On a Cotangent, 1600-1999
Bradley Lehman

Introduction | Program notes | Technical notes


The clavichord is the simplest keyboard instrument, dating from as early as the 14th Century. Its expression ranges from gentle delicacy to fiery abruptness. It is well suited to most of the keyboard literature without pedal, and (as demonstrated here) to music borrowed from other instruments. Its most popular use historically has been as a home instrument, especially for practice by organists and harpsichordists.

Bradley Lehman's professional experience on harpsichord, organ, and clavichord includes more than fifteen years of concert work and church-organist duties. He earned his doctorate in harpsichord performance studying with Edward Parmentier at the University of Michigan.

For an accurate representation of the clavichord's tone, please set your volume controls VERY LOW. The clavichord is an especially quiet instrument, producing barely a whisper of sound. If the playback volume is too high, some of these performances sound far more intense than they are in real life!

Cover art

"Our feeling for beauty is inspired by the harmonious arrangement of order and disorder as it occurs in natural objects - in clouds, trees, mountain ranges, or snow crystals. The shapes of all these are dynamical processes jelled into physical forms, and particular combinations of order and disorder are typical for them." - Gert Eilenberger, quoted in James Gleick's Chaos: Making a New Science

On a Tangent, 1200-1599 is the companion volume.

Program notes
and a 27-second .mp3 (64K/sec) sample of each piece

1 SONG 13 - This gentle tune by Orlando Gibbons is #13 of sixteen Gibbons tunes in George Wither's collection "Hymnes and Songs of the Church," 1623. The text in Withers' book is from the Song of Solomon: "Oh, my love! how comely now, and how beautiful art thou!..." My arrangement is for an imaginary ensemble of viols, growing from Gibbons' original version which included soprano and bass only.

2 Lobt Gott den Herren - Stately dance music by Melchior Vulpius in the style of a galliard.

3 Amarilli mia bella - An extremely popular 17th century song by Giulio Caccini, establishing a new style of singing and rearranged by composers everywhere soon after its publication. This version by Peter Philips is in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. This is the jazz of the early 17th century: a freely expressive keyboard arrangement of a vocal composition. My performance is inspired by the instructions of Girolamo Frescobaldi (a contemporary of Caccini and Philips), noting that his keyboard toccatas should be played like the singing of a madrigal: "Taking the beat sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, and even pausing, according to the mood or the meaning of the words."

4 Wunderbarer König - The gently rocking 17th century tune receives a simple setting in two, three, and four parts, written in the style of academic counterpoint exercises.

5 Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten - The dramatic set of seven variations by Georg Böhm (1661-1733) is typical of this passionate North German composer. His dynamic keyboard textures and techniques are particularly well suited to the clavichord, although his music is also effective on the harpsichord or organ.

6 O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden - The set of variations here is composite and moves backward in time: a four-part vocal version from J. S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, an organ prelude by Johann Pachelbel, and an organ harmonization from Samuel Scheidt’s Görlitzer Tabulaturbuch (1650).

7-8 Two chorale settings by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), originally for organ: Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein - The 16th century version as it appears in hymnals is presented first; then a sparkling three-part arrangement by Pachelbel, with the chorale tune played slowly in the top voice. Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz - This popular martyrs’ hymn of the 16th century became a staple German chorale for at least the next 200 years, with the tune rearranged in every generation. Pachelbel set it as a chromatic fugue. It is natural that this core of practical organ repertoire was regularly played at home on clavichords, rather than hiring a bellows pumper for practice at the church. The clavichord also presents the texture with exceptional clarity.

9 Minuets in G and G Minor - A pair of pieces from J S Bach's notebook for his wife Anna Magdalena, and familiar to every keyboard and violin student.

10 Jesu, meine Freude - A selection of variations on this melancholy chorale: versions 1, 2, 6, and 7 from a set of ten by Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748). Like the chorale partitas of his cousin J S Bach, Walther's variation sets are practical collections of options for the organist, and most of the variations without pedals work fine on any keyboard instrument.

11-13 Three Polonaises (G Minor, G Major, G Minor) - Now attributed as early compositions of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, appearing in his stepmother's notebook. Centerpieces of the clavichord repertoire.

14 Tombeau de Mademoiselle Gaultier - From the lute collection Le Rhetorique des Dieux by Denis Gaultier (c1600-1672). This poignant and melancholy funeral piece commemorating Gaultier's wife is in the rare key of F-sharp minor.

15 Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott - Martin Luther found this tune being sung lustily in a pub, and adapted it for his own use in church. My increasingly greasy arrangement heard here is an attempt to catch some of the original pub atmosphere and good fun in the rhythm. Part of it is also inspired by William Byrd's battle piece from My Ladye Nevells Booke.

16 Kremser; Grosser Gott, wir loben dich - I have brought these two dance-like hymn tunes together as a Viennese minuet and trio in the style of Haydn or Mozart.

17-18 The Foggy Morn and The Piper O'er the Meadows Straying - Both these traditional Irish folk tunes are found in the 1915 collection O'Neill's Irish Music, arranged for keyboard by Selena O'Neill. I found this wonderful old book in a small bookstore in Limerick. In each case I play the O'Neill version followed by my own elaboration.

19 Le petit negre - Claude Debussy's 1909 imitation of American popular music (cakewalks and Scott Joplin).

20 SAKURA Canons - This Japanese folk tune is usually found with a text about cherry blossoms. My arrangement is inspired by the sound of a koto ensemble. The tune is played simply by a single voice, then as a two-voiced canon. Then a more complex canon follows: three voices at two speeds and in two keys. This typically 15th-century compositional treatment brings exotic musical clashes.

21 Dona nobis pacem - This traditional round is a plea for peace, mesmerizing in its repetitions. The arrangement is inspired partly by the ringing sound of hammered dulcimers. After all three voices have gone through the round, an upside-down version of the theme gradually replaces it. The original theme is present only in the imagination until it returns near the end.

Technical notes

Performer/arranger/producer: Bradley Lehman (A.Mus.D., Harpsichord: University of Michigan, 1994)
Engineer/editor: John Hill (faculty, Department of Recording Industry, Middle Tennessee State University)
Studio: Zatoro Productions, Dayton VA, July 6-8, 1999; digital recordings (DAT)

The clavichord used in these recordings is a Carl Fudge instrument (Hubert model) built by Brian Joyce. Tuning: A=440 Hz, well-temperament similar to Werckmeister III.

Our performance and production goal is to use entire takes or large sections wherever possible, preserving the feeling of actual performance and improvisatory discovery. We have not removed the small incidental noises of the instrument's action, or regularized the irrational moments of interpretive whimsy that make a performance human and fresh.

The examples linked here are all in .mp3 format at 64K/sec sampling, 27 seconds long each, 214Kb each. They should be played at a low volume level, as the clavichord is a very quiet instrument.

- Dr. Bradley Lehman

Return to the main clavichord recordings page...

Cover art - On a Tangent Cover art - On a Cotangent Cover art - Hymn Vignettes and Variations Cover art - The Serene Clavichord Cover art - Dances with Clavichord