Sixteenth Century Lord Willobie’s Welcome Home . . . . . . . . . . . . William Byrd The Seventh Pavan (canon two in one) (1542/3-1623) A Fancie Seventeenth Century Pièces de Clavecin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Louis Couperin Prélude (1626-1661) Courante Sarabande Gaillarde Passacaille Chaconne (1658) Intermission Eighteenth Century La Lyre d’Orphée (1728) . . . . . . . . . Jean-François Dandrieu (1682-1738) Les Grâces (1758) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jacques Duphly La de Belombre (1715-1789) Nineteenth Century Wiegenlied (Chant du Berceuse), S198 (1881) . . . . . Franz Liszt (1811-1886) Twentieth Century Harvardiana (1909) . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sanger Bright Steel (1889-1927) Ole Miss (1913) . . . . . . . . . . . . William Christopher Handy (1873-1958)
Harpsichord by David Sutherland, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1976.
Flemish single after A. Ruckers, 2x8, 1x4.
Though there was little if any music written for the harpsichord between 1800 and 1930, the harpsichord has a rich repertory extending over a much longer period than that of the piano, from 1400 to almost 1800. Today we can no longer say the harpsichord is an obsolete predecessor of the piano—each has its unique advantages and characteristics. While we’re accustomed to hearing harpsichord music on the piano (works of J.S. Bach and others), we’re surprised to hear piano works on the harpsichord. Tonight’s program draws on the harpsichord repertory, plus a few pieces of more recent piano music, to represent five centuries of keyboard music suitable to the older instrument.
William Byrd was the preeminent English composer of the Elizabethan age. A lifelong Roman Catholic, he wrote music for both Anglican and Roman worship, along with part songs and instrumental music. He was also a major innovator in keyboard style, contributing dances, variation sets, and fantasias. Though he continued to compose well into the 17th century, these three pieces are all 16th-century compositions: all are found in My Ladye Nevell’s Booke, a collection supervised by the composer and copied by professional music scribe John Baldwin, then presented to an English noblewoman in 1591.
Around 1650 Louis Couperin, with his brothers, all natives of the Brie region outside Paris, played their instruments to serenade the local squire, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, himself a harpsichordist who had been knighted by Louis XIV for his accomplishments. Recognizing his talent, Chambonnières took Couperin as his protégé and pupil, and introduced him to the Court and the capital. After mastering the graceful dance forms of his master’s pieces, Couperin continued to develop a more daring harmonic language. He contributed at least one original type of keyboard piece: the unmeasured prelude, a kind of searching exploration of a key or tonality, employing several melodic and harmonic changes, but without specified rhythms or note values. He also excelled in the creation of large-scale passacailles and chaconnes en rondeau, contrasting varied couplets (verses) with a repeated refrain characterized by the strummed triple rhythms and dissonant open strings of baroque guitar music. Although he died young and never published his works, they influenced later generations of keyboard composers, notably his nephew François Couperin.
The famous François Couperin excelled in the creation of brief character pieces, but others, including Dandrieu, also composed excellent examples of this genre. This one, from his second book of Pièces de clavecin, evokes the plucked strings of the ancient lyre, and the emotional power of music in the hands of the hero Orpheus.
During the course of the 18th century, French keyboard music developed from the stereotyped patterns of dance music toward more extensive character pieces, often dedicated to a patron or friend of the composer. The works of Jacques Duphly represent some of the most successful adaptations of the Italian sonata style of Domenico Scarlatti, while retaining much of the graceful melody and ornamentation of François Couperin and Rameau. They were written during the final flowering of the French harpsichord, when it was threatened by competition from the pianoforte.
Hungarian-born Franz Liszt was one of the great Romantic composers and pianists. Though he was best known for his stunning virtuosity and his rambling transcriptions of Italian opera excerpts, toward the end of his life he wrote a number of brief character pieces of experimental tonality, including this Cradle Song.
A native of Joliet, Illinois, Sanger B. Steel was the first of his family to attend college. At Harvard he was a member of Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and, with his roommate R.G. Williams, composed the march Harvardiana, still played and sung today at sporting events and rallies. After graduation in 1911 he became a bond broker in Boston, Chicago, and finally New York, where he remained active in musical activities. After losing his wife to typhoid fever in 1924, he committed suicide in 1927, leaving three young sons, including my father.
W.C. Handy grew up in Florence, Alabama; receiving excellent training in classical and church music, he chose to make a career in popular and dance music, contrary to the wishes of his family. During the 1890s he worked in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he was first exposed to the blues. As a leader of a popular Memphis dance band after the turn of the century, he was among the first to publish blues-tinged compositions, including the Memphis Blues, Beale Street Blues, and the St. Louis Blues. Ole Miss was published as a piano rag, but includes a second strain marked “tempo di blues.” It was named for a train, popular with students, that ran between Memphis, Oxford, and the Mississippi Delta.
Note: As of October 2014, Mr. Albert Elmore has learned that the train called "Old Miss" (later "Ole Miss") ran from Memphis to Jackson and back, beginning in 1908 or 1909. It did not pass through Oxford.David Warren Steel
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