Edited by Annette Richards
Editorial Assistants: Mark Ferraguto, Martin Küster, Ellen Lockhart, Damien Mahiet
James Q. Davies
This second volume of Keyboard Perspectives takes as its theme improvisation, a practice whose historical traces invite wide-ranging opportunity for study, interpretation and reflection. Further, the results of this work offer great potential for the enrichment of our contemporary keyboard culture. Improvisation may be purely functional, as it sometimes is for the church organist, or it may offer apparently unfettered glimpses into the inspired imagination of the great artist (think of the reports of C. P. E. Bach or Beethoven improvising at clavichord and piano); in either case, it involves both memory and invention, preparation and imagination. In this sense, improvisation, is the scholarly art par excellence.
The essays in this collection look at improvisation from a wide variety of angles. William Peterson explores how improvisation, composition and technological innovation coalesced in the storm fantasies for the organ that astonished, entertained and even horrified mid-nineteenth-century French audiences. Organists improvised fantasies, inspired by the organs of Cavaillé-Coll with their ‘storm’ pedals (one of which we can listen to on the accompanying CD), but they also composed large-scale works whose elaborate formal contours veil the improvisational aesthetic behind them. The interplay between written models and spontaneous creation at the keyboard is the subject of Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra’s essay on J. S. Bach’s improvisation pedagogy. Exploring the music Bach used to teach composition and performance to his own children and students, Ruiter-Feenstra describes a curriculum of improvisation built on a dynamic relationship between notated exempla and learning ‘in the hand’ at the keyboard. That powerful physical knowledge, developed in the fingers and familiar to every keyboard player, takes us to James Q. Davies’ essay on Chopin and the multifaceted question of touch. For Chopin’s contemporaries, touch in all its complexity was a crucial concern for medical research and Davies shows how these scientific discourses play themselves out not only in Chopin’s reception but also in his own approach to the keyboard. From nineteenth-century France, Roger Moseley returns us to the eighteenth century — or rather, to eighteenth-century idioms at play in the twenty-first century improviser’s hands. Reflecting on the interaction of pleasure, sensation and collaborative play, Moseley explores the idea, and paradox, of improvisation in historical styles, allowing us a glimpse into his own improvisatorial laboratory by both describing his recent experimental workshop and by commenting on his own improvisation included on the accompanying CD. Completing our forum on improvisation, Raymond Erickson describes his first-hand engagement with this art, as he learned it for himself and as he has taught it to students, offering us several audio examples of his own work alongside that of one of his students as demonstrations.
This year’s Profile looks at a major international figure and long-time Westfield member, the Belgian organist Jean Ferrard, who combines performance, scholarship and teaching in equal measure with large doses of joie de vivre. Mr. Ferrard has generously allowed us to include a number of extracts from his publications and recordings to round out our portrait of this great lover of the organ. We conclude this issue with our Review Essay by Sylvia Berry which explores three remarkable sets of recordings of Haydn’s keyboard music, marking the 2009 Haydn bicentennary. Each of our contributors is a performer who writes, or a scholar who plays, and true to the breadth of interest of the Westfield Center, this volume and CD present not just a range of historical periods and performance styles but also a variety of keyboard instruments that brings us fully into the present — from the Silbermann organ to the Steinway piano, from Cavaillé-Coll at Saint-Dizier in 1862 to Grenzing at the Brussels Cathedral in 2000. The study of the historical keyboard, like improvisation itself, looks to the past, but is rooted in the present.
It remains for me to thank Glenn Ruga at Visual Communications for the design and production of this book, and, for their unflagging work on Keyboard Perspectives and for the Westfield Center, Ellen Lockhart, Mark Ferraguto, Damien Mahiet and Martin Küster.
— Annette Richards