Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerti nos. 1-6

A couple of weeks ago, my Patreon patron Lorenze Fedel responded to my battlefield conversion in favor of the fortepiano (Dr. Bob Prescribes, October 23) with the following comment, slightly edited for content.

Sir Thomas Beecham
Sir Thomas Beecham

“These [Brautigam recordings of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas] are now in my growing Amazon wish list. Next stop, Dr. Bob, a re-evaluation of the harpsichord? I freely admit that I cannot listen to the Goldberg variations on the piano. Harpsichord it should be!” 

Mr. Fedel is clearly familiar with my occasionally disdainful attitude towards the mechanical harp (i.e. the “harpsichord”) and my propensity to recite the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham’s already over-quoted description of the sound of the harpsichord as being akin to:

“Two skeletons copulating on a tin room during a thunderstorm.”

My response to Lorenzo Fedel was facile, as is usually the case when I am confronted by my own biases:

“Lorenzo: Gad! A re-evaluation of the harpsichord? Yes, I suppose all things are possible, but as someone who grew up in a household in which there was a lot of whispering and yelling, I cannot yet fathom falling in love with an instrument that can neither whisper NOR YELL, if you know what I mean.” 

Trevor Pinnock
Trevor Pinnock

One of the things I’ve always held against the harpsichord vis-à-vis the piano is that it is not reverse-engineerable: you can play Bach’s Goldberg Variations on a piano, but you cannot play Beethoven’s Appassionata on a harpsichord. But this is like damning all cats because they are not – generally – as warm and fuzzy as dogs.

And so I have spent some time revisiting some of my favorite harpsichord recordings, particularly those of the Gustav Leonhardt, Kenneth Gilbert, and the wonderful Trevor Pinnock.……

Continue reading and find the recommended recording on Patreon!

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