threatens. So I arbitrarily decided decided that for the coming year all Nanerl and Anna Magdalena stuff would be strictly to get the haspsichord on its way, and nothing shared. Any ideas ?

Finger motion and "feel". At first I made big mistakes when taking over my (very modest) piano experience from the piano to the harpsichord. But after a while I discovered that sitting in front of such different instruments enabled to quickly reprogram one's approach, as if handling a guitar (which I cannot seriously play). My piano teacher thinks (he is too polite to say so) that the harpsichord will bring in bad habits for an early intermediate piano student. I am not so sure. Much is of couse the same : scales, arpeggios, sight-reading, etc... And maybe the differences can be applied to give more perspective to some aspects of piano playing. At least I hope so.

Regards to all.


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Originally Posted by Vikendios
I now have several options for next year : Switch for a harpsichord specialist teacher, at least to get through the basics for a year; or continue with my piano teacher, giving the piano a sort of priority, and working out the plecters on my own. I do not fancy dealing with two teachers simultaneously. What to do ?
Unless your principal - and favourite - rep is Baroque, you'd be better off sticking to piano and playing the harpsichord only as an aside.

They are very different instruments. Your technique and even your fingering might need adapting because of the different feel and sound production.

Quote
Repertoire. Again, I quickly discovered that practicing the same stuff on both instrument was a bad idea : confusion threatens. So I arbitrarily decided decided that for the coming year all Nanerl and Anna Magdalena stuff would be strictly to get the haspsichord on its way, and nothing shared. Any ideas ?
That is good. Play only specific Baroque on the harpsichord, and everything else on piano.

Quote
Finger motion and "feel". At first I made big mistakes when taking over my (very modest) piano experience from the piano to the harpsichord. But after a while I discovered that sitting in front of such different instruments enabled to quickly reprogram one's approach, as if handling a guitar (which I cannot seriously play). My piano teacher thinks (he is too polite to say so) that the harpsichord will bring in bad habits for an early intermediate piano student. I am not so sure. Much is of couse the same : scales, arpeggios, sight-reading, etc... And maybe the differences can be applied to give more perspective to some aspects of piano playing. At least I hope so.
How much do you want to master the piano?

There's a lot, lot more skills to learn on the piano if you want to play advanced rep like Beethoven sonatas and Chopin nocturnes, which are not applicable to the harpsichord, which basically only requires a 'fingery' manner of playing, and where the force you use with individual fingers makes no difference.

In the end, it depends on how serious you want to be with either the harpsichord or piano. Piano students who switch to organ or harpsichord early on don't tend to have fully-developed piano techniques, and give up on serious piano playing; whereas if you've got to advanced level as a pianist and then want to try out other keyboards, you'll retain your piano skills much more easily.


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Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

Yes, the Baroque (and earlier) rep is my favourite, because in all human endeavours I always prefer the beginnings, like the Flemish "primitives" rather than Rembrandt, Plato rather than Hegel. But of course this is highly subjective, and does not prevent me for loving Mahler or Debussy. So the harpsichord is relevant to the kind of music I like.

I also want to play things which I like very much, but find within my possibilities so I can hope to play them well within the foreseable future. In my mind I am competing with the illustrious performers I have heard in person. At this time, this basically means slow or very slow short pieces, as lovely as the Andante in the 2nd movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major.

You appear to be saying that students focusing on the harpsichord will later find difficulties if they wish to reach advanced piano levels. I am not knowledgeable enough to comment, but when I listen to Jean Rondeau
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzoFKG7ITRg
I have no doubt that his expertise translates perfectly to expressive keyboards. Anyway if harpsichords are indeed easier to master, it works well with my timeframe.

For the elephant in the room is my age. At 75, I will not taunt mother nature and assume I can reach advanced piano repertoire. As I said, I like to play with others. Piano players need to be virtuosi before anyone is interested in playing with them (except with choirs). Harpsichordists can provide basso continuo in baroque, and this could be an achievable goal.

But, no worry, I will never abandon the piano. And it is wonderful to see today's posts from other enthusiast late comers.


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I definitely love the harpsichord as much as the piano and listened live to some exceptional performers like Leonhardt. I know pianists who never specifically studied the harpsichord and are able to play well on it even though their primary instrument is the piano. But those are advanced pianists who master already the keyboard.

I think the biggest issue you will find with harpsichord is that the accentuation would work differently than on the piano. Because you have no dynamic capability, you would workaround that by using different accentuation techniques. When i listened to excellent harpsichordists, Hantai, Rousset, Gilbert, Verlet, Leonhardt, Kirkpatrick, that is what makes the difference. The sound decay and damping is different and therefore the technique to link notes is different.

I think it would be very challenging to learn in parallel 2 such different instruments. But sure if that is whatakes you happy, go for it !

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Glad to see another harpsichordist here. I have a 2 manual English instrument from the 1960s, which I rebuilt. I occasionally play it in the ABF recitals.

Here I am in Recital #59. There is video!

I have never had a harpsichord lesson, but I have had about 10 years of piano lessons. It is awkward to go back and forth between the two instruments, but not difficult. I would say that it takes just a minute or two to adjust. The reverse colored keys are part of the challenge. Of course, I spent years learning to play with expression on the piano - all of that is wasted on the harpsichord. If I try to, for instance, get softer at the end of a phrase - nothing happens. At worst I end up not sounding some of the notes. So you really need to get in the mindset of playing with an even touch and not worry about something you cannot control - dynamics.

There is no sustain pedal, so if you want a line to be legato, it must be done with the fingers alone. Accompaniment is usually short, so you need to be able to play legato in one hand, staccato in the other hand, or even do it in the same hand.

I practice and learn the pieces on the piano first. Almost all my practicing is done on the piano. When I have the piece "learned", then I will take it to the harpsichord. Honestly, it is much more satisfying to play the piano.

I am also "old" - 66. So I am under no illusions about being a great player or comparing myself with others. I do the best I can with what I have, and try to have fun doing it.

Sam

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Loved your Scarlatti piece. Congrats.


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Originally Posted by Vikendios
I like to play with others. Piano players need to be virtuosi before anyone is interested in playing with them (except with choirs).
I was playing with others - pianists (duets), violinists etc - within a couple of years of starting lessons.

Not just playing pieces specifically written for piano duo or violin-and-piano, but also pop songs, folk songs......almost anything that we could play by ear.

Playing continuo on the harpsichord requires many extra skills, including reading figured bass, knowledge of harmony and improvisation.


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Very interesting thread. I feel great admiration for your determination and ambition. I also love period instruments - I go to all the OAE concerts in London, and to everything with Gardiner and Christie that I can. I would love to be able to play the harpsichord; perhaps one day I will. I do think it requires an instrument, and a teacher. You have committed yourself by buying an instrument. So now, I think, you must take the harpsichord seriously, and I do think that means taking lessons. Obviously there is a lot in common with the piano - but there will be elements of harpsichord technique where you will need, and I am sure will enormously benefit from, guidance from a good teacher. You say you do not fancy dealing with two teachers separately. My own feeling about this is that you could treat the piano and the harpsichord as separate instruments, and that learning the two together need not introduce conflicts and difficulties. After all, the aspects of harpsichord technique that you need to learn are not relevant to the piano. So, I would say, go for it! And having ordered what I am sure will be a beautiful instrument, I think you will want to do whatever you can to make your playing worthy of it. This is certainly how I feel about my instruments.

I also have branched out from the piano, but in a different direction from you - I have been fascinated by the fortepiano, and have acquired a Broadwood square piano of 1804 (pictures here). This feels like an entirely different instrument - it seems to add new dimensions of possibilities when playing music of the Haydn-Mozart period. I play 18th century music on the Broadwood, and 19th on the Bluthner. Of course this is a much smaller difference than between piano and harpsichord. But based on my experience I feel that studying piano and harpsichord at the same time would give you enormous enjoyment.

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I tried to play on a harpsichord on a piano meetup group and so did several other intermediate pianist. I only played it once with no preparation but found it relatively easy to play on a harpsichord. There was an issue with pedals as the one I played on did have pedals so you needed to lock in the pedals as they had hooks but once done it was not very complex. It doesnt have the problem of dynamics or sustain pedal. I've also seen harpsichords on youtube that come in two rows but the one I played on only had one. I played an easy piece but the piece which was chordal so there are difference as you most often need to roll the chords on a harpsichord. If you are really just wanting to play a harpsichord then maybe a specific teacher is needed but really I think just have piano lessons if you are wanting to play other periods. Mozart K545 I'm sure wont work well on a harpsichord.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S9EFFmfztE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JKqsx9Q1N4

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I transferred from piano to harpsichord - the piano stood forlornly in the corner - and then learned to swap instruments at will. Subsequently I transferred back to the piano, selling my harpsichord. At present I have a massive amount of domestic issues - not relationship issues thank goodness - but will send you a PM in more detail in the not too distant future.

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Originally Posted by David-G
Very interesting thread... And having ordered what I am sure will be a beautiful instrument, I think you will want to do whatever you can to make your playing worthy of it. This is certainly how I feel about my instruments...

I also have branched out from the piano, but in a different direction from you - I have been fascinated by the fortepiano, and have acquired a Broadwood square piano of 1804

I have seen the pictures of your Broadwood and it looks like a great instrument. I am sure these will be "re-discovered" soon and be an excellent investment, like all period harpsichords were thirty years ago. I wanted one solid enough for everyday use : here are pictures of its being built.

[Linked Image]

[Linked Image]

The case is massive dark american walnut with a light varnish.


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This is seriously exciting. It must be thrilling to see your instrument gradually taking shape. I hope you will continue to post pictures as construction progresses.

Might I suggest that these pictures would be very well received on the Piano Forum? There are probably people there who don't often come over here to the ABF, who would love to see them.

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Latest Pic :

[Linked Image]

The signature on the name board is in wood on wood marquetry. It was made using a computer controlled laser veneer cutter, dirt cheap but stunning.

Last edited by Vikendios; 09/13/20 10:21 AM.

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Looks great!

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Beautiful!

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It is gorgeous! Thanks for sharing


"Music, rich, full of feeling, not soulless, is like a crystal on which the sun falls and brings forth from it a whole rainbow" - F. Chopin
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Beautiful and gorgeous!
Keep those pics coming.
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Unless your principal - and favourite - rep is Baroque, you'd be better off sticking to piano and playing the harpsichord only as an aside.

https://sites.temple.edu/performingartsnews/2015/03/04/harpsichord/

"Although commonly associated with what we call the baroque period in music (ca. 1600-1750), the harpsichord now enjoys a rich and renewed repertoire as great composers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries create music for this distinctively beautiful and timeless instrument. Ravel, Poulenc, Falla, Stravinsky, Carter, Cowell, Berio, Cage, Penderecki, Xenakis, Takemitsu, Ligeti, Hindemith, and Henze all wrote music for the harpsichord, contributing new and vibrant repertoire and giving the instrument’s unique sound a contemporary spin."


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For those interested in harpsichord building, here are few Masters now at their peak in Europe. There are also excellent builders in America and Australia. They are all in high demand with long waiting lists, so it is sometimes worth it to try a younger beginner under a master's recommendation.

Their websites are often a feast for the eyes, because unlike grand pianos that all look the same, harpsichords all look different, and many are exquisitely decorated.

Jan Kalsbeek and Titus Crijnen are Dutch. Crijnen works in Spain.

https://www.jankalsbeek.nl/
http://www.tituscrijnen.com/Titus_Crijnen_harpsichords/Home.html

Andreas Kilkstrom is a Swede.

http://www.kilstroms.se/

Bruce Kennedy is American, but works in Italy.

http://www.kennedyharpsichords.com/

Jean-Michel Chabloz is from Switzerland :

http://www.clavecin.ch/index.php?page=home_en

Reinhard von Nagel is German, but long established in Paris. He is the current patriarch of French harpsichord building and long associated with the American pionneer William Dowd.

http://www.vonnagel.paris/

Gérald Cattin also builds organ in the mountains of Eastern France. He is doing restoration work for me and becoming a real friend.

https://www.claviorgues.fr/

Frédéric Bertrand is a newly established young man with a solid reputation with French musicians.

https://www.clavecins-bertrand.fr/restaurant/

And finally Marc Fontaine, now building my instrument in the Jura mountains :

http://clavecins-fontaine.fr/en/harpsichord-maker/


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More pics. Will be the last before the harpsichord is finished with its keyboards. These are most interesting to me because this is maybe the only new instrument built with piano-like 165 mm octave width for the keys. Marc Fontaine redesigned all the stringing, registers and keyboards to achieve this. But the impact on the sound quality should be non-existent : it only widens the soundboard by approx 2 cm.

[Linked Image]

[Linked Image]

Last edited by Vikendios; 09/17/20 10:15 AM.

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