Discussion:
Renaissance and Baroque Keyboard Music - CHERRYPICKING REQUIRED
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JohnGavin
2006-03-09 15:35:29 UTC
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A pet listening project of mine over the last 2 years or so has been to
explore keyboard music of the 15th to 18th centuries, particularly
outside of the great 1685 trinity - Bach - Handel - Scarlatti.

When I was pretty young, (11 or so), several LPs came into my
possession - recordings of Renaissance and Baroque harpsichord works -
e.g. Rafael Puyana's Golden Age of the Harpsichord, Masterpieces of the
Baroque, Vox's Fitzwilliam Virginal Book with Payne 18th Century
Harpsichord Masterpieces with Luciano Sgrizzi and other such albums.

These recordings left me with the impression that there were hundreds,
if not thousands of equally marvelous works to be discovered and
performed from this era. Having acquired scores of composers like
Louis and Francois Couperin, Francisque, Gaspard leRoux, the
Fitzwilliam, Mulliners, and Lady Neville's Books, (Elizabethan Virginal
Music) - I've come to the solid conclusion that those heavenly albums I
grew up with were the results of painstaking cherrypicking of the best
that each school and each composer had to offer.

Let me give a specific example - the keyboard creations of Louis
Couperin. There are 14 or so suites in total, amounting to about 100
individual pieces or movements. After careful listening I've concluded
that (at least for my tastes and perceptions) there are FOUR works that
rise out of the ordinary:
1. Tombeau de Monsieur Blanchrocher
2. Pavanne in F-Sharp Minor
3. Chaconne in D minor
4. Chaconne in G minor

The plus side is that these are extroardinary works, ahead of their
time harmonically and in the pathos they express - they are the
treasures that make the laborious search worthwhile.

In reading through the 2 thick volumes of the Fitzwilliam collections -
I must admit I find so many of these works (mostly endless variations)
tedious to the extreme, and yet again, there are a few (probably VERY
few) real treasures - timeless in their expression.

On the other hand, the keyboard works of Purcell are of a consistent
quality - I rather like Kuhnau's output, Rameau is consistenly inspired
in his keyboard output - to be honest I find perhaps 30% of Francois
Couperin's "Ordres" to be of any interest and the same with Antonio
Soler who wrote a remarkable Fandango, perhaps 15 or 20 (out of 120)
truly memorable sonatas.

I sometimes wonder when harpsichordists record complete projects (e.g.
the Couperins, Soler, Byrd, Bull) whether they do it because they
sincerely love all these works, or for the intellectual satisfaction of
having achieved some mission (or an impressive sounding entry on their
musical resumes).
Paul Ilechko
2006-03-09 18:08:44 UTC
Permalink
... to be honest I find perhaps 30% of Francois
Couperin's "Ordres" to be of any interest and the same with Antonio
Soler who wrote a remarkable Fandango, perhaps 15 or 20 (out of 120)
truly memorable sonatas.
Any particular recommendations for Soler? All that I have is the piano
set by Marie-Luise Hinrichs on EMI that I picked up cheaply at BRO a
while ago. I like it, but have nothing to compare it against.
JohnGavin
2006-03-09 18:27:06 UTC
Permalink
Post by Paul Ilechko
... to be honest I find perhaps 30% of Francois
Couperin's "Ordres" to be of any interest and the same with Antonio
Soler who wrote a remarkable Fandango, perhaps 15 or 20 (out of 120)
truly memorable sonatas.
Any particular recommendations for Soler? All that I have is the piano
set by Marie-Luise Hinrichs on EMI that I picked up cheaply at BRO a
while ago. I like it, but have nothing to compare it against.
A bit of a dilemma because my favorite Solers are almost all out of
print. They do show up on EBay now and then.

1. Rafael Puyana plays Soler (Mercury/Phillips)
2. Frederick Marvin plays Soler (2 Decca Gold Label LPs)
3. Fernando Valenti - Soler (Westminster)
4. Luciano Sgrizzi - Iberian Disciples of Scarlatti (Erato)
5. Alicia de Larrocha - (EMI - available from Corte Inglesi) also on a
London LP
Thomas Wood
2006-03-10 06:58:25 UTC
Permalink
Post by JohnGavin
Post by Paul Ilechko
... to be honest I find perhaps 30% of Francois
Couperin's "Ordres" to be of any interest and the same with Antonio
Soler who wrote a remarkable Fandango, perhaps 15 or 20 (out of 120)
truly memorable sonatas.
Any particular recommendations for Soler? All that I have is the piano
set by Marie-Luise Hinrichs on EMI that I picked up cheaply at BRO a
while ago. I like it, but have nothing to compare it against.
A bit of a dilemma because my favorite Solers are almost all out of
print. They do show up on EBay now and then.
1. Rafael Puyana plays Soler (Mercury/Phillips)
2. Frederick Marvin plays Soler (2 Decca Gold Label LPs)
3. Fernando Valenti - Soler (Westminster)
4. Luciano Sgrizzi - Iberian Disciples of Scarlatti (Erato)
5. Alicia de Larrocha - (EMI - available from Corte Inglesi) also on a
London LP
I have de Larrocha playing Soler on a Turnabout LP -- quite wonderful -- I'd
like to have it on CD.

I also like Puyana playing Soler and other Iberian composers on L'Oiseau
Lyre, Virginia Black on harpsichord on CRD/Impressions, Maggie Cole playing
on both harpsichord and fortepiano on Virgin, and Staier playing Soler and
others of the Iberian school on Teldec (harpsichord).

Tom Wood
Alan Cooper
2006-03-10 13:09:14 UTC
Permalink
On Fri, 10 Mar 2006 06:58:25 GMT, "Thomas Wood"
Post by Thomas Wood
I have de Larrocha playing Soler on a Turnabout LP -- quite wonderful -- I'd
like to have it on CD.
It was reissued on Spanish EMI. See http://tinyurl.com/l9mnt .
N.B. This is one of those copy-protected CDs, but I've had no
difficuty with it. I had all of those Turnabout issues of De
Larrocha's Hispavox recordings; they were awful.

AC
Matt
2006-03-09 22:35:30 UTC
Permalink
Post by JohnGavin
I sometimes wonder when harpsichordists record complete projects (e.g.
the Couperins, Soler, Byrd, Bull) whether they do it because they
sincerely love all these works, or for the intellectual satisfaction of
having achieved some mission (or an impressive sounding entry on their
musical resumes).
Or perhaps they do it for a more specialized market-- say for academic
interest (to be used for pedagogical purposes). Certainly many books are
written for this reason. I'm thinking primarily of such things as very
specific micro-histories printed in very limited runs and sold mainly to
academic libraries.

I gather you have the Davitt Moroney complete Byrd (the only complete
recording as far as I know) by your example listed above. I have the one
disc sampler and enjoy it quite a bit, and I have often toyed with the idea
of getting the complete set. Is it worth tracking down the whole thing, in
your opinion (or anybody's), or do I already have most of the interesting
stuff? I'm always leery of investing in massive quantities of pre-Bach
keyboard work for the reasons you outlined in the original post (poor wheat
to chaff ratio).

Regards,
Matt
JohnGavin
2006-03-09 23:00:33 UTC
Permalink
Post by Matt
Post by JohnGavin
I sometimes wonder when harpsichordists record complete projects (e.g.
the Couperins, Soler, Byrd, Bull) whether they do it because they
sincerely love all these works, or for the intellectual satisfaction of
having achieved some mission (or an impressive sounding entry on their
musical resumes).
Or perhaps they do it for a more specialized market-- say for academic
interest (to be used for pedagogical purposes). Certainly many books are
written for this reason. I'm thinking primarily of such things as very
specific micro-histories printed in very limited runs and sold mainly to
academic libraries.
I gather you have the Davitt Moroney complete Byrd (the only complete
recording as far as I know) by your example listed above. I have the one
disc sampler and enjoy it quite a bit, and I have often toyed with the idea
of getting the complete set. Is it worth tracking down the whole thing, in
your opinion (or anybody's), or do I already have most of the interesting
stuff? I'm always leery of investing in massive quantities of pre-Bach
keyboard work for the reasons you outlined in the original post (poor wheat
to chaff ratio).
Regards,
Matt
The Byrd/Moroney set is a good example. You can bet that the single
disk has a sampling of the very best of William Byrd - (and his best IS
great stuff IMO, and not only the keyboard works, but the choral music
as well), but I think you'll find a high frustration level in your
listening sessions with the complete set.

Pardon the coarse analogy but in those days, composers in professional
positions were a bit like script writers for weekly TV sitcoms - they
were expected to put out creations on an unrelentingly regular basis,
to fulfill the needs of either the church, their partons, or their
publishers, so the unevenness is more than understandable!
Matt
2006-03-10 03:33:17 UTC
Permalink
Post by JohnGavin
The Byrd/Moroney set is a good example. You can bet that the single
disk has a sampling of the very best of William Byrd - (and his best IS
great stuff IMO, and not only the keyboard works, but the choral music
as well), but I think you'll find a high frustration level in your
listening sessions with the complete set.
I'll definitely have to check out the choral music. I must admit, though, I
find a lot of pre-Bach music best sampled in small doses, but then again
this era isn't well-represented in my collection, so perhaps I've
over-generalized.
Post by JohnGavin
Pardon the coarse analogy but in those days, composers in professional
positions were a bit like script writers for weekly TV sitcoms - they
were expected to put out creations on an unrelentingly regular basis,
to fulfill the needs of either the church, their partons, or their
publishers, so the unevenness is more than understandable!
Yes, perhaps, but this is also true until at least the nineteenth century
(and would just as aptly decribe composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Haydn--
to list some obvious names). Even Shakespeare thought he was just grinding
out product (and would be remembered for his lyric poems like Venus and
Adonis).

Regards,
Matt
Todd Michel McComb
2006-03-09 23:08:36 UTC
Permalink
Post by Matt
I gather you have the Davitt Moroney complete Byrd (the only
complete recording as far as I know) by your example listed above.
I have the one disc sampler and enjoy it quite a bit, and I have
often toyed with the idea of getting the complete set. Is it worth
tracking down the whole thing, in your opinion (or anybody's), or
do I already have most of the interesting stuff?
The complete set is one of my favorite recordings. The sampler
isn't giving you the best stuff at all. I can't say that everything
on the complete set is something I really love, but a good 80% of
it is. I much prefer this music to anything Bach ever wrote, for
instance.

Todd McComb
***@medieval.org
Matt
2006-03-10 03:19:15 UTC
Permalink
Post by Todd Michel McComb
Post by Matt
I gather you have the Davitt Moroney complete Byrd (the only
complete recording as far as I know) by your example listed above.
I have the one disc sampler and enjoy it quite a bit, and I have
often toyed with the idea of getting the complete set. Is it worth
tracking down the whole thing, in your opinion (or anybody's), or
do I already have most of the interesting stuff?
The complete set is one of my favorite recordings. The sampler
isn't giving you the best stuff at all.
Hmm, two conflicting views (this and John Gavin's post). What to do...
Post by Todd Michel McComb
I can't say that everything
on the complete set is something I really love, but a good 80% of
it is. I much prefer this music to anything Bach ever wrote, for
instance.
That's certainly a bold claim.

Regards,
Matt
Todd Michel McComb
2006-03-10 03:34:18 UTC
Permalink
Post by Matt
Hmm, two conflicting views (this and John Gavin's post). What to do...
Well, that's up to you. It sure sounds like John is speculating,
however. I don't know how anyone could consider the "best of" disc
from the Moroney set to really be the "best of." It is a very
strange choice of program.

Anyway, here's the 1999 writeup where the Moroney set was our
Record of the Year:

http://www.medieval.org/music/early/99.html

Still a matter of opinion, of course.

As long as I'm here, my next favorite is Johnstone's recording of
Gibbons on harpsichord for AS&V. That's not complete, however, but
a complete Gibbons isn't much longer than one CD.
Post by Matt
That's certainly a bold claim.
Eh, not really. Bach is probably the most popular Western composer
at the moment, but it wasn't always that way, and someday it won't be
that way again. All these things come & go.

Todd McComb
***@medieval.org
d***@aol.com
2006-03-10 08:48:19 UTC
Permalink
Todd made the blase' statement:

"Bach is probably the most popular Western composer at the moment, but
it wasn't always that way, and someday it won't be that way again."

One can appreciate the frustration of an admirer of the quantities of
remarkably rich and diverse music written in the centuries before Bach.
The very greatest composers of that period are worthy of consideration
alongside Bach, but Medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque music is
never apt to have a vast public in the future any more than Petrach or
Tasso is likely to be on the best seller list any time soon. Even the
encouraging vogue that Renaissance music does now enjoy is due in part
to performers exhuming simple dance music: a steady diet of Dufay and
Ockeghem would not bring in the small but enthusiastic audiences of
comparative amateurs one can find at early music concerts in many
college towns, although there are performers and scholars passionately
devoted to any and every species of early music.

Bach is not the most popular composer today and may never have been:
the "easy listening" Baroque music on NPR is more apt to be by
Telemann. Which doesn't mean that Bach doesn't enjoy a prominent
position among those "classical" composers that performers still play
and listeners still seek out.

Bach is the most influential composer in the history of Western music
and has been since before Haydn and Mozart discovered him. Contrary to
mythology, Bach's music never disappeared from view: not while C.P.E.
Bach was alive. (Mendelssohn's "rediscovery" was of the choral music.)
The most influential theoretical treatments of tonal music down to
Heinrich Schenker ultimately stem from C.P.E., for whose studies of
figured bass his father's music was the model, and the Bach chorale has
remained the idealized basis for instruction in harmony for a couple of
centuries now. Every pianist learns to play some Bach, even pianists
who hate that boring contrapuntal stuff. Beethoven played the complete
Well Tempered Keyboard from memory in public in his early teens;
Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Chopin worshipped him; and he enjoyed a
comparable prestige with Bartok, Stravinsky and Schoenberg, all of whom
wrote at least some music still audibly influenced by Bach. Nadia
Boulanger's students were all expected to sight sing through quantities
of Bach cantatas. (Copland and Carter remember sight singing through
the complete cantatas when they studied with her.)

At least so far, an enthusiasm for Bach hasn't come and gone the way
hemlines rise and fall in the fashion world. Bach's music will fade
because everything does. The sun will burn out, too.

-david gable
Todd Michel McComb
2006-03-10 16:03:31 UTC
Permalink
Post by d***@aol.com
Bach is the most influential composer in the history of Western music
I don't consider this even close to being true. I like some of
Bach's music. He is also vastly overhyped at the moment, the above
statement being a good example. Anyway, that wasn't the subject
of the thread, nor is it the subject of the newsgroup, so I'll just
leave it at that.

Todd McComb
***@medieval.org
Jan Winter
2006-03-12 22:33:56 UTC
Permalink
On 9 Mar 2006 07:35:29 -0800, "JohnGavin" <***@comcast.net> wrote:

[snip]
Post by JohnGavin
In reading through the 2 thick volumes of the Fitzwilliam collections -
I must admit I find so many of these works (mostly endless variations)
tedious to the extreme, and yet again, there are a few (probably VERY
few) real treasures - timeless in their expression.
Didn't the pieces by Farnaby struck you as falling into this category?

-----
jan winter, amsterdam
email: name = j.winter; provider = xs4all; com = nl
JohnGavin
2006-03-12 22:47:43 UTC
Permalink
Post by Jan Winter
[snip]
Post by JohnGavin
In reading through the 2 thick volumes of the Fitzwilliam collections -
I must admit I find so many of these works (mostly endless variations)
tedious to the extreme, and yet again, there are a few (probably VERY
few) real treasures - timeless in their expression.
Didn't the pieces by Farnaby struck you as falling into this category?
-----
jan winter, amsterdam
email: name = j.winter; provider = xs4all; com = nl
Yes - I would say that Farnaby composed a large percentage of quality
works - short and to the point. I would also say that in general I
prefer Byrd to Bull, and if pressed to name my favorite works in the
Fitzwilliam Virginal Books I would say Peter Philips' Pavana and
Galiarda Dolorosa.

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