Happy New Year! This week, I will be going on a day trip to Frome to have a look around Peter Barnes‘ workshop and try out some harpsichords and spinets. The harpsichord is the pre-decessor to the piano and is the original instrument for which many great composers such as Bach, Scarlatti and many others wrote their music. We often see harpsichord music on the A List in the ABRSM exam books and I have decided to buy a harpsichord so that my students can have the experience of performing on this instrument.
Here are some of my favourite harpsichord pieces that I am working on at the moment or that my students will be learning. All of these pieces can be played on the piano as well as a harpsichord so I have included videos links to both instruments.
First up is La Poule by Rameau, a fast and furious little piece that sounds like a hen pecking and clucking away. I’ll be playing this on the harpsichord at the Winter Recital at Kingsdale Foundation School at the end of the month. Here’s the great Russian pianist, Grigory Sokolov, playing the piece on the piano. This man must have the fastest fingers in the piano business!
The next piece I will be learning is François Couperin’s Tic-Toc-Choc. This is one of those annoying pieces that sounds like an easy exam piece but is actually super fiendish to learn as your hands are playing the same notes in quick succession, so your hands end up plastered on top of each other. If you look at the first video below of Sokolov (again!) then you will be able to see how his left hand is either on top of the right hand or bouncing over it. The second video is some arty offering featuring Alexandre Tharaud, a French pianist who is well known for performing this piece. However, I think Sokolov has the edge when it comes to playing this piece!
The piece was originally composed for a double manual harpsichord which has two keyboards, so your left hand would play on the top manual and the right hand would play on the bottom, thus the clashing hand problem would not arise. When the piece was transcribed for the piano, it was only possible to write it in this tricky formation for a single keyboard instrument.
Here’s an excerpt of the score if you fancy having a go!
Staying with the harpsichord and all things French, I shall then be learning a piece by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray called “La Morangis ou La Plissay”.
This is a lovely Baroque piece, again by Couperin. It was recently used in The Tree Of Life movie and played by Angela Hewitt who is a fantastic pianist – well worth seeing her perform. Quite a few of my students will be learning this piece this term.
As much as I love Baroque music, I am a real fiend for contemporary music which is why I have been coveting a double manual harpsichord so that I can learn this amazing piece by Gyorgi Ligeti. The piece is called Hungarian Rock and I love how it sounds more like a guitar than a harpsichord with the heavy left-hand chord: