Editor-In-Chief: Annette Richards
Associate Editor: Mathieu Langlois
Sandra P. Rosenblum
David Hyun-su Kim
Ji Young Kim
To set about writing introduction for another volume of Keyboard Perspectives—the ninth!—is to try to express in just a few paragraphs the abundance of interconnections and echoes, thought-provoking contrasts and corroborations, unique research and shared interests, complementary conclusions and productive differences of approach represented in this, our latest collection of writings about keyboards and their culture. Each of you will undoubtedly note many of the same resonances that caught my imagination during the editorial work; but surely many other internal parallels and enriching divergences will occur to you as well. For me, the contrapuntal dialogue between these essays is the reason to keep this project going: while we all have our areas of special expertise and particular interest, I hope that the contents of this journal reflect a sense of joint mission and mutual enrichment
We are a relatively small organization of some two hundred members, and that we can produce a publication of this quality, diversity, and rigor speaks to the knowledge and enthusiasm of our group—not only those who write and research, but also those who read and respond, put into practice, and even question what they encounter here. That many of the writers included in this volume have published work in Keyboard Perspectives before—some on more than one occasion—has something to do with the size of our organization as a whole, but also with the nature of this journal: we strive for the highest scholarly standards but also hope to cultivate a spirit of common purpose and collegial exchange, often, too, of friendship. Many of our members make music for and with each other and exchange ideas at conferences or informal gatherings, in concerts, over coffee, or in the studio.
Four of the six essays in Keyboard Perspectives 9 were first presented at the Westfield Center’s 2015 conference Forte/Piano: A Celebration of Pianos in History. At that event topics ranged from performance practices on pre-1900 pianos to the restoration of historical instruments; from the keyboard as a technology both ancient and modern to the analysis and interpretation of its repertoire; from the function of the piano in social and cultural contexts to the questions raised by the term ‘fortepiano’ itself. Surely all ‘historical’ keyboardists, whether aficionados of the clavichord, harpsichord, organ, or the piano (or all of these), will recognize in the history of the piano the tensions that play out, for us all, across notions of ‘early music’ and ‘historically informed performance,’ ideologies governing the construction and reconstruction of instruments, festival and competition programming, and the careers of individual musicians. This, it seems to me, is starkly articulated in the distinction between Fortepiano and Piano, a distinction that ‘early keyboard players’ (even an organist like me, trained to play diverse, historically specific instruments) tend to take for granted. At Forte/Piano we wondered whether that very distinction might not reinforce a polarization that many of us have been seeking to query, as we think carefully not only about the relationship of particular repertoires to particular instruments, but also of the complex interactions that take place among performers, instruments, instrument-makers, and composers at any particular historical moment.
A crucial, but usually overlooked, aspect of the relation among performers, makers, and instruments is the focus of Tilman Skowroneck’s contribution to this volume. The essay ingeniously draws attention to the way that the musical instrument’s status as a tool tends to be ignored until that tool starts to act up: the ‘instrumentality’ of the instrument, in other words, is invisible as long as the instrument works. When it starts to need maintenance, it suddenly takes on agency of its own, demanding attention: the piano itself speaks. The essay explores the dynamics of instrument maintenance in the early nineteenth century, thinking about how piano owners, usually women, were expected to deal with matters of construction, maintenance, and repair. What sorts of expertise were expected, and how did the networks of players, instrument makers, and ‘support personnel’ function? Skowroneck shows how piano maintenance manuals, which have proven frustrating to organologists on account of their relative paucity of technical detail, actually provide a rich source for the cultural historian searching for clues about the relationships between piano users and builders, and for evidence regarding the know-how in the hands of the amateur.
Gili Loftus, too, explores cultural practices at the piano in the hands of the female performer. Her essay focuses on the preludes Clara Schumann improvised as introductions to works on her concert programs—a practice for which a tangible record remains in the form of eleven introductory preludes written down by Clara in 1895 at the urging of her daughters. Loftus describes the way improvisation was a fundamental part of the training of any pianist, and gives a detailed picture of the role of improvisation in Clara Schumann’s art. But her sources are not only the material traces of the documentary record; rather, in what we might think of as embodied research, Loftus builds on her archival research by incorporating improvisation, “thinking through Clara’s hands,” in her own performances. Remnants of a lost art are reanimated now in the present and, in Loftus’s own performance, can be heard on the website accompanying this volume.
Moving back to the score, Sandra Rosenblum’s contribution to this volume shows how source-critical study can reveal fascinating new evidence of Chopin’s sensitivity to the very different qualities of mid-nineteenth-century Viennese and French pianos. A close examination of the multiple autograph copies, alongside first editions, shows how Chopin took those differences into consideration as he prepared copies for his French and German publishers. The extreme care he took over details of articulation and pedaling, marked in different ways in the various copies, suggests that Chopin actively took into account the affordances of the very different pianos for which they were destined. Here is a revealing insight into Chopin’s approach to the widely varying instruments of his era, and a fine example of what careful study of primary sources can tell us of this pianist-composer’s sense for sound—and how to achieve it.
The diversity of nineteenth-century piano culture is at the forefront of Erin Helyard’s essay, which, like Rosenblum’s, demands that we look carefully again at notation. Helyard’s focus is on the meticulous markings found in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century piano scores that instruct the performer to raise and lower the dampers. From Madame du Brillon, the salonnière, keyboard collector, performer, and composer who is credited with writing the first pedaling indications, to Clementi and Moscheles, Helyard suggests that damper-raising performed a variety of different functions: creating washes of sound, the undamped piano might evoke the harp or, more poetically still, the Aeolian harp; but it might also go beyond pure sonority and signal formal structure. Above all, Helyard points to the spectrum of practices and aesthetic goals associated with damper-raising, differing from city to city and instrument to instrument across the period, and putting the lie to the notion that pedaling practice was a matter of an inexorable progression from primitive to sophisticated.
Ibo Ortgies’s survey of recent research on Schnitger organs takes us in a different direction again—back to the years around 1700, and to the work of the craftsman who was one of the most famous organ builders of all time, and whose instruments have remained central to organ culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Ortgies’s article presents the results of painstaking archival research that corrects and adds to the opus list of Schnitger’s works, offering important new details that refine our picture of this great craftsman-artist. A detailed study of the work of an instrument maker is made possible by the dedicated record-keeping associated with the church—the institution which commissioned most of Schnitger’s work. Without church records, information on this builder would be far thinner than it currently is, and Ortgies suggests that parish records might be further mined for much more information on the social and cultural contexts for organ building in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Similarly, the material assembled in Bach and the Organ, published this year in the Bach Perspectives series under the auspices of the American Bach Society and trenchantly reviewed here by Evan Cortens, brings new insights and materials to the already bulging histories of Bach and the instrument of which he was the greatest master.
Moving from the church to the drawing room, Ji-Young Kim reviews a new documentary history of the nineteenth-century builder of pianos and harps, Sébastien Erard, whose firm retained copious archives. One suspects that the brilliant fortepiano-maker Paul McNulty, the subject of David Kim’s Profile in this volume will deserve a study of equal scope and depth in future years
We introduce this volume, though, with the inimitable commentator on musical life, music historian, and traveller, Dr. Charles Burney, choosing to begin with him partly because he provides one of the connecting threads running through this volume. The goodly organist of King’s Lynn and late in life, the Chelsea Hospital, would surely have been a member of the Westfield Center: I make him an honorary posthumous one now by executive fiat! In David Yearsley’s essay about one of the great keyboard duets of the eighteenth or any other century—Johann Gottfried Müthel’s Duetto for two clavichords (or harpsichords, or pianos)—we join Burney as he ranges across Europe and as he and his family dazzle at home in his grand house in Queen’s Square in London. We encounter Burney again near the start of his first continental tour in the sumptuous salon of Madame du Brillon outside Paris—the same talented amateur keyboardist with whom Erin Helyard opens his essay. We can certainly channel Burney’s interest in Tilman Skowroneck’s contribution, not only because Burney was, like so many Enlightenment Brits of his stamp and vintage, fascinated by technology, but also because he had to keep his instruments in shape for his own salon and the lessons from which he made his living. In the preface to his volume of duets for a single keyboard instrument published in 1777, Burney lamented the difficulty of keeping two harpsichords or pianos simultaneously in tune. Burney was also a patron of the gifted inventor John Joseph Merlin, and both men knew how fragile and stubborn these glorious household contraptions could at times be. In our volume Burney even bends down to look more closely at Ibo Ortgies’s archaeological dig through the strata of the great north German organ builder Arp Schnitger’s oeuvre. In 1772 Burney had marveled at the mighty organs in the city at the northern terminus of his travels; he didn’t quite catch the fellow’s name and so didn’t come very close to spelling it correctly: “Hamburg has no less than five organs of thirty-feet; three of them made by Splitger.”1 In addition to English and the Midlands dialect he liked to break into for fun throughout his life, Burney spoke French and Italian, but not much German.
In the pages of this journal new perspectives emerge from exchange and collaboration among a community of musical thinkers and thinking musicians. This forum fosters encounters among organists and clavichordists, pianists and harpsichordists, instrument makers and restorers, devotees of unusual hybrid instruments and scholars of both underexplored and canonic musical repertoires. Our topics are as wide-ranging as our readership; Keyboard Perspectives 9 is no exception. Working intently on this material with the meticulous and imaginative editorial assistance of Mathieu Langlois, and the production prowess of Evan Cortens, I learn a tremendous amount about our field from its brightest minds, performers, and builders. The colloquy between the diverse offerings always invigorates me.
If you note a tone of editorial pride in this preface you have as good an ear for prose as you do for the kind of tuning skills Tilman Skowroneck (editor of the last installment of the journal) describes in his essay on maintenance. Indeed, I am proud of this work and of those who do it.
— Annette Richards
Ithaca, NY, November, 2016