I went to Crocker Art Gallery on O Street today to see the Ansel Adams exhibit, and wandered into a harpsichord recital. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a harpsichord recital before. The harpsichordist was Lorna Peters, a faculty member at CSUS, the state university here in Sacramento. The program was entirely made up of French Baroque and Rococo harpsichord pieces. And there was not one thing by François Couperin the Great, the only French harpsichordist to still be in my memory. From my perspective it would hardly be possible to imagine anything so esoteric.
To amuse myself I tried to hear stylistic differences in the different generations from Louis Couperin, Henry Purcell and Jean-Henri d’Anglebert in the middle Baroque (Purcell is an English French harpsichordist, if you know what I mean) and Claude-Bénigne Balbastre in the Rococo to classical. This last piece showed the classical obsession with tonality.
Harpsichord music is about ornamentation in every period, apparently. They probably all composed French suites, but in the Rococo other types of descriptive pieces arose, called Pieces de Clavecin. The characteristic rhythm of the sarabande is the same as the opening measure of “Bist du bei mir.”
It was something to do to keep my brain active in these rather monotonous pieces in the monotonous tone quality of the harpsichord. There’s only so much you can do with a harpsichord. She played well.
Before the recital she tuned the harpsichord for over half an hour and complained about people talking. One would have to be able to tune the harpsichord.