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Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Bach and the Lute-Harpsichord

 Permanent link   All Posts
By Jim Lange
 · May 21, 2009
Elizabeth Farr
Lute-harpsichordist Elizabeth Farr

Back in my student days, when researching the origin of Bach’s music transcribed for guitar, I would sometimes see the lute-harpsichord listed as a source. I had never heard one of these instruments before. What did it sound like?

Fast forward to 2008, when Naxos releases Music for Lute-Harpsichord performed by Elizabeth Farr. I eagerly got my hands on this release because, for the first time, I could hear this instrument and maybe get a little closer to Bach’s music.

The sound is quite unexpected. A Lautenwerk is a Baroque harpsichord that uses gut strings as well as the usual brass variety to create its unique timbre. At times the Lautenwerk rings full of the metal string sound, then, with sudden color changes, a deep gut string is sounded.

For me, this instrument possesses a greater depth of sound than a regular harpsichord, though the mechanical plucking sound is sometimes pronounced. Bach was deeply connected to the lute, its players, repertoire and the lute-harpsichord. Farr explains this connection.

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Farr explains the impetus behind this CD, the instrument maker Keith Hill and a little ‘secret’ about the instrument itself.
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Lautenwerk
lute-harpsichord

BWV numbers or the Bach catalog numbers are not chronological. Farr explains and talks about her favorite suite on the album.
 
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Baroque composers chose keys very carefully. Each key had a certain ‘affect’ or character. Farr explains that tuning systems must have played a role in this assignment of key characteristics.
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Early music performers, in my experience, have a really open minded attitude and a keen sense of humor. Thank you Elizabeth Farr for such a great interview!
 
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Bonus tracks:

Not all of Bach’s music has survived in his own handwriting or “autograph.” Elizabeth clarified a few points for me.
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The system of tuning that early music performers use is different from modern music. She uses the terms meantone and equal temperament. This relates to her discussion of key characteristics.
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Farr Lute-harpsichord album
Naxos release "Music for Lute-Harpsichord"
Want to hear more?  You can purchase the album here. 


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