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!
"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 Cotangent, 1600-1999 is the companion volume.
1 Galliardo - A dance by Peter Philips appearing in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Although it is quite short, its cross-rhythms are especially elaborate.
2-3 Mit ganczem Willen - This rhythmically complex piece and Elend, du hast umfangen mich are two examples of the mid-15th century organ style of Conrad Paumann (c1410-1473). Mit ganczem Willen appears to be an elaboration of a three-part vocal model which eventually mutates into a two-part keyboard texture.
4 Estampie - This anonymous dance setting from c1325 (Robertsbridge Codex) is the earliest extant keyboard composition. It is well suited to the clavichord, the simplest keyboard instrument. I play the short version which appears in the Historical Anthology of Music compiled by Archibald Davison and Willi Apel; a longer version in modern edition is available in the Corpus of Early Keyboard Music edited by Apel.
5 Basse Dance 7 - From the 1531 collection of dance music published by Pierre Attaingnant: the earliest surviving publication of keyboard music. This basse dance also exists in versions for ensemble ("Bergeret sans roch," published by Susato) and for lute ("La roche" and "La roque," in another Attaingnant book).
6 En avois - Anonymous, 15th century, a gentle and haunting two-voiced piece in triple time.
7 Christ ist erstanden - I play this 12th century plainchant tune first in parallel as organum, then a new two-part setting in improvisatory 14th century keyboard style, followed by a triple-time version from the Buxheim organ book (c1470).
8 Quando claro - One of the classic bass formulas for improvising dance music. This is an anonymous 16th century example.
9 Holloyne pardye - Anonymous, 16th century, some rough-and-ready Halloween party music.
10 Wie möcht ich frölich werden - A lute dance by Melchior Neusidler, 1574: music in a popular style, with a duple dance followed by a triple dance on the same themes.
11 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.
12 Ricercar (Fantasia) 3 in G - An imitative fantasia by Luys Milan, mid-16th century, originally for vihuela da mano.
13 Fantasia X (que contrahaze la harpa en la maniera de Ludovico) - This popular piece by Alonso Mudarra is a staple of classical guitarists' repertoire, originally for vihuela but imitating the free harp improvisations of Ludovico (early 16th century). The daring harmonic clashes near the end are accompanied by a margin note from the composer: he cautions the player to play them tastefully rather than worrying about the "wrong" notes.
14 Fantasia (Ricercar) 67 in F - Another imitative fantasia by Luys Milan. This piece illustrates particularly well the clavichord's different sounds from octave to octave.
15 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.
16 A Point - A short and simple imitative piece by Thomas Tallis, from The Mulliner Book.
17 A Pavyon - A danceable pavan in C minor, credited to "Newman" in The Mulliner Book.
18 La Monica (Alman de la nonette) - From the 16th century onward there are over 200 surviving European versions of this particular song, "La Monica," most often about a young woman forced to become a nun against her will. The version played here is one of the most straightforward early settings, the "Alman de la nonette" from Susanne van Soldt’s virginal book.
19 Fantasia - A short example from Tomas de Sancta Maria's treatise on improvising contrapuntal keyboard fantasias.
20 Suonata prima - A short imitative piece in progressively quicker note values. Adriano Banchieri is better known for his ensemble music than his keyboard music.
21 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.
22 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.
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.