The Serene Clavichord
Bradley Lehman
bpl@umich.edu

Introduction | Program notes | Technical notes

Introduction

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


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

1 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.

2 Fantasia (Ricercar) 67 in F - An imitative fantasia by Luys Milan, mid-16th century, originally for vihuela da mano. This piece illustrates particularly well the clavichord's different sounds from octave to octave.

3 Guardame las vacas - From the Seis libros del Delphin by Luys de Narvaez, 1538, originally for vihuela da mano. This is a set of variations on a popular song about two young cowherds.

4 O vos omnes - This is based on a choral responsory by Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). I have arranged it as a keyboard piece after the intabulation styles of Cabezon and his followers. This elaboration of vocal models was a common practice either for use with choirs, or for enjoyment at home. The added decorations intensify the expressivity of the phrases and help to prolong notes which fade quickly on non-sustaining instruments.

5 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.

6 The angel Gabriel - A theme from Edward Elgarís cello concerto winds through this French carol in telling the story of the Annunciation. In this carol it is possible that there has been a copying error somewhere many years ago, especially with the old French style of notating repeats and alternate endings. By both the text progression and the music it seems that the "most highly favored lady" refrain should occur only when Gabriel is speaking, and "gloria!" only when Mary is responding at the end. Accordingly, I play it with those phantom repeat and second-ending marks restored. It works well sung that way, too.

7 A Point - A short and simple imitative piece by Thomas Tallis, from The Mulliner Book.

8 Healing hem - This is a hymn tune I wrote in 1991 for Hymnal: A Worship Book (Mennonite and Church of the Brethren). The text celebrates stories of healing. It also calls for help for ourselves, sometimes politely, sometimes more insistently. I tried to illustrate this range in the music as well.

9 Suonata prima - A short imitative piece in progressively quicker note values. Adriano Banchieri is better known for his ensemble music than his keyboard music.

10 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.

11 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.

12 Ricercar (Fantasia) 3 in G - Another imitative piece by Luys Milan, mid-16th century.

13 Mille regretz (Cancion del emperador) - From the Seis libros del Delphin by Luys de Narvaez, 1538, originally for vihuela da mano. This is a setting of Josquin's wistful chanson: restrained elaborations that stay within the sorrowful character of the vocal model.

14 Fantasia - A short example from Tomas de Sancta Maria's treatise on improvising contrapuntal keyboard fantasias.

15-16 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.

17 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.

18 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. Bachís Christmas Oratorio, an organ prelude by Johann Pachelbel, and an organ harmonization from Samuel Scheidtís Görlitzer Tabulaturbuch (1650).

19 A chorale setting 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. 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.

20 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.

21 Song of the Birds (Cant dels ocells) - This Christmas folk tune from Catalonia is the piece with which Pablo Casals regularly ended his solo recitals; it eventually became an unofficial national anthem through his advocacy. It appears in the 16th century Medinaceli Songbook. I have written a very simple arrangement in an improvisatory guitar style.


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