MMus Composer Andrew Fowler reflects on a harpsichord workshop delivered by the wonderful Turner Sims Fellow Jane Chapman on Monday:
As a masters student of composition, I found Jane Chapman’s harpsichord workshop incredibly enlightening with regards to the stylistic, practical and sonoristic possibilities of the instrument. Jane talked through and explained a wide variety of music written for harpsichord which ranged from Baroque music through to contemporary, all the while maintaining an engagement with the audience of mostly first year keyboard players. Her enthusiasm dispelled any notion of dismissal of the harpsichord which I have sometimes heard criticised (“It sounds twangy”, “It’s archaic”) and through practical means demonstrated the beauty, versatility and present day relevance of the instrument.
Jane’s choice of pieces which she played illustrated the diversity in styles that the instrument possesses. From a Bach fantasy, Couperin Prelude to modernist works by Ligeti and Berio, the tastes of her audience were suitably satisfied and anyone that had the idea of the harpsichord as a purely continuo instrument lacking soloistic flare has been corrected (and I’m certain is now impatiently eager for a lesson with Jane and the possibility of playing the instrument).
From the composition stance, it was fascinating to hear the different musical languages and textures possible with the harpsichord. Jane demonstrated works that were fast with a single line, chordal pieces, works using unusual and chromatic scales and even went into extended techniques a little. The instrument she was using had two manuals and could create a plethora of sound depending which stops she had on and Jane appeared to use all possibilities from the eight foot (I think!) which doubled in octaves to a mute which created lute-like tones and even disengaging all strings from one manual to yield purely percussive effect from the keys.
The workshop was incredibly interesting and engaging and I think it is fantastic that this type of thing is available for students to attend. I would also recommend anyone reading this with an interest in keyboards, old and new, to seek out lessons from Jane if you get the opportunity.