Review Essay on Books on Baroque Keyboard Music

October 1, 2004

keyboard scarlattibach The Keyboard in Baroque Europe, Christopher Hogwood, editor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xviii+245 p. ISBN 0-521-81055-8.

The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Musical Style, by W. Dean Sutcliffe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xi+400 p. ISBN 0-521-48140-6.

Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint, by David Yearsley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xvi+257 p. ISBN 0-521-80346-2.

Three recent titles on Baroque keyboard music will be of tremendous interest to the performer, scholar, and student. The volumes include a Festschrift, a discussion of a particular repertory, and an analysis of compositional method. Each book has a different focus, and all are valuable contributions to the rising field of performer-based scholarship.

The Keyboard in Baroque Europe, edited by Christopher Hogwood, is a compelling florilegium of essays by twelve scholar-performers—a tribute to Gustav Leonhardt on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday. The work is organized in four large parts and concludes with a new keyboard transcription of Bach's Partita for Solo Violin, BWV 1004.

Alexander Silbiger, a former harpsichord student of Leonhardt, opens Part I ("Seventeenth-Century Keyboard Music") with a discussion of Frescobaldi's recreation of the chaconne and passacaglia, followed by remarks on Monteverdi and Frescobaldi's opposing concepts of the genres. One case in point concerns Frescobaldi's Cento partite sopra passacaglia of 1637. The work ignores the Monteverdian model and lacks a repeated ground bass. The changing harmonic progressions, meter, keys, and tempos, however, are possibly derived from the passacaglia's origin as an improvised ritornello.

Next, Rudolf Rasch takes us on a journey of Froberger's travels during the years 1649-1653, and examines sources that document Froberger's visits in such places as Vienna, Brussels, Utrecht, Paris, and London. As a result of his travels, Froberger learned to merge Italian and French compositional styles and was able to distribute his works in France, England, Central and Northern Germany.

In his essay, Peter Dirksen looks at new perspectives on "MS Lübbenau Lynar A1," a manuscript containing keyboard works by Sweelinck, Christian Erbach, and Peter Philips, along with works of unknown origin. Dirksen divides the final quarter of the manuscript, which contains a variety of pieces, some of unknown origin, into several categories: 1) the "English" section, consisting of twelve English dances and dance variations for the virginal; 2) the "French" section, consisting of eight French courantes and variations; and 3) the final section that includes a group of twelve miscellaneous pieces. Guided by chronological, stylistic and geographical factors, along with examinations of handwriting and notation, Dirksen suggests possible attributions for several works.

Christopher Hogwood's essay, "Creating the corpus: The 'Complete Keyboard Music' of Henry Purcell," is a prelude to his new edition of Purcell's keyboard music, currently in preparation, which will appear as volume 6 in the Purcell Society's Complete Works. He reassesses the repertory that will appear in the volume, questioning selection and editorial methods and addressing performance issues. He also considers the cornucopia of recent discoveries, including the unearthing of two more suites than originally documented and expanded options within the known suites.

John Butt begins Part II ("The Early Eighteenth Century") with his essay "Toward a Genealogy of the Keyboard Concerto"—an exploration of various factors affecting Bach and Handel's similar thought processes while developing the keyboard as a concerted instrument. Davitt Moroney's essay suggests parallels between France's "belle et agréable manière" and Germany's "wahre Art." He addresses issues associated with the classical French approach to harpsichord teaching as documented by Couperin and Bach's possible perceptions of the French style. Moroney also provides an intriguing discussion of Die Kunst das Clavier zu spielen by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg and L'Art de Toucher le Clavecin by Valentin Roeser.

Part III ("The Bach Family") commences with an essay by Christoph Wolff on Bach's pedagogical practices. Using Bach's teaching collections of 1722-23, Wolff threads together a theoretical and philosophical dimension to Bach's integrated teaching of performance and composition. Peter Williams's essay questions the gap between the last of the French Suites and the earliest of the Six Partitas. He speculates on various influences that possibly led to the new ideas that emerge in Clavierübung I. In his essay, David Schulenberg surveys the developments in keyboard accompaniment that occurred between J.S. and C.P.E. Bach. Peter Wollny completes this section of the book by exploring the early history of the twelve keyboard polonaises of W.F. Bach.

Part IV ("The Later Eighteenth Century") consists of two informative essays. First, with the help of various eighteenth-century accounts, Menno van Delft enlightens us on the technique and use of the Schneller, a particular melodic ornament characteristic of the era. Second, Robert D. Levin explores Mozart's scarcely known non-metrical keyboard preludes and provides special insight into the art of keyboard improvisation during the late 1700s.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen concludes the Festschrift with the first publication of his keyboard arrangement of Bach's Violin Partita, BWV 1004. Busoni transcribed only the Chaconne from the Partita, but Mortensen offers a transcription of the complete solo violin work.

The second volume discussed here, W. Dean Sutcliffe's The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Musical Style, is particularly valuable since it is the first English volume devoted to the sonatas since Ralph Kirkpatrick's book appeared over fifty years ago. Beginning with an overview of previous studies of Domenico Scarlatti and his sonatas, Sutcliffe's huge undertaking (400 pages) embraces a panorama of topics that address both large-scale and smaller detailed issues. Sutcliffe discusses historical sources, influences, analysis, performance practices, style, interpretation, pairing the sonatas, and recordings. Among the most captivating chapters is the one on syntax in the sonatas. Included are discussions of Scarlatti's unusual patternings, shapings, "phrase rhythms," and treatments of repetition. Sutcliffe's descriptions are often amusing. For instance, during his discussion of patterns, the comments on K.14 include, "This is the dinkiest of many dinky moments in this sonata" (188). Chapter 5 ("Irritations") deals with issues such as harmony, voice leading, inconsistencies of ornamentation and tempo designations, cluster chords, and "dirty harmony" (the phrase borrowed from Francesco Degrada's term "dirty harmonization" in his study of the late cantatas). The discussion of recent Scarlattian discoveries in Spain, England, Italy, and Portugal is most intriguing. Unfortunately, the author did not have room to examine some of these "new" sonatas. We can look forward to the prospect of a supplemental volume in the future.

Finally, Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint by David Yearsley transcends the usual definition of counterpoint and explores the many layers of meaning that surround the contrapuntal arts. Using a variety of musical, literary, and philosophical resources, he reveals layers of social, cultural, political, and religious connotations. The book begins and ends with somewhat morbid subject matter—it opens at Bach's deathbed and concludes with a discourse on Bach's bones, complete with multiple skeletal and skull photos. Commencing with Lutheran rituals of death and dying, Yearsley examines Bach's reflections on death in the so-called deathbed chorale, "Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit." His discussion of Bach's Canonic Variations, the Goldberg canons, and canons from A Musical Offering and Art of Fugue are presented not in the usual mechanical sense, but rather in association with various meanings and mysteries from the fields of science, politics, Christian theology, and the occult. In his discussion of A Musical Offering, the author offers in-depth explanations of such canons as the galant canons (Fuga canonica and Canon perpetuus), the enigmatic Canon á 2, Canon á 4, and the crab canon (no. 1) and provides his own version of a crab canon on Frederick the Great's "royal theme." Yearsley also explores the role of mechanical systems in musical composition, and through his analysis of the Art of Fugue canons, reveals how Bach "explores the gap between the fluidity of natural thought and expression on the one hand, and the inflexibility and ungainliness of music based on quasi-mathematical formula on the other" (190). Through his study of Bach's contrapuntal masterworks, Yearsley successfully conveys their significance and meaning during Bach's lifetime and beyond, and reveals Bach's counterpoint to be as much social practice as compositional technique.

The three volumes surveyed here are tremendous resources for anyone interested in eighteenth-century keyboard music. Collectively, they provide new insights from a variety of perspectives on some of the keyboardist's core repertory.


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