Edited by Annette Richards
Associate Editors: Evan Cortens and Ellen Lockhart
Editorial Assistants: Amanda Lalonde, Mathieu Langlois, Mike Cheng-Yu Lee, Monica Roundy, Caroline Waight
Jonathan D. Bellman
Bach and the Organ
Like a good small-town music teacher of an earlier age, the third issue of Keyboard Perspectives divides its attentions equally between the piano and the organ. For this 2010 volume, marking in its small way a bicentenary year for both Chopin and Schumann, we begin with the piano. In September 2010 the Westfield Center held a conference on Chopin and the Romantic Piano at the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments; two of the authors collected in this volume, David Breitman and Jonathan Bellman, made vital contributions to this meeting of scholars, performers, and builders — as conference organizer and keynote speaker respectively. In different but complementary ways, their essays here reflect new approaches to the relationship between performer, text, and instrument, showing how historical evidence found in archival sources as well as old instruments can be put to new uses as we think about performance practice. Jonathan Bellman calls for a multifaceted approach to Chopin performance that goes beyond questions of touch, fingering and sonority to encompass less tangible factors such as 19th-century listening practices, imagination and notions of the ineffable. David Breitman describes a very different kind of project, in which student performers on modern piano were introduced to earlier keyboard instruments, not to lure them away from the modern piano, but to encourage them to approach their instrument with newly sensitive fingers and ears. The prescriptive approach that was so long useful in the field gives way here to reflections on the ultimate purpose of such performance research and its utility not just in historical terms but also in present culture.
A kindred approach, never short on provocation, comes from Nicholas Mathew, who uses the seemingly counterintuitive test-case of Darmstadt performance practice—a tradition well within living memory—to provide an unlikely and necessary account of the discipline as a whole. Webern student Peter Stadlen's claim that Webern played his own music with considerable improvisatory freedom leads the way to a trenchant critique of mid-20th-century ideologies of neutral, or 'objective' performance. Performance practice studies, it is clear, are not confined to earlier and more remote ages.
Stefania Neonato's account of Schumann's Toccata Op. 7 also uses archival study to reflect on performance. Her essay provides a carefully argued re-reading of the Toccata through the lens both of its alter ego, the earlier Exercice, and of the contemporary aesthetics of irony that so fascinated Schumann. Critiquing the overriding emphasis on virtuosic mechanical mastery that have dominated performances of this piece, just as they troubled Schumann himself, Neonato draws our attention to the way the Toccata's complex play of rhythm and syncopation undoes the certainty of the virtuoso. Putting these reflections into sparkling practice, Neonato's own outstanding recording of both the Exercice and the Toccata can be heard on the accompanying CD. Sezi Seskir concludes our tribute to the great piano composers of 1810 with a review of recently released Schumann recordings on historic instruments. Here, too, the discussion moves beyond merely describing aspects of these performances, to a larger cultural frame that further enriches our understanding and enjoyment of this repertory.
When it comes to composer anniversaries, one can almost always find a numerical rationale for a Bach celebration. 2010 marks, by my reckoning, the 325th year since the composer's birth—not that one needs a pretext for presenting a quintet of essays by eminent Bach scholars. The essays collected here were born of another Westfield Center conference—the 2008 conference in Rochester, New York devoted to Bach and the Organ, organized jointly by the Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative (EROI) and the Westfield Center. Lynn Edwards Butler provides a valuable corrective to the sometimes-negative reception given the Leipzig organ builder Johann Scheibe, whose work probably sounded more often in the ears of Johann Sebastian Bach than those of any other maker. Matthew Dirst points the way to new approaches to organ continuo in Bach's concerted vocal works that will have important ramifications not only for the sound of that repertory, but also for what organists will be expected to do with a continuo line. George Stauffer shows how, as the redoubtably independent organ began to imitate the fashionable chamber instruments of the early eighteenth century, it was not long before solo organ music began to affect a distinctly courtly mien. This did not imply, however, that the King of Instruments renounced its primacy in the liturgy, as Robin Leaver points out with his survey of how the organ was used in its most important and universally sanctioned purpose. That the concept of organ-as-chamber-instrument, illuminated by Stauffer, began to expand Bach's instrumental palette in his vocal works, is shown forcefully in Gregory Butler's comprehensive account of the Leipzig cantatas with obbligato organ.
The CD accompanying Keyboard Perspectives III includes rare historical recordings as well as Neonato's brilliant Schumann performances, made especially for this volume. But it also offers a vivid glimpse into the art of the organ builder, and his symbiotic relationship with the organist: we are very fortunate to be able to present to our readers one of the highpoints of the April 2010 Westfield conference in Eugene, Oregon, "The Netherlandish School of Organ Building and its North American Legacy." The conference was in part a celebration of the work of American organ builder John Brombaugh—whose legacy can be traced in the artistry of the Munetaka Yokota, who is the focus of this year's Profile by David Yearsley—and we hear on this recording Harald Vogel's demonstration of John Brombaugh's landmark organ, Op. 19, at Central Lutheran Church, Eugene. This is an invaluable aural document of an important instrument by one of the pioneers of historically-informed organ building; it is also a remarkable record of the unsung art of organ-demonstration, as executed by one of its greatest practitioners. That this player was crucial to this organ builder's career path and aesthetic decisions only makes us all the more proud to present a tribute to both John Brombaugh's work and Harald Vogel's decades-long service to the organ arts.
Keyboard Perspectives is a collaborative effort. It relies on the excellent work of its contributors, but no less on the diligence of an outstanding team of graduate students at Cornell. Amanda Lalonde, Mathieu Langlois, Mike Cheng-Yu Lee, Monica Roundy and Caroline Waight all helped in the preparation of this volume; I would like to acknowledge, though, that I have relied most heavily on the sterling editorial skills and production assistance of Evan Cortens and Ellen Lockhart. Warmest thanks are due to all.
— Annette Richards