Washington University Lectures 1963/64
Lecture 2 (Oct 4) - Part 1
From the Rosalyn Tureck Collection,
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University
[Editor's note: There appear to have been difficulties with the recording of this lecture, and as a result several omissions are indicated with elipses.]
I am going to play for you the C-sharp major Prelude and Fugue, first on the piano and then on the harpsichord. (plays piano [hear Dr. Tureck's recording]) For this I must change my shoes. (plays harpsichord) Perhaps you heard some difference in the way I played the Prelude and Fugue on the piano and on the harpsichord. I also have different phrasing and ... Now I want to show you that if I were to play the clavichord in any way related to the way I play this prelude and fugue on the harpsichord and on the piano, despite the fact that they were very different, the effect is absolutely comical. I'll show you (plays clavichord) The point is — that is not clavichord sound. The clavichord sound is more like this (plays Prelude and Fugue on clavichord) It's really not possible to play this work on the clavichord without completely abusing its nature. I will play the C major Prelude of Book I on the three instruments and you notice the entirely different tone of the three instruments (plays clavichord, harpsichord and piano [hear Dr. Tureck's recording]) Now in the C-sharp major Prelude and Fugue remember in the harpsichord ... possibilities of sound than on the clavichord. But in this prelude the clavichord and piano are much closer than the harpsichord ... there is no set rule which is more like the other. You can hear a difference, an enormous difference between the sonority of the harpsichord and the clavichord. The instruments have a basic difference. Clavichords differ among themselves; harpsichords differ from each other. But there are basic differences in sound and we will study ornamentation, what happens to phrasing, architecture of dynamics and what happens to tempo ... and above all what happens to the phrasing of the motive.
They merge ... between the mood possibilities on the harpsichord and on the clavichord. It is very possible to get a great number of different kinds of moods for this kind of thing but you see the varying editions on the clavichord. You see, when you play a great deal of staccato on the clavichord with certain kinds of articulations, it's just ludicrous. ... This is the mood of the piece. Its basis moods ... instruments of Bach's time or instruments of our time. Whether or not you specialize in one or the other this question comes up. And its not soluble at all unless you realize that in Bach's time sonorities are important. You must have sonorities. Sonorities are important. On the whole they are much more abstract music than we have today, based on a sense of form and structure. But remember always the need (?) came before the development of the orchestra, came before Berlioz and Debussy and Wagner and our present day composers. So that they did not have the attachments to the ... sounds that developed as our background and you can see in the lists of works by many composers ... Bach.
There are many dozens of works by Bach where he has what we call transcribed from one instrument to another the same work, and he has not only one transcription but he has set the same work for many different combinations of instruments and for chorus. The famous G minor Concerto, as anybody knows who plays the piano, was originally written for organ. He also has written a cantata, the first movement a reduction of the ... movement and second movement, written exactly as we know it in the Concerto, has the chorus written above it. The second movement is intact as we know it. It hasn't been changed a particle. This is one example. There are many such examples. This sonata ... keyboard. There are dozens and dozens of such works ... so that you have such enormously contrasting types of textures and sonorities that employ and try (?) the same music and the same relations. Now if you from the outside ... whereas they attach certain relations, certain kinds of melody writing to certain kinds of instruments, the ... simplify the figure. Well you all know in Bach's time and with Bach's own orchestra ... the instrumentalists became ... And the practicality of the continuo was the fact that it had more parts and could support the entire group. It wasn't used as a ... but as a practical instrument to carry all the parts. ... regular improvisation in the continuo as well.
And the value of the continuo part is improving very much in our day, not so much, I think, in the way the part is played, but it is getting better. Up till recently the continuo part was regarded simply as a chordal part, as a figured bass to be transfigured. This is false. It isn't so at all. Those chords are just a skeleton of the harmony. They are only a skeleton of the dimension ... parts going on. So that in that sense it added another part. But in the primary sense these parts support the entire piece ... the performer must ... so that it is very helpful to have an instrument that can employ all the parts at one time. How this is of extreme importance because there has been an enormous amount of misunderstanding and actually ... is always considered a great authority on continuo technique. ...
Now I'd like to play the E-flat minor Prelude to show you what can be done on a clavichord. More can be done on one that has been played like this one (Plays Prelude) ... singing Bach lines, whole notes, half notes, tying ... sustained ... and its very natural. (plays E-flat minor Prelude on harpsichord) You see on the harpsichord, I am sure you all know, the touch is so very different. It must be very swift, it must be very direct, straight down. There is no vibrato. There is no subtle changing of weights as there is on the piano ... improvement on the individual finger and the arm weight — flex — what you do with your fingers. The clavichord ... The harpsichord — it is not possible on the harpsichord to inflect (?) very much. It is possible to do a little, but you must be an awfully good harpsichordist to be able to very slightly vary some sound with just your fingers. But, on the whole, nothing. ... And you can change the dynamics ... and quality only in tempo.
Now do you all know how a harpsichord works. Are you all very clear about that? Alright. Well than I start really from the beginning as far as a harpsichord is concerned. First of all you see there are two manuals. Now, harpsichords did not begin with two manuals. They were not born full-fledged with two manuals. They began with one and the essential nature of the harpsichord is based on the action — action in terms of sonority and quality. ... When I say action I include all these various instruments. Action in the large sense where the various instruments ... because there you have direct contact with the strings. Now these keyboards are developed on instruments from having direct contact with the strings ... like a tension key (?) or some sort of mechanism, so that when you press the key that has something attached to it which activates the string rather than the direct control of the finger. Now this was a very great thing and I use the word "thing" a very vague word, very useful in this case, because you see this thing ... very much ... the thing that's attached to the key on the harpsichord is called the jack. And when you press the key, the jack comes up and plucks the strings. Now in order to get ... sound, you must strike that jack very directly. In order to get the good, clear, clean pluck — if you strike the string as pianists who really have no idea what to do with a harpsichord ... (plays harpsichord) and then (plays) That's a harpsichord sound. This is the first sound ... attacks on the piano ... straight attacks on the organ where the finger cannot control the sound ... and the harpsichord has more similarities than that to the organ.
As you see there are pedals here. The early harpsichords had no pedals although they were called pedals. They had hand knobs which you held while you changed the quality. Now remember you can't change quantity on the harpsichord. There again you are ... small subtleties. Essentially you cannot change quantity on a harpsichord unless you change quality, that is unless you have a new registration ... The purpose of the hand pedals on a harpsichord is not ... As you see in the early harpsichords in museums you have the knobs here or you even have knobs on the outside. Now, we can deduce from that that there must not have been terribly much in the way of registration since the knobs are on the outside. Now of course, as the harpsichord developed, it developed, I believe, after the pattern of the organ, developing foot pedals — interesting by the way is the ... pedal ... and setting the manuals ... as in the big harpsichords ... but there were harpsichords of one or two manuals. Actually one sees more of the one than of the two manual in that period.
Now what about these pedals. You know also I believe that this is the upper and this is the lower manual. From the terms you get the idea of what they characterize ... This lower one is the bigger sound and the upper one is the smaller sound ... Now on the lower manual we follow the construction of the organ. On this harpsichord and on many of the earlier harpsichords you had ... to play. You press the pedal. Now there are many harpsichords today that are made differently so that you have different sound. Sometimes the lower one will sound ... or vice versa. Now in order to get a sound either 16, 8 or 4 on the lower manual — that's exactly like the organ principle — 8, which is this always sounds inversely to what you play (plays) that is the register in which you play (plays). that is 8. Now an octave below (plays) 16, an octave below. Now an octave above (plays) that is 4 played from the middle but sounds an octave above. Now you play 8 and the sound is where you play (plays) Now you might want 8 and 4, that is the register in which you play and the octave above (plays). Now 8 and 16. I play from middle G (plays) and you hear an octave below. Now if you want 8 — the register in which you play — plus an octave below (plays). Now if you want a very grand effect of the register in which you play plus an octave above and an octave below, you press 16, 8 and 4 and you get this (plays) That was what I was using in the C-sharp major Prelude (plays).
Now there is also a pedal called the coupler and it does exactly what it would seem to according to its term — it couples the lower manual with the upper manual. Now the use of the coupler, the benefit of the coupler is that you get the quality of the upper meeting with the quality of the lower and in certain ways it increases the amount of tone. Now in our time we are terribly interested in increasing the amount of the tone of the harpsichord because one of the drawbacks is the small sound for concert Halls. So many harpsichordists today put down the coupler all the time for quantity of sound. Well I consider this very bad musicianship. I do not want the coupler down all the time just to make the louder sound. Because if you have any real understanding of what a harpsichord can do in subtleties of registrations ... on the harpsichord, you realize that you cannot create these marvelous differences with the two manuals coupled to each other all the time. Because every time you play on the lower manual you are mixing the upper textures as wall. And there are ways of mixing textures in order to produce a particular kind of sound. That is artistic. But to put down the coupler just to have everything sound louder is to my mind extremely vulgar. It doesn't fit the music on the harpsichord and is unnecessary and if you want the sound you might as well have a microphone ...
So here is the coupler. I will play without the coupler so that you can hear (plays) That was the same as I have not yet brought out the possibilities of different registrations on the upper manual. Now I will (plays). You hear a difference? Now this is an awfully important lesson because with all the talk about loving harpsichords which so many people in one way or other for one reason or another ... and those harpsichord players who have enough knowledge to really play the instrument and devote some time to handling their registrations harpsichords. I pity them so when I hear them first of all usually in a much too large hall for any artistic effect ... It's very hard changing from one manual to another, one pedal to another. It takes a great deal of experience ... and you can't hear it. It is almost all lost. And then if the hall is not so large, I know people can hear what's going on.