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A PORTRAIT OF CLAVICHORD
Jaroslav Tůma

 

F10241   [8595017424120]   released 9/2019 

CD1
Christoph Graupner (1683–1760)
Ouverture – Chaconne – Entrada (from Suite in C)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
French Suite No. 6, E major, BWV 817
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788)
Rondo II, C minor, Wq 59/5
Fantasia I, F major, Wq 59/4
Josef Antonín Štěpán (1726–1797)
Sonata E flat major

CD2
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Twelve Variations on "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" K. 265/300e
Herbert Howells (1892–1983) 
Lambert’s Clavichord (Twelve Pieces for Clavichord Op. 41)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Chaconne D minor (from BWV 1004 transcribed by Jaroslav Tůma)

JAROSLAV TŮMA   clavichord Johann Christoph Georg Schiedmayer, 1787 
restored by Martin Kather, 2018

play album A Portrait of Clavichord 126:17
1. Ouverture in C 4:24
2. Chaconne in C 6:22
3. Entrada in C 1:32
4. Allemande BWV817 3:41
5. Courante BWV817 2:45
6. Sarabande BWV817 3:58
7. Gavotte BWV817 1:36
8. Polonaise BWV817 1:27
9. Bourée BWV817 2:04
10. Menuet BWV817 2:12
11. Gigue BWV817 3:07
12. Rondo II c moll Wq 59/5 7:35
13. Fantasia I F dur Wq 59/4 6:27
14. Allegro moderato (Sonata Es dur) 6:15
15. Andante (Sonata Es dur) 5:58
16. Menuet (Sonata Es dur) 4:01
17. Allegro (Sonata Es dur) 3:24
18. 12 Variations on Ah, vous dirai... K 265/300e 11:58
19. Lambert's Fireside (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 2:17
20. Fellowes's Delight (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 2:48
21. Hughes's Ballet (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 1:43
22. Wortham's Grounde (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 2:50
23. Sargent's Fantastic Sprite (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 1:49
24. Foss's Dump (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 2:13
25. My Lord Sandwich's Freame (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 3:14
26. Samuel's Air (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 2:56
27. De la Mare's Pavane (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 4:18
28. Sir Hugh's Galliard (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 1:34
29. H.H.His Fancy (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 4:31
30. Sir Richard's Toye (Lambert's Clavichord Op.41) 1:40
31. Chaconne d moll BWV1004 15:31

So what about the clavichord…

     Whenever pianists or organists encounter the instrument known as the clavichord, their impression is no different from the first impression of laypersons who might not play any musical instrument. No one knows what to think about these little crates with strings and keys. If one touches the keys casually, the clavichord does not produce much sound. One wonders what in the world something like that would be good for.
     I also had just such an experience. When I got my first clavichord as the prize for winning the organ improvisation competition in the Dutch city Haarlem in 1986, my first encounter with the instrument was as bewildering as it is for everyone else. But then I learned how to play it, and it became a major source of inspiration for further contemplation about music as the most important medium for deeply felt emotions and also as an intermediary for the most intimate relationship between the performing artist and the listener.
     When attending clavichord concerts, one sees that such bewilderment is a normal, natural initial reaction from audiences. We are no longer accustomed to intimacy of sound. When the concert begins, almost everyone feels as if someone has forgotten to turn on the amplification, because of the excessive strain on their attention to hear anything at all. But soon, something like a miracle occurs. Most people’s ears are able to adapt, and suddenly we can perceive even the very softest tones reliably and clearly. Our brains automatically reset to an entirely different level of sensitivity for listening from anything we have experienced or needed before, and soon we can differentiate between the subtlest shadings of dynamics and musical expression. It you want to have such an experience, do not play this recording of clavichord music at too high a volume level.
     The beneficial influence of music on the human mind and body has been noted frequently. Once, I witnessed an event that was not unique, apparently. My friend Claus Köppel, a medical doctor and the head of a geriatric clinic in Berlin at the time, told me about it in advance. There were patients in the audience at the clavichord concert, and in particular, there was one woman in a wheelchair who would experience something unusual. After the concert, her persistent tremor had literally disappeared. Supposedly, this only lasted for a few hours, and it would happen only after similar performances, which she attended regularly.
     The principle by which the clavichord produces a tone is very simple. Pressing a key does not set any hammer mechanism in motion like with a piano, nor does it cause a plectrum to pluck the string like a harpsichord. The tone is simply produced by a tangent touching a pair of strings. A tangent is a metal blade placed at the opposite end of the key from where your finger touches it. Each tangent is set beneath its corresponding strings, and all of the strings are stretched roughly perpendicular to the keys. There are always two adjacent strings tuned in unison, and they are struck by the tangent. By using the keys, which are basically a simple lever, you are in close contact with the strings for as long as they are sounding. You literally feel their vibration in your fingertips. If you move your finger in the correct manner, you can even continuously vary finger pressure to produce a gentle vibrato, similar to that of a violin. There is, of course, no other keyboard instrument with this capability. All of the tones that could sound from the part of the string to the left of the tangent are muted on the clavichord by damping fabric woven between the strings. The relevant tones, which can be tuned by adjusting the tightness of the strings with a key, arise from the vibration of only the portion of the string between the tangent and the bridge. The bridge is attached to the soundboard on the right side inside the body of the instrument. When a key is released, the textile immediately dampens the sound of the note, so it does not continue to ring.
     The quality of your tone depends upon how you depress the keys. The keys cannot be depressed too slowly or too quickly. When depressed too slowly, there is no sound at all, and striking them too rapidly causes an ugly buzzing or jangling. Even so, you can influence the dynamics with the speed and weight of your fingers and play relatively strongly or, to the contrary, nearly inaudibly. Or at any level between those two extremes. Ideally, all of your fingers are entirely independent of each other – one can play forte, another piano. This is very important for playing polyphony, as it allows dynamic shading of every voice, not only in chords, but also in the progression of various melodic lines in a polyphonic setting.
     Naturally, the sound of the clavichord dies away quickly, but before that happens, just after striking the strings, for the first fraction of a second, you still have the possibility of influencing the pitch of the note that is sounding with the pressure of your finger. This allows you to tune chords to make them as perfectly pure as possible. This compensates for the imperfections of the chosen tuning system. Again, this is a unique property of the instrument. No other keyboard permits anything of the kind. It is well known that in the system of twelve chromatic notes, keyboard instruments cannot be tuned so that all chords in all keys sound perfectly in tune, i.e. without an interference pattern heard as “beats”. Either some are perfect and others are out of tune, as was the case with historical tuning methods, or all of the chords are more or less acceptable, as is usual with the equal temperament tuning that is widely used today.
Pythagoras was already aware of the physics of tuning. His fame rested in part on the discovery of the slight difference in pitch that arises when tuning absolutely pure intervals, i.e. without “beats”, in a series of twelve consecutive fifths or fourths. By passing through what is called the circle of fifths (or fourths), one should arrive back at the same note, from C to C or from A to A. The tone that results, however, is actually slightly higher than the original one. The phenomenon later came to be called the Pythagorean comma. Pythagoras conducted his experiments on a monochord, a box with a soundboard and with one string stretched across it. He would move one of the two bridges from place to place, made measurement after measurement, and carefully studied his findings…
     At some point in the Middle Ages, it occurred to someone to take the monochord and add more strings, a principle known from instruments of the harp family, along with keys like those used in organs. This explains the origin of the clavichord. There are no extant instruments in this oldest form, but on the walls of cathedrals, sculptures have been preserved that depict angels playing the clavichord. 
     In the past, clavichords were used not only for music making in the household, but also for the private practising of keyboard players. After all, air had to be forced into an organ by pumping bellows. The organ was used plentifully for performing, but not for practising – who could afford to pay a bellows-pumper all the time? And harpsichords, especially large ones, were notably more expensive than clavichords. Sometimes clavichords were used in pairs, putting two manuals at the player’s disposal. Three could even be used, with one of clavichords serving for the pedal notes activated by the player’s feet. That was a luxury, of course. It was not until relatively recently in the nineteenth century that clavichords were definitively displaced in households and music rooms by pianos, spinets, and harmoniums.
     The world of clavichords is enormously diverse with respect to the instruments’ sizes and forms as well as their styles. There is a surprising breadth of musical literature we can play on the clavichord, from the oldest compositions for keyboard instrument through to the Viennese classics. One finds just a few areas for which the clavichord is not quite convincing. The clavichord is not intrinsically suited for certain organ compositions of a monumental character, such as the Prelude and Fugue in E flat major by J. S. Bach, or for compositions with extremely long notes in the cantus firmus. Remarkably, the premature dying away of long notes in fugue subjects does not matter at all, as can be heard in clavichord recordings of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, for example. Even Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor sounds wonderful on the pedal clavichord, as do many other compositions, which we erroneously tend to regard as being exclusively for organ.
     Clearly, the clavichord cannot be regarded merely as an historical keyboard instrument with nothing to say to us today, nor should it be allowed to lie fallow in museums and to be dealt with only in the scholarly literature. Beginning to play it opens up unexpectedly broad horizons. The instrument uncompromisingly dictates what one may or may not permit oneself in the field of interpretation of historical music. Mastering it means discovering and grasping hidden secrets of musical technique and expression. It offers sensitive intimacy and tenderness as well as surprisingly dramatic moments. It is even capable of solemn grandeur or, to the contrary, humour or serene detachment. The revival of the clavichord as a concert instrument and as a tool suitable for practice has arrived. Many young keyboard players have begun to understand its indispensible qualities, and they are acquiring clavichords and using them for their development as players. 
     Johann Christoph Georg Schiedmayer built the instrument used for this recording in 1787 in Neustadt an der Aisch (Germany). It has a five-octave range from FF to f''', and it uses an unfretted rather than a fretted design. It dates from the era of the greatest flourishing of clavichord production, and it represents a late stage in the several centuries of the instrument’s development. It has been restored several times. There is documentation of restoration work done by the company Neupert and by František Vyhnálek in the village Hovorčovice near Prague in 1993. The instrument underwent major restoration in 2017/18 in Martina Kather’s workshop in Hamburg. 
     Remarkably, Schiedmayer’s soundboards use almost no ribs – just one large rib parallel to the bridge to support the soundboard. This is quite surprising and unusual in comparison with the instruments of other clavichord builders of the time such as Horn, Friderici, or Hoffmann, who routinely fitted their instruments with fifteen or more ribs. Two other preserved J. C. G. Schiedmayer clavichords, one at a museum in Boston and the other owned by the Schiedmayer family, also lack ribs. Later, the Schiedmayer company devoted itself to the mass production of pianos and harmoniums, and today it is one of the world’s major producers of celestas.
     For an historical clavichord to be functional today, the most important factors are that the soundboard be intact without cracks and that the instrument be perfectly strung with just the right pressure on the bridge. Even then, the instrument will only sound good if the restorer also achieves a perfect balance of all of the original parameters down to the last detail. If this is not done, the sound of the instrument will be less than satisfactory, and new cracks in the soundboard will appear over time, making it necessary to have the instrument restored repeatedly, and this was the fate of the Schiedmayer clavichord in question. At present, the restored instrument is in stable condition, and it holds its tuning very reliably at a' = 415 Hz as recommended by the restorer, using a slightly unequal temperament.
     The programming for this clavichord recording also presents a keyboard transcription of Bach’s Ciaccona in D minor originally for violin solo and a remarkable cycle of compositions by the English composer Herbert Howells, who was very important in his day and was enchanted by the clavichord’s expressive possibilities. According to one anecdote, overcome by enthusiasm for the pleasing sound of the clavichord, he refused to depart on family holiday at the last minute on the grounds that he would prefer to sit at the clavichord and compose undisturbed…

     I hope you enjoy listening.  

Jaroslav Tůma


Jaroslav Tůma (1956) is a concert organist and a professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. He also performs on the harpsichord, clavichord, piano, and other keyboard instruments and devotes himself to composing and publication.
     He is a graduate of the Prague Conservatory under Prof. Jaroslav Vodrážka and of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague under Prof. Milan Šlechta (organ) and Prof. Zuzana Růžičková (harpsichord). He won first prizes in organ improvisation competitions in Nuremberg in 1980 and in Haarlem (Netherlands) in 1986 and is a laureate of a number of organ competitions, including Linz in 1978, the Prague Spring competition in 1979, the Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in Leipzig in 1980, and many others.
     He performs regularly at festivals including Prague Spring, Smetana’s Litomyšl, the Janáček May Festival in Ostrava, and on other prestigious Czech stages. He has given concerts in nearly all of the countries of Europe as well as in the USA, Canada, Cuba, Japan, Mongolia, South Africa, Singapore, and elsewhere. He often serves as a jury member or chairman at international music competitions, and he teaches at international organ courses and seminars.
Tůma’s repertoire includes major works by composers from his own country and from around the world, covering a broad range of styles from the Renaissance through the twenty-first century. His discography includes more than fifty solo titles. He has a series of CDs titled “Historic Organs of Bohemia” on the Supraphon label, capturing the authentic sound of rare organs from various epochs, from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. On the Arta Records label, he has recorded not only important works by Bach (Well-Tempered Clavier, Goldberg Variations, Orgelbüchlein, toccatas, preludes, and fugues), but also, for example, Thirty-Six Fugues for Piano by Antonín Rejcha, Eclogues by Václav Jan Tomášek, the organ sonatas of Paul Hindemith, and several CDs of organ improvisations, the most recent of which, titled Má vlast (My Country), consists of improvisations on themes by Bedřich Smetana. For Czech Radio, he has made not only many organ recordings, but also complete recorded sets of the twenty-nine piano sonatas by Jan Ladislav Dusík and of the Leipzig chorales of J. S. Bach. He is also involved with collective improvisation. In 2015–2017, for example, he realized a series of musical dance performances titled Der Erwählte (The Holy Sinner) or Gregory on the Rock, with the novel by Thomas Mann as the source of inspiration for five musicians, a narrator, and dancers.
     Jaroslav Tůma has composed, among other things, music for Pavel Koutecký’s documentary films Prague Castle through the Ages and two collections of organ works based on themes by Adam Václav Michna (Labyrinth of the Holy Love or Czech Marian Music, 2014 and The Czech Lute, 2016), and he is the author of a scholarly publication titled O interpretaci varhanní hudby s přihlédnutím k jiným klávesovým nástrojům (On the Interpretation of Organ Music with Consideration of Other Keyboard Instruments, 2016).

© Studio Svengali, October 2019
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