Friday, July 20, 2012

A Blast from the Past

     This blast from the past isn't the fluorescent pink off-the-shoulder tank top I owned in the 1980's (which is back by the way! I know you guys don't believe me when I tell you I had your outfits in 1987!) This blast from the past is a little more distant ... like the early 1700's.

     In 1700 the harpsichord was the king of the keyboard instruments, and many of the famous Baroque composers we study in our lessons (like Bach, Scarlatti, and Handel) composed their music on the harpsichord to be played by other harpsichordists.

     Our main objective in playing music like this is to be true to the spirit of the composer even though we're playing a very different instrument in a very different time. Our modern piano makes sound in a completely different way than the harpsichord did (by striking strings with hammers instead of plucking strings.) Our modern pianos have cast iron guts and metal strings and they're big and loud, resonant, and mellow when compared to the harpsichord. Just for reference, compare the two performances of the same piece below, one on the harpsichord and one on a modern piano (a digital piano actually, but YouTube can't have everything.)

     When working with differences so great, what can young piano players do to imitate the Baroque style? Here are a few pointers to remember:

1) Use a lighter touch.

2) Forget about the pedal!

3) Don't play too legato, especially on longer notes.

4) Play both hands at a roughly equal volume.

     Of course, there's much more to being an effective performer of Baroque music than these four items, but that's where your teacher comes in. So try some old school music. It's the ultimate in smart music, and it has amazing challenges that are rewarding and unique.