Posts Tagged ‘baroque’

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. (more…)

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? (more…)

how poetic is a gleaming soundboard?

January 24, 2010

I once helped to restore a two-manual Kirkman harpsichord from 1775. The exciting part of the work involved taking off the old and damaged bottom and extricating a total of 5 kg of assorted iron parts from the instrument’s interior. These included, for instance, a T-beam that an earlier restorer had attached between spine and cheek, parallel to the belly rail, in a misguided attempt to stabilize the sagging structure of the instrument.

Less exiting and rather messy was the removal of a thick layer of not original shellac from the soundboard. How do you scoop puddles of temporarily dissolved, but rapidly drying varnish out of a harpsichord? (more…)

cracking the trill code

January 5, 2008

One day, when I stumbled over the trills in the connecting run in the middle of the refrain of J.Ph. Rameau’s Les Sauvages, the harpsichord professor in charge advised me to “practice until it works.” I am a trill person. Consequently this recipe did lead to a better result, but it ought to be clear that it is, nevertheless, bad advice. The question is not “when will it work?” This inevitably will become a despaired “when will it ever work!” which gets us nowhere. The relevant thing to ask oneself is rather: “why doesn’t it work now, and how do I make it work?” The answer will disclose the appropriate manner of practicing, as opposed to an appropriate number of practice hours.

Even in professional historically informed playing, trills very often do not automatically come out properly. Granted, those players who, when failing to play an embellishment as planned, would produce a well audible awkwardness (harpsichordists) or find their tone destroyed and their technical balance upset (woodwind players) are more likely to have struggled with the problem at depth. Others, however, have the ability to hide in the tutti group or to pronounce their trills in some noncommittal way. Such evasive practices remind us of a person who got tired of wrestling with the German personal pronouns and simply replaced der die and das with a mumbled, generic d’r. (more…)

remembering school concerts

December 4, 2007

Where in the world would one encounter a traverso player who performs larger solo sections from Vivaldi’s “Il Cardellino” at 9:00 in the morning for an audience of 80? Where can we see a fight between two rooster-dressed Baroque violinists who simultaneously play an adapted version of Biber’s Battaglia? How does one arrive at the unbelievable record of having tried to publicly perform the first half of Rameau’s La Poule on a pentagonal Virginal (but giving up because of being interrupted by a bunch of unruly chickens) approximately 750 times?. How many baroque musicians have been allowed, no: expected to snore on stage while their colleagues performed Vivaldi’s Winter? What institution allows a harpsichordist to experiment with various fingerings in the fast bits of the fifth Brandenburg concerto’s cadenza on stage, ten or eleven times a week?

For all these treats, you need to be in a Swedish basic school (more…)


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