Thursday, August 11, 2011

A national birthplace and a mini harpsichord demo

Today I visited the George Washington Birthplace National Monument on the Potomac River a few miles east of Colonial Beach, VA, and was “treated” to a view of a harpsichord. A teenage girl tried to play some ragtime music on the harpsichord, which indeed led to an odd effect.

The harpsichord appears to have 58 keys, if I count right. I don’t understand how there could be only two black keys left of C note (in the picture). I guess I should have asked the park ranger permission to play it myself.  It seems that in the 18th Century the keyboard size could vary. The harpsichord was actually a flexible and advanced instrument, whose expressive potential seems almost alien to those of us raised on romantic piano music (back to Beethoven).

One of the first harpsichord recordings that I owned during my college years was a DGG (in the days when it was premium record label) of Bach’s first two harpsichord concerti, in D Minor and E Major respectively.  The Wikipedia analysis of the first movement of the first concerto is quite interesting (in the “rotating key signatures”) when compare to the modern sonata form, even if one looks at the first movement as a monothematic sonata form.  Here’s the link