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RE: [F_minor] Keith Jarrett's Goldberg Variations
Yeah, Fred's and Brad's e-mails really highlight two questions:
* Is a particular performance great, good, or neither, and
* would anyone in our lifetimes be able to break through our unfamililarity
with pre-piano keyboards and have fair aesthetic and emotional responses to
anyone's harpsichord performance?
"Fair" meaning as compared to how prepared and willing we are to give a
hearing to a piano performance of the same composition.
My wife noted that the first thing she thought of when the Jarrett
recording began to play was Lurch playing the harpsichord in Morticia and
Gomez' parlour. (I may be misremembering this, but I think Lurch hummed
while he played.) Most of us have a lot of modern associations to free
ourselves from before we can fairly listen to pre-piano performances. Like
the retro use of black and white in a modern movie to subconsciously
convince us we're in Olden Times, our ears often encounter harpsichords as
a retro cliche to convince us we're in Olden Times.
Lucky are the few moderns whose training and listening offered lots of
But what I can't shake myself out of is the knowledge that Bach and his
contemporaries composed for the harpsichord, and in the composer's
"ear-mind," the sound and mechanical characteristics of the harpsichord
were what the composition was "supposed" to sound like and reflect.
So to a big extent, it's we and our accidental moment on the calendar that
prejudice us against pre-piano keyboards. The harpsichord (clavier, spinet
et al) was all the baroque composers knew; the piano is almost the only
keyboard we know.
Brad Lehman wrote:
I'd say Jarrett's performance on that recording is above average, but
monochromatic. He plays it like an excellent musician (which he is) who
unfortunately doesn't understand the instrument's range of expressive
Maybe Brad could be coaxed to say a little more about the characteristics
of the harpsichord he feels Jarrett wasn't able to access or produce.
Fred Houpt wrote:
> Subject: RE: [F_minor] Keith Jarrett's Goldberg Variations
> Hi there Bob. I must admit that my ears have been spoiled and corrupted
> by the sounds of a modern grand piano. The dynamic reach and depth
> achieved even by an amateur clod still can produce more "oomph" and
> expressive power than any harpsichord can. Frankly I have always been
> convinced that had Bach been alive to hear the roaring power of a
> monster grand he would instantly take leave to compose and enjoy it as
> we do. He lived to hear the first pianos, from what I've read, but the
> sound quality would have been very unsatisfying by our standards.
> As a matter of fact, I have a question back for you and the group: has
> anyone heard a recording done by any pianist on either an exact replica
> or the original of those earliest of pianos? I cannot say that I recall
> hearing what they sound like? There are lots of people who have made
> recordings on pianos from Mozart-Haydn-Beethoven's day and so we know
> what they sound like. But, from Bach's day? That I am curious about.
> As for Jarrett's Goldberg, have not heard it. I have a recording of him
> at home doing Handel stuff on a harpsichord and it is quite nice.
> Fred Houpt
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