conference nostalgia: stuttgart, long ago

A post about split bridges (a feature of harpsichord and fortepiano construction, not an accident) on the hpschd-list brought back various memories from a keyboard conference in Stuttgart in the early 1980s. Harpsichord conference time! The rambling character of this post is carefully chosen to illustrate the experience.

That was the first time I was out there lurking. Apart from two short visits at the music market of the Utrecht Early Music Festival and a conference with an instrument exposition where I was invited to play and present a lecture, it was also the last time: the usual harpsichord exhibition – inevitably part of the conference – is, as I have learned to understand, too many instruments crammed into too small a space and preferably played simultaneously. Nobody can hear anything apart from the shop talk of the more vociferous section of the instrument makers. An experience I can live without.

There was such a harpsichord exhibition in Stuttgart. Someone displayed a five-octave muselaer. The concept resembles a corkscrew of the size of a toilet brush or a candy bar as heavy as a dachshund. Perfect for table tennis, I’m sure, and ideal for repertoire such as Rachmanineelinck.

The only event that was, as it turned out, actually intended as curious (in the Mozartean sense: “Curios!!”) was pianist Richard Burnett’s improvised and extended sit-down comedy before his recital on several early pianos. This event took silently place behind the back of the brave but uninitiated introductory speaker who for a long time could not understand why the audience seemed to find his well-prepared and informative organological lecture so hilarious. Which, of course, was part of the performance: every time the speaker turned to Burnett to find out what was the matter, the latter sat still – the incarnation of innocence. Eventually securely seated, Burnett played brilliantly.

One evening, the late Christiane Jaccottet played the whole WTC I, while a cluster of harpsi-kit dealers, seated far back in the hall, kept mumbling to each other and continuously shook their heads because they fancied other tempi and other registrations. Try shaking your head for almost two hours. It hurts. Try playing the whole of WTC I in one concert. Shaking your head is peanuts, in comparison. I am telling this story only because I want to show that there is only one thing members of a concert audience remember more than the bloopers of the player and that is the misbehavior of other members of the audience (Christiane played without bloopers).

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