beryllium copper on the front page

April 26, 2012

© Tilman Skowroneck 2012

As the “searches” tab in my blog stats is telling me, many people are interested in the characteristics of  beryllium copper harpsichord wire in comparison to other materials. Some time ago, I have posted an explanation in the “Skowroneck harpsichords” tab of the sidebar (see my full text there), but I would like to pull the discussion to the front, and expand it.

As I have stated, beryllium copper is not the same as phosphor bronze (the latter doesn’t sound all that well, hence this whole discussion) although it looks very similar. It has similar characteristics to brass and can be used in harpsichords with a brass scaling, or in the bass of harpsichords with a mixed scaling. I also claim that,

beryllium copper of the kind best known to me also has a good sound. True, most people will have no possibility to make direct comparisons between the various materials – and “good” is a problematic term. I have tested brass and beryllium copper in one single instrument and monitored their properties over a time span of 15 years. I found beryllium copper to sound slightly “fuller” than the brass that is usually available today, but without compromising the appropriate overall “brassy” sound character. Together with the advantages listed above I personally prefer this material. As said above, however, these properties may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and not all beryllium copper appears to be as good as I describe here.

I am re-posting this here, because I should add that beryllium copper can be hardened just as other wire. This property might in fact be at the bottom of some negative judgments about its usefulness as harpsichord wire. Read the rest of this entry »

new dissertation about j.a.stein

April 26, 2012

© Tilman Skowroneck 2012

On May 4, 2012, Robin Blanton will defend her doctoral dissertation in musicology. The title is Johann Andreas Stein’s 1781 Claviorganum and the Construction of Art in Eighteenth-Century Augsburg.

The dissertation is available for download at the following link: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/28876. Printed copies are available for sale from the Department of Cultural Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.

The defense will take place at 1 p.m. in Vasaparken, the main building of the University of Gothenburg, on Vasagatan, Sal 10. The opponent will be Assistant Professor of Music Emily Dolan of the University of Pennsylvania.

Gustav Leonhardt 1928-2012

January 18, 2012

© Tilman Skowroneck 2012

It is a sad occasion that makes me resume the writing of blog posts: yesterday morning the news reached me that Gustav Leonhardt has passed away on 16 January in his Amsterdam home.

Gustav Leonhardt walking the streets of Vienna. Photo by Ibo Ortgies, October 22, 2011

As I wrote elsewhere, I remember Gustav Leonhardt as a lifelong friend and mentor. Lifelong, because our first encounter happened at a time that I do not even remember. I am told that I was two years old; friend, because that’s what he was to me: always kind, inquiring, never brusque, and on many occasions more than ready to share not only musical, but also completely unmusical experiences such as a new movie, a book with high-end photos of Bugatti cars, a (slow, one may add) sightseeing drive through the summery back country of Siena, Tuscany, or the offerings of one or another new Amsterdam restaurant; mentor, finally, because since the first time I touched a keyboard (with higher aims than a plinking or plunking agenda, which was at the age of five and a half) Gustav Leonhardt’s musicianship has been a continuous source of inspiration for me. When I finally was in the position to take lessons at his house in Amsterdam, he spent considerable time and effort to critically assess my playing (quite in contrast to his generally complimentary style at masterclasses), from which I benefit every day even today, and for which I am eternally grateful.

The impact of this shift in the world of historical performance practice will be great. No matter whether in accordance or in opposition, there will be few harpsichordists today whose playing is not, in one way or another, influenced by Leonhardt’s approach. Now, all of a sudden, we’re on our own. The impact on the world of his closer friends and colleagues is immense. His unique wit, brilliancy and warmth will be missed at every moment to come.

My thoughts are with his wife Marie Leonhardt, his family, and his friends.

The New York Times Obituary is available under this link.

lecturing or entertainment?

June 13, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

Fellow wordpressers know this, of course: somewhere in the functions that only can be accessed by the blog owner there is a little window that lists all the search terms that people used for finding one’s blog. Last week, someone found my website by searching for the words nobody needs a harpsichord.

Of course, one cannot but wonder what circumstance prompted someone to type these words of wisdom into a search window. But words of wisdom they are, at least almost: we, the harpsichordists, have to make a dedicated effort of making our music accessible to listeners who often didn’t even know that they needed us. It is possible; the ubiquitous manifestations of (positive, to be clear) surprise after a recital (“I didn’t know a harpsichord could sound like that!”) are ample proof that a single person playing old music on a box with strings and plectra can, in fact, provide true listening pleasure to audiences.

The harpsichordist largely depends on getting the entire package of her or his recital across “as is.” Dancing, for example, funny costumes, grimaces, dramatic monologues, cigar juggling or walking on one’s hands don’t really do the trick to make a harpsichord recital more palatable to the audiences. The times that the use of an “exotic” instrument in itself worked like a hat trick are long gone. Read the rest of this entry »

harpsichords, art worlds and support personnel

June 11, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

“Art worlds decline when some groups that knew and used the conventions which inform their characteristic works lose that knowledge, or when new personnel cannot be recruited to maintain the world’s activities.” (Howard S. Becker Art Worlds, 349)

The importance of “support personnel” and “conventions” in art worlds is somewhat easier understood when we look at examples of everyday technology: until a few years ago, for example, it was not problematic in the least to get color films adequately developed, printed, or put on a high-resolution CD. For the past two years or so it has become very difficult to find labs that are still matching this standard: real film is nowadays processed so rarely that it (apparently) has become a major hassle for the labs to keep their chemicals fresh and uncontaminated. As a result, some of my most recent pictures resemble my first photographic efforts when they came back from our corner-store developing service back in the sixties, featuring indistinct colors, embedded particles of dust and debris, specks, and scratches.

But not only the standard of the technology and its maintenance declines. The people who are there for me to talk to about my pictures have no longer any clue about the processes involved in conventional photography. Read the rest of this entry »

beethoven the pianist, neefe, and a clarification

March 13, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

Early Music has, to my knowledge, been first with an encouraging and generous review of Beethoven the Pianist, for which I am very grateful. For subscribers of EM, the full text is available here.

Reviews inevitably reveal some points of lacking clarity. In this case, reviewer Siân Derry alerts me to a missed chance of an explanation during my presentation of one of my side plots, which addresses the extent of Christian Gottlob Neefe’s influence on the young Beethoven (I am arguing that that influence may not have been quite as great as the usual Beethoven biographies are claiming).

Here is the passage of the review that explains the problem:

[Skowroneck's] assertion that Neefe “does not mention giving Beethoven keyboard instruction at all” and that “by 1783, any keyboard tuition by Neefe (if it ever took place) belonged to the past” (pp.43-3) is compromised by his omission from consideration of Neefe’s letter of 19 January 1785. Yet on an earlier page (p.41) Skowroneck includes parts of this letter–which states that Neefe was forced to teach six hours each day and that “Beethoven will be most happy of all, but I doubt nevertheless that he will truly profit from this” — but fails to pursue its implications for his argument.

What Neefe actually addressed here is explained by his own position in early 1785. After the death of the old Elector Maximilian Friedrich on April 15, 1784, some influential people at the Bonn court acted to diminish Neefe’s influence there, partly because he had been frequently absent, replaced by Beethoven. The situation quickly turned ugly; Read the rest of this entry »

brahms’ handel or handel’s brahms?

February 19, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

In anticipation of Murray Perahia’s new CD with Brahms’ Handel Variations, which I ordered minutes ago, a few thoughts about the tangles of performance practice in this work are in order.

These magnificent variations are based on an aria from Handel’s first keyboard suite in B-flat Major. Although Brahms – as we read in the article I linked to above – drew his inspiration mainly from the bass, the theme, with all its added and omitted twiddles, is Handel’s own. Now, how does the pianist have to approach these eight bars of Early Music? Read the rest of this entry »


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