Tag Archives: Gustav Leonhardt

Gustav Leonhardt in the 1960s

In the 1960s Gustav Leonhardt found himself transformed from a locally successful Dutch harpsichordist into a global phenomenon. Ironically, Leonhardt, an advocate for historical performance and building preservation, achieved critical and commercial success during an era marked by the rhetoric of social protest, renewal, and technological progress.

Leonhardt’s recordings demonstrate an authenticist stance, contrasting with the Romantic subjectivity of earlier Bach interpreters and the flamboyant showmanship of competing harpsichordists. Complementing this positioning were Leonhardt’s austere performance in Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (above), his advocacy for historical instruments, and his uncompromising repertoire choices.

To a conservative older generation, Leonhardt represented sobriety and a link to the past. Nonetheless, Leonhardt’s staid persona had broader appeal: an unlikely guru, he attracted flocks of devotees. Younger musicians, inspired by his speech-like harpsichord articulation and use of reduced performing forces, viewed his performances as anti-mainstream protest music—despite Leonhardt’s own self-consciously apolitical stance.

Moreover, the antiquity of the harpsichord and historical instruments complemented concurrent interests in craftsmanship, whole foods, and authenticity; yet early music’s popularity was dependent upon technological mediation, especially high-fidelity recordings. Leonhardt thus emerges as a complex figure whose appeal transcended generational boundaries and bridged technological mediums.

This according to “The grand guru of Baroque music: Leonhardt’s antiquarianism in the progressivist 1960s” by Kailan Ruth Rubinoff (Early music XLII/1 [February 2014] pp. 23–35).

Today would have been Gustav Leonhardt’s 90th birthday! Below, performing in 1966.

BONUS: The official trailer for Chronik:

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Bach’s temperament

harpsichord tuning

It is unanimously accepted that the term wohltemperiert in the title of Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier refers to a tuning that makes it possible to compose and perform music without restriction in all twelve major and minor keys; however, there are still divergent opinions about the tuning that Bach preferred for his composition.

One view is that so-called equal temperament was assumed, in which the octave is divded into twelve equal half-tones (the tuning which came to be generally accepted over the course of the 19th century). Other scholars dispute this, but do not agree among themselves about how the nuances of the inequality in tuning are to be divided among the individual major and minor keys.

This according to Valuable nuances of tuning for part I of J.S. Bach’s “Das wohl temperirte Clavier” by Mark Lindley (Berlin: Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, 2011), which is an open-access multimedia resource for students and performers of Bach’s work.

Below, Gustav Leonhardt’s interpretation.

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