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Transformed By Absence

As the Midwestern fall turned into a frigid, icy winter, I listened to Glenn Gould playing Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” and read Philip Kennicott’s Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning. Alternating between listening and reading, I found myself overwhelmed by emotion and flooded with the desire to do something. I wanted to clean house, dance […]

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Process of Emancipation

Talking to harpsichordists regularly, it’s easy to get the impression that issues of historical performance, musical philosophy, and even fashion weigh heavily on their minds. But how much do they really think about these big ideas while practicing and performing? I spoke with Alina Rotaru, a Romanian harpsichord soloist, continuo player, and teacher at the […]

Posted inInterview

An Element of Faith

The harpsichord is inextricably tied to the eccentricity and experimentation of the historical performance movement. Any hot new recording of baroque repertoire would be incomplete without a first-rate instrument. But the harpsichord can seem almost comically limited: as any pianist will be happy to tell you, you can walk over to harpsichord and hit a […]

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Out of the Piano’s Shadow

“I like leather,” the famous harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková once said. Amid the harpsichord’s renaissance in the 20th century, a debate arose as to the materials that should be used for the plucking mechanism (plectra): leather or quill? While historically inspired instruments use quill or Delrin imitation, the material of choice for plectra in larger, piano-like […]

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Windows

It starts with the name. He gets irritated when you ask about it. Americans can’t pronounce the “ij” in “Bijlsma,” but the U.S. market is important, so marketing had the last word. He settles for “Bylsma.” He’s Dutch. In 1959, he won the International Pablo Casals Cello Competition, the Nobel Prize for cellists. When he […]

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In Three Dimensions

Some art works live off the music of Bach like parasites. They sample him, stage him, ritualize him, dance to him—and often end up sucking the original work dry of its life blood. These semi-new works rarely hold their own in the face of the original. Instead they are banal, merely decorative, or kitsch. But […]

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Forgotten Worlds

Actus Humanus, a festival of early music in Gdańsk, Poland, ended on December 17. I was there for the final concert, which featured the harpsichordist Christophe Rousset, the soprano Ann Hallenberg, and the period band Les Talens Lyriques. The repertoire was vocal and instrumental music inspired by the Academy Award-winning film on the life of […]

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A Long Way

The harpsichordist and ensemble leader William Christie could quite easily be mistaken for a patrician, 1960s-era CIA operative out of Norman Mailer’s novel Harlot’s Ghost. Yesterday morning, he was wearing a fitted black suit, blue shirt, beige pocket square, and polka dot socks, and spoke in aristocratic American English that clearly recalled his days studying […]

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Juste

While this might not be the moment that all of us have been waiting for, it’s certainly titillating to catalogue another casualty report in the Harpsichord Wars. In March, Mahan Esfahani hurled a set of observations (some say accusations) against the mainstream harpsichord world, among them shortsightedness, conservatism, as well as a pervasive fear of […]

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Adding To The Pantheon

I met the keyboard player and early music savant Ton Koopman one wan, gray morning in the northern German city of Lübeck, where he was performing in a festival dedicated to the baroque organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude. He wore a dark blue blazer, a light blue shirt, round glasses, and pants the color of […]

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