Harpsichord Diary II

Delving into the capriccios of Frescobaldi has been a real pleasure with the new harpsichord.

I think it was Segovia who said that, for him, music settled into a guitar as water into a glass. That is how it is with Frescobaldi and this Italian harpsichord. All I am experiencing is…music.

More and more I am appreciating the instrument’s well-regulated action, its clarity, its ability to do justice to counterpoint–everything is just right.

The eleventh capriccio, Capriccio sopra un soggetto (Capriccio Upon a Subject), is a really fantastic piece of stile antico counterpoint. My thoughts immediately turn to the great works of Bach, the first theme of his E-flat fugue, the great Kyries, the Aus Tiefer Not.

Frescobaldi brings a rhythmic energy to the serene vocality of his lines. His harmonies are difficult to fathom at points, but the integrity of the lines resolves all problems.

I’m using the new, excellent Bärenreiter edition. The critical commentary is extremely helpful. Meanwhile, I am working with a less-than-excellent edition of the Fischer Musicalischer Parnassus. I’d love to buy the complete Fischer.

Once I’m out of hock for this keyboard, I’ll do it!

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Harpsichord Diary

hp2It arrived on Friday, and I have spent quality time over the weekend getting acquainted.

It is a 2007 Bennett harpsichord, a 1×8 Italian in a simple, elegant case. (If you know Italian harpsichord design, it almost looks like an inner away from its outer.)

Forty-nine notes and fifty courses, C to C. It transposes 415/440, and has two unusual devices: a buff stop (rare for an Italian), and a device called controtasti– the second octave couples to the first, and the third to the fourth. This offers a timely “splash” of 16-8 and 8-4 if needed.

Its only ornamentation, besides fine and understated wood work, is a parchment rose.

hp1While the instrument has been widely lauded for its continuo skills, and has been in use at Yale, Harvard, the Amherst Early Music Festival, and all over Manhattan and southern New England (including Salve Regina University–hello, Cousin Esther Ann!), it is also great for solo work. While it lacks the extremes of register that so much of the French literature requires, it contains all the notes needed to do elegant justice to the Italian and southern German literature. Its range matches that of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and of course suits the earlier rep.

hp3This is the music that most interests me –the music of the Catholic South as well as England, and much Bach and Händel– so I’m very happy. (Yes, I do miss the low notes sometimes. BWV 989 is out. Or is it?)

Overall, it’s a perfect home instrument for a professional, as well as a “runabout” for concerts.

I found the instrument via the Harpsichord Clearing House, and Mr. and Mrs. Bennett themselves delivered it from Rhode Island. It was a most pleasant meeting, culminating in Mexican food.

The maker has been wonderful with followup, including talking me through fixing a recalcitrant jack.

IMG_3899The harpsichord was invented in Italy in the 15th century, and in its birthplace it changed little over the succeeding centuries. While the French and Germans expanded the instrument to two manuals and gave it more depth and resonance, the Italian instrument remained simple, bright, extroverted, immediate, and responsive. I’ve loved these instruments since my harpsichord studies in grad school.

hp4I have played some Italian-style instruments that pleased me more than others. In a few cases, the tone bordered on the aggressive.  This one is not, nor is it monochromatic. Bright, even brilliant, yes; but it doesn’t assault my ears or make me anxious. It’s endlessly lovely to practice on.

It is a no-nonsense proposition to play: every note is a small, gentle, but decisive act. It’s been a pleasure getting acquainted with this fine musical instrument.

IMG_3900The tone is very bright, clear, and above all musical and pleasing. (Revoicing is not out of the question, though.) A few test recordings reveal rich and very listenable harmonic development. I’ve practiced Händel, Zipoli, Fischer, Pachelbel, Frescobaldi, and of course C. H. Dretzel, whose Divertimento settled right in.

I wish I had done this years ago. I’m glad I’m doing it now.

The instrument’s début “under new management” will be Christmas Eve at my church. In the new year, I will be available for continuo work, recitals, workshops, and lessons. I have no immediate plans to offer it for rent–I just can’t work that into my schedule right now. However, we can talk about hiring me, with or without the harpsichord, if you like.

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Turkey Soup

I can’t understand why we never made stock from the remains of the Thanksgiving turkey. It seems so wasteful in hindsight. I broke down the mighty beast the other day and boiled it with onion, celery, and a wilted head of romaine lettuce to make a fine stock. Today, the final result is ready to enjoy.

Boiling down a carcass for stock will yield about a pound of meat that would have been wasted otherwise.

Once the stock was finished, strained, and skimmed (the fat will become gravy), I added onion, fresh celery, and carrots, plus the pound-plus of meat.

Take a tip: romaine lettuce adds wonderful flavor to a stock. Just cut off the dirty part at the base and rinse well, and then chop it coarsely and throw it in.

Also: the pale leafy tops of the celery, found in the middle, are beautiful in the finished soup when added whole. (Don’t confuse stock and soup!)

Some years ago I was given a number of new-old-stock Revere Ware pots and pans– still in the box, all American made. I have ever since loved the look of them, still shiny and like new, cooking away at once on my stovetop.

Anyway. Thanksgiving no. 3 in this beautiful place.

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Happy Thanksgiving

scwThe turkey is defrosting. Bags of fresh cranberries await. So do white potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, brussels sprouts, small white onions, and makings of both fresh and pre-made stuffing–I haven’t decided that detail yet. A half-gallon of pasteurized but non-homogenized milk awaits to help if it’s needed. What delicious coffee it makes!

Except for the stuffing box, all is strictly From Scratch.

Yes, I confess: there are marshmallows in the kitchen. I think they will end up on mashed sweet potatoes. Forgive me. Then again, I promise to prepare the sweets with cider, orange juice, and other lovely things that will make them absolutely gorgeous.

Tomorrow, bright and early, I will begin to roast the 20-lb. bird and get the “trimmings” underway. I will make creamed small onions as my grandmother did. White cream sauce à la française from scratch. (Nana studied at Le Cordon Bleu, in Paris,  in her youth. True fact. To the end of her days I had to summon her to dinner with “Dinner est servi.”)

As to the brussels sprouts, I may sauté them with slivered almonds and cranberries. Even a touch of leek, perhaps. Another decision yet to be made.

Some former neighbors are coming to join us. She’ll bring wonderful things as always. He’ll be guaranteed a drumstick!

On the turntable, what else but Dudley Buck’s Grand Sonata in E-flat, played by Richard Morris. American music prevails for a while, till I break out the Christmas LPs.

I see no reason to hold off on some elements of Christmas till Christmas Eve.  I can no longer quite understand the religious view that is dogmatic on Christmas music in Advent but vague on the Resurrection.


The orange tree I bought in Florida in 2006 was, over the summer, transferred to a very large pot and fed with a combination of excellent topsoil, rotted cow manure, perlite, a seaweed-enriched potting soil, mulch, and various other goodies. It has responded by vigorous growth. Next year, at last, I hope for a few oranges. It will be the second Christmas tree this year…sporting all the ornaments I can’t fit on the official evergreen.

We cut firewood all summer. All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

At the moment, I write in front of a cast-iron woodstove with a cozy fire going. I sit in a commodious rural kitchen, in a folding camp chair, with a laptop upon its eponymous lap. I am grateful for family, friends, and neighbors, many of whom I hope to see soon to enjoy a simple, traditional, well-cooked, Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Conviviality and joy are of course de rigeur.

It’s a day that is dear to my heart, and always will be.





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Protected: How to Register a Hammond– Correctly

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Protected: A Typical Piano Lesson Day

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Michel Chapuis

Organist Michel Chapuis has died at the age of 87.

As a teenager, I heard my first Bach via Chapuis’ recordings, especially Clavierübung III. The Telefunken Bach series, “Das Alte Werk,” volume 9, copyright 1975, contained scores and stoplists, both of which I pored over at the Port Washington Public Library while listening intently.

I own my own copies now, and they are frequently on my turntable.

The name of Michel Chapuis is one that I still conjure by. In professional honesty, I do not seek to emulate him, but I do very much admire him.

Back in those halcyon days, the main reading room of the PW library offered a panoramic view of lower Main Street and Manhasset Bay–a view now hogged by the administrators who rebuilt the 1970 Mies van der Rohe building about a dozen years ago. Patrons are now relegated to the cementy darkness that is the natural habitat of the administrator. Administrators bask in the sunlight.

Van der Rohe’s brutalism, no longer a metaphor, is now truly brutal.

When I went to the University of Chicago, I took a photo of that old view with me and put it over my desk, to keep me, at least spiritually, in one of the best places to read and think I’ve ever seen. Anyhow, that view is gone forever.

There was a respectable LP collection, and at one time a large number of turntables. Headphones were available with your library card. Besides Chapuis, I encountered Fischer-Dieskau, the piano music of Schumann and Haydn, the sound of siglo de oro Spanish organs,  and of course Richard Morrison’s album of American organ music. The name of Dudley Buck entered my vocabulary around the time of the Bicentennial.

Most distinctive detail of all: the concrete walls along the massive windows were hung with at least a dozen original Fernando Botero paintings.

Michel Chapuis, Dudley Buck, Fernando Botero, and Manhasset Bay.

I was probably spoiled for life.

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November 11

vetpicHappy Veterans Day to all who served, and to all who have benefited from those who serve. To my veteran friends, and especially to former choir members who have also served at West Point, thanks and congratulations.

I remember my father, who served during the Korean conflict; and many other family members back more than a few generations who served this country in military capacity. The handsome chap shown here is among their number.

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Prime Dates

Starting tomorrow, we have six all-prime dates left in 2017. After that, the next year that will be a prime number will be 2027.

The dates are November 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, and 29.

All numbers in the date will be prime: 11/11/2017 (or even 11/11/17).

Enjoy a few prime geek moments.

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How Not to Register a Hammond

About a decade ago, I published a how-to article in The American Organist (the wonderful journal that serves the American Guild of Organists) on the subject of working with a Hammond organ.

The Hammond approach to registration is significantly different from the classical approach. Luckily, it’s very easy to assimilate. It’s also easy to mess up if you are disinclined to, oh, I don’t know…think.

Recently, I have encountered a situation where somebody clearly hasn’t read my article. For the record, this is NOT how you do it.


Note that everything is more or less yanked out at random, and in equal proportion. The organist clearly has no clue as to the Hammond approach, much less what the colors brown, white, and black actually mean. This registration could be described charitably as a “total mess.” (You might as well draw every single drawbar out to the “1” position, and floor the volume pedal.)

sal2The harmonic series doesn’t work this way; good musicianship doesn’t work this way; and a knowledgeable organist definitely doesn’t work this way (even if he’s “been doin’ dis fer TIRTY-TREE YEARSSS”).

Again, I did not stage that picture. It is truly an objet trouvé.

Here is the first thing you do with such a situation.


Then, turn the organ on.


Then, start all over again. Remember that the WHITE drawbars are the unisons. Obviously, favor the 8′ for a start, and draw 4, 2, and perhaps 1 as appropriate.

I’ll post a how-to in a few days, with my own solution to the Mighty Hammond Mystery. In the meantime, praise the Lord and think about the white drawbars.


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