From the Sleevenotes: Inventions – Contemporary Harpsichord Music Volume 2

Sleevenotes to Prima Facie Records PFCD195 Contemporary Harpsichord Music Volume 2

The Contemporary Harpsichord

The revival of the harpsichord was a fundamental part of the early music revival as a whole. Arnold Dolmetsch made his first harpsichord in 1896, at the suggestion of William Morris, for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. Other keyboard instrument makers soon followed suit and, though in small numbers at this stage, harpsichords were once again being made. For early pioneers of the instrument, such as Dolmetsch pupil, Violet Gordon Woodhouse (1871- 1948), Wanda Landowska (1879-1959) and Dolmetsch himself, this enabled the playing of keyboard music, particularly that of J S Bach, but also the entire, substantial historic repertoire, on the instrument for which it was originally composed. But its sound gradually began to inspire 20th-century composers. Poulenc composed his Concerto Champêtre for Landowska, and Manuel de Falla his harpsichord Concerto. A contemporary repertoire of original music for harpsichord gradually came into being.

Harpsichords built in the 20th century varied considerably in style and construction. Some of the earliest paid little attention to the light construction of surviving historic examples; the heavy casework and metal framing modern builders introduced had a profound effect on the sound, perhaps typified by that of the Pleyel instruments played by Landowska. The incorporation of a 16ft stop became common (rarely found on historic instruments) and pedal-operated stop mechanisms enabled rapid changes of registers in what became known as a colouristic style of playing. Though makers began to adopt some aspects of earlier construction, metal framework, heavy casework, complex jack mechanisms and leather plectra remained. This was particularly prevalent in the large German workshops, whose harpsichords were frequently termed as Serien Instrumente (i.e. mass produced). Some of the 20th-century repertoire was clearly composed with such instruments in mind, but in the second half of the century, harpsichord makers began to adopt a more carefully researched historical approach to construction, closely and accurately replicating instruments of the past, producing a rich sonority and clarity. This in turn had an influence on the music composed during the latter part of the century.

The term ‘contemporary’ in the overall title of this CD is used here very generally to cover music composed since the harpsichord revival. The two earliest works recorded here are those by Elizabeth Maconchy: the Sonatina (1965) and Notebook (1966), neither of which contain any specific indications for harpsichord registration. However, as mentioned in the separate note for these works, Elizabeth Maconchy borrowed a Goble harpsichord to acquaint herself with the instrument before composing the Sonatina.

Zuzana Růžičkova, the dedicatee of Notebook, generally played and recorded on instruments from the large Ammer, Neupert and Sperrhake workshops in Germany. It might be expected, therefore, that a similar instrument from the period would be appropriate for these pieces. Stephen Dodgson’s Sonata – Divisions dates from 1982, and his fifth and final set of Six Inventions were composed in 1993. From Jane Clark Dodgson’s note “Stephen and the harpsichord” in this booklet, we learn that he became increasingly familiar with the “historic” harpsichord, especially after Jane acquired her Goujon copy, and was used to hearing his music played on this type of instrument. In preparation for this recording Katarzyna Kowalik visited Jane Clark Dodgson to discuss and play the music. Katarzyna’s own harpsichord is a Goujon copy by Andrew Garlick, and was obviously the instrument on which to record the Dodgson pieces. As she began to work on the Maconchy pieces, she found that these also sounded well when played on her Goujon. Dodgson’s and Maconchy’s own musical languages, though distinctly different, do have features in common, which become apparent when played on the same harpsichord. The decision was therefore made to record the entire programme on Katarzyna’s Garlick / Goujon.

The harpsichord’s contemporary repertoire has grown steadily, and in the third decade of the 21st century, composers are continuing to find inspiration from the instrument and its players. Having a contemporary repertoire has indeed enabled the harpsichord to achieve a maturity in which it is heard and appreciated in a way that enhances its long history and heritage.
Andrew Mayes

Stephen and the harpsichord

Stephen was first encouraged to write for the harpsichord by the builder Thomas Goff and the harpsichordist Stanislav Heller, a fellow student at the RCM. The result was the first of five sets of Six Inventions in 1955. Stanislav gave the first performance a year later at the Wigmore Hall. Set 2 (1961) was first performed by me in a BBC broadcast (1962) and Trevor Pinnock gave the first concert performance, also at the Wigmore (1971), I turned his pages! I gave the first broadcast of this set in Birmingham where the producer was (pre-Knighthood) John Manduell. ‘How did you come by these pieces?’ he asked. ‘Well Stephen is my husband’ was my answer. I married Stephen in 1959. Set 3 (1970) was the last to be written for a multi-pedal instrument. But the first performance in 1973 by Michael Steer, an ex-student of mine, at the Purcell Room was on my 1970 copy of the Paris Goujon, the first ever copy of that wonderful harpsichord. After I got this instrument Stephen used to wander into my room from time to time saying: ‘Can I have a tinkle?’

In 1982 he was encouraged to write Sonata – Divisions for a competition in the USA where it got nowhere. I was so annoyed I learnt it, gave the first performance at the Purcell Room and played it at many concerts both here and in the USA. In 1985, somewhat to my dismay, I found Six Inventions Set 4, ‘For Jane’, on my music stand. I did honestly think I had worked hard enough! However, I learnt to love them and gave the first performance at the Cambridge Festival in 1987. All four sets have been recorded for Naxos by the Russian harpsichordist Ekaterina Likhina.

Set 5 (1993) was written for Maggie Cole. Never performed in their entirety, the recording of these pieces by Katarzyna Kowalik, along with the unrecorded Sonata Divisions, is a very exciting event.

The influence of Baroque music is evident in all Stephen’s harpsichord writing but in such a way that it never imposes on his own strong character. Unmeasured preludes feature in Variation 9 of Sonata Divisions as does Bach in the chordal passages of Variations 15 and 17, for instance. The influence of Bach’s two-part writing is often there in Stephen’s harpsichord music. Scarlatti is present in many of the inventions.

Stephen always loved Scarlatti but became fascinated by his widely varying compositional technique when he arranged several sonatas for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. During a somewhat inebriate picnic high it the Swiss Alps with Philip and his Swiss wife Ursula I pointed out that some sonatas were based on Spanish brass band music and Philp jumped at the idea of some arrangements. Stephen resisted it at first but a few months later said: ‘Can I borrow some Scarlatti?’ His arrangements bring out something of wider universal significance in the sonatas that no keyboard player could possibly realise. This obviously influenced Stephen’s own music.

There are many chamber works which include harpsichord, as well as a two-harpsichord piece, Carillon, and two duos for harpsichord and guitar, Duo Concertante (1968) and Dialogues (1976). Duo Concertante was commissioned by John Williams and Rafael Puyana who gave the first performance at the Dartington Summer School of Music the year it was written. This caused Rafael to ask me: ‘Jane, has your husband got a metronome? ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘Why?’ ‘Well, it is not the same as mine’ was his answer. Players would struggle to meet these marks only to be told they were going too fast! The Duo was joint Prize winner in the Duo Section of ORTF International Contest in Paris in 1970 where it was played by Norihiko Watanabe and Huguette Dreyfus. Stephen found the combination of plucked strings an interesting challenge. Commissioned to write something for harp and harpsichord, Duo alla Fantasia was premiered in Dallas in 1981. This commission he said: ‘thrilled me on account of the excitements of what was (to me at least) an untried medium’.

Julian Bream, who persuaded Stephen to write for the guitar, called Stephen ‘the Daddy of the English guitar’. Whilst Stephen does not deserve the same distinction for his contribution to the harpsichord repertoire, according to those who play his music he can claim the distinction of writing for the instrument with rare understanding, making it, once mastered, a pleasure to play.
Jane Clark Dodgson

Exploring the Harpsichord music of Stephen Dodgson and Elizabeth Maconchy

I had been asked to record harpsichord pieces by Stephen Dodgson and Elizabeth Maconchy just before the pandemic started. It was perfect timing, as during lockdown I had enough time to dive into the process of learning and understanding this complex and fascinating music.

From the very beginning it was quite clear to me that Dodgson’s writing is very much harpsichord friendly, which was not a surprise, considering that his wife, Jane Clark is a wonderful harpsichordist. In his pieces Dodgson very often refers to harpsichord idioms in the way he incorporates into his writing very familiar stylistic figures, taken from the harpsichord tradition, such as: unmeasured prelude or spreading the chords, elements of Stylus fantasticus, imitation, improvisation, ornaments, as well as overholding. One phrase in Sonata-Divisions (section 9) even sounds like the famous ending of Froberger’s Lamentation for Ferdinand III. Stephen Dodgson clearly knew what worked and sounded good on the harpsichord. His writing demonstrates a full range of sound effects; his use of registration is sometimes dramatic, on other occasions very playful. On the other hand, there is a very modern approach to tonality, using the intervals as building blocks, but also as definition of colour, for example parallel 5ths or augmented chords sound in a very particular way. Polyrhythmic patterns or looping the motives give an opportunity to shift the perspective. Dodgson uses semitones and other intervals in a similar way to Bartok: in section four of Sonata Divisions, I could hear the fly from ‘Diary of a fly’ in Bartok’s Microcosmos. As a result, his music is very colourful and full of different, contrasting characters. As Jane Clark said to me: “Stephen could forgive the wrong note, but couldn’t forgive the wrong character”.

Elizabeth Maconchy is a fascinating composer. Her style of writing for harpsichord seemed to me more piano-like, so making it work on the harpsichord in a coherent and convincing way was a bit of a challenge. It could be said that all the dynamic markings Maconchy put in the score were not practical on the harpsichord. This is a statement I always strongly disagree with, as I believe dynamics are possible to achieve on the harpsichord, just in a slightly more sophisticated way than on other instruments (obviously by registration, but also by clever use of articulation, timing, texture, art of illusion…). Maconchy’s markings were clear indications to me of the quality or character she intended. Crescendo markings gave the sense of direction, different articulations enabled the layers to become more independent. While working on this music, it occurred to me that there could be a few mistakes in the printed edition.

This sometimes happens in editions of early music, where misprints or ‘decisions’ made by the editors, may look suspicious. The standard procedure is to examine the manuscript to compare and resolve any doubts. Luckily, I had an opportunity to look at the manuscripts of the Sonatina and Notebook thanks to the courtesy of St Hilda’s College Oxford.

It was also an enormous pleasure to play the Dodgson’s pieces to Jane Clark, who gave me some priceless feedback and a lot of inspiration. Also, the opportunity to play in the room, and on the very harpsichord these pieces were written on, was an exceptional experience. I could really feel that this music belonged there, and the energy of its creation. I have also found out that Jane played Notebook to Elizabeth Maconchy, who often visited them. Jane gave me a facsimile of the manuscript she played from to Elizabeth, such a kind gesture. I noticed that at the top of the first page Maconchy wrote ‘Note-book’ (with a hyphen), which made such a difference (at least for me!) in my perception of this piece. Jane said that “Betty and Stephen were good friends”. I really hope this album will be a celebration of their friendship.
Katarzyna Kowalik

Stephen Dodgson Sonata – Divisions

Composed in 1982, Sonata – Divisions received its first performance by Jane Clark Dodgson in the Purcell Room the following year. The composer’s programme note provides a very detailed explanation of the work’s unusual but ingenious form:

“An exploration of variation form, in which the component variations are grouped into four larger units, comparable to the movements of a sonata. In overall design, therefore, there’s a constant interaction between the detailed form of each variation individually, and the large form inherent in the four Parts behaving as: Exposition (Part 1): Development (Parts 2 & 3, corresponding to slow movement and scherzo respectively): Recapitulation and Coda (compressed together as Part 4).

The Theme is in the nature of a ground, since it is used always as an underlying, longer-noted, Cantus Firmus, progressing unalterably through its nine notes:

G – B – E flat – A flat – C – B – G – F – E.

At the same time, close derivations from this ground give rise to all the swifter moving strands of the composition.

The seven sections of Part 1 are without modulation, though canonic devises abound. By sections 5 & 6, these involve the ground moving at several different speeds, those in faster notes dashing through the pattern several times to the single transit of the underlying part. And once learned, the technique becomes a habit.

Part 2 contains three sections only, since the ground now discovers a fourfold circular transposition. The last note (E) becomes the first note of the second limb, and the last note of that (C sharp) the first of the next; and so on downward (through B flat) to arrive back at the beginning (G). And once learned, this technique too becomes a habit.

Consequently, Part 3 continues with the long form, but now in the increasingly hectic progress of a scherzo. The last of these four sections finally threatens the whole fabric with a too breathless exuberance. It keeps gasping for air, and hesitating one moment too long and too often…

…Part 4 intervenes magisterially, scattering the now nearly brainless divisions with a masterful ceremonial progress through three single variations on the original ground. In the last few bars, a hint of earlier excitements is brushed aside with a bald insistence on the fundamental matters of the whole enterprise.”

In her note “Stephen and the Harpsichord” written for this CD, Jane Clark Dodgson identifies the influence of baroque harpsichord music in Dodgson’s own. This is evident on the printed page: stemless crotchets under elegantly sweeping phrase marks capture the appearance as well as the sound of the French unmeasured prelude. Beamed minims also remind of period notational practice. Figuration generally is immediately inviting to the player, enabling the harpsichord to do what it does best, yet in a wholly contemporary context.

Stephen Dodgson Six Inventions, Set Five

Stephen Dodgson’s fifth and final set of Six Inventions was completed in 1993 for Maggie Cole. They are the culmination of the synthesis of his own very personal compositional language and the sound of the harpsichord, which he explored so creatively throughout all five sets of Inventions (and Sonata-Divisions) over a period of nearly forty years.

No. 1 – Alla Fantasia; is built on several contrasted rhythmic figures that combine and develop over the course of the piece. There is a strong Fantasia feel throughout, created by tempo changes that are the result of changing note values within a basic pulse. It is punctuated and concluded by a series of wonderfully sonorous chords.

No. 2 – Calmo e Cantabile: Sostenuto; sets out introspectively, mainly in quaver movement over syncopated chords. Semiquaver figuration is subtly and gradually introduced, but the overall calm of the piece is maintained to the end. A masterly essay in tranquillity and sonority.

No. 3 – Poco Mosso: Saltando; fragmentary and full of rhythmic energy, a scherzo in all but name.

No. 4 – Languido; returns very much to the atmosphere of No. 2, but is even more concentrated. Once again, the entire piece develops from the opening figuration.

No. 5 – Allegretto; a moto perpetuo with subtle interruptions, in which syncopation plays an important and exciting part.

No. 6 – Vivace; toccata-like in character, but one which swings along with carillon-like, syncopated passages, reaching the concluding rich chord and, indeed, the final set of Inventions, via the most satisfying of cadences.

The term Inventions is inextricably linked with J S Bach who, in his preface in the manuscript refers not only to the development of keyboard facility, but also to the inspiration for composition. In Dodgson’s inventions it is not only Bach we hear; elements of Scarlatti and Couperin (and others) are there too. It was an era when improvisation was a fundamental part of keyboard playing, and perhaps the ‘tinkles’ to which Jane Clark Dodgson refers were an important element in Dodgson’s own creative process.

Elizabeth Maconchy Sonatina and Notebook

The Sonatina and Notebook are the only two works for solo harpsichord composed by Elizabeth Maconchy. Eager to discover more about the Sonatina, Katarzyna Kowalik wrote to the harpsichordist Alan Cuckston and received a detailed and helpful response. In this, he noted that around 1963/64 he visited Essex with a friend who had relatives living near to her home. He knew Elizabeth Maconchy’s music mainly through radio broadcasts of her string quartets (of which by that time she had composed seven of the eventual thirteen), and plucked up the courage to visit her and asked if she would write a work for harpsichord. She took the task seriously, even borrowing a harpsichord from friends for six months to acquaint herself with the potential of the instrument. Alan Cuckston gave the premiere in 1965, and the first broadcast performance was given in 1967 by Valda Aveling.

Notebook dates from the following year and is dedicated to the celebrated Czech harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičkova (1927-2017). Nicola LeFanu noted that her mother studied in Prague, knew Zuzana Růžičkova quite well and remembers her visiting her parents.

The two works share a number of similarities: both are in four movements, with two opening quick movements, a slow third and a lively finale. Some movements end abruptly, but logically and effectively. They are frequently set out on three staves (sometimes occasionally four in the Sonatina). Dynamics are clearly marked, but there are no indications for harpsichord registration or manual changes. (This is of particular interest, since Alan Cuckston mentioned in his letter the use of a 16-foot stop). The slow movements in particular are similarly expressive, with indications such as quasi recitativo, poco deliberato, poco declamando, desolato and con passione. The quick movements have brilliance and energy and are especially effective for harpsichord sonority.

Katarzyna Kowalik was concerned that the published edition of the Sonatina contained a number of errors. With kind assistance from Nicola LeFanu and Oliver Mahony, the archivist of the Maconchy archive held at St Hilda’s College Oxford, it was possible to obtain a scan of the manuscript, not only of the Sonatina, but also of Notebook. This enabled correction of the suspected errors, but was of considerable interest generally. The cover of the manuscript of Notebook gives the title as “Notebook for Harpsichord”, whereas the first page is headed “Note-book for Harpsichord”. Is there something significant about the hyphen? Perhaps not, but the implication that it is perhaps a book of (musical) notes has a certain appeal.

Katarzyna Kowalik

Katarzyna Kowalik is a Polish / British, London-based harpsichordist performing as a soloist and with many period ensembles in the UK and across Europe. After graduating from Frederic Chopin University in Warsaw (MA in Piano with Alicja Paleta – Bugaj, Doctoral Piano Studies with Maria Szraiber, MA in Harpsichord with Władysław Kłosiewicz) she completed MMus and MPerf Degrees in Historical Performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London with Carole Cerasi, James Johnstone and Nicholas Parle, obtaining The City of London Corporation Award and Guildhall School Trust Award. She was also awarded Guildhall Artist Fellowship twice.

Katarzyna mastered her skills in the Piccola Accademia in Montisi studying with Christophe Rousset and Skip Sempé, as well as with Ilton Wjuniski at the Académie Musicale de Villecroze. She has performed across Poland and The United Kingdom, Germany, France, The Czech Republic, Ukraine, Hungary, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and The Netherlands. In 2015 Katarzyna was a participant of the Handel House Talent Scheme. She also won a Basso Continuo Prize at the Gianni Gambi Competition in Pesaro, Italy.

Katarzyna is a founder of the Royal Baroque ensemble, who were highly commended in the final of the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition (2015). They have also been awarded a grant from the Continuo Foundation in 2022.

Katarzyna’s CDs include ‘Forgotten Vienna’ with The Amadè Players (Resonus Classics) and ‘French Collection’ solo harpsichord CD. She has also recorded for BBC Radio 1.

Apart from the solo, chamber music and orchestral performance work, Katarzyna is a passionate teacher, working at the Pembridge Hall School and Morley College in London, also delivering educational projects to schools with The Mozartists’ outreach team.

CD Details

Recording dates and location: St Mary’s Church Harrow-on-the-Hill, 3rd August 2021
Recording engineer and producer: Steve Plews
Digital editing and mastering: Phil Hardman Harpsichord technician: Oliver Sandig
Booklet and packaging artwork: Pawel Szalwa Executive producer: Andrew Mayes

We would like to thank and acknowledge the kind assistance, information and support from; Jane Clark Dodgson, Nicola LeFanu, Leonora Dawson-Bowling, Pamela Nash, Oliver Mahoney (The Maconchy Archive, St Hilda’s College, Oxford) Keith Grout (Churchwarden of St Mary’s Harrow-on-the-Hill).

We are grateful to The Stephen Dodgson Charitable Trust and The Ida Carroll Trust for financial assistance in support of this CD.

Stephen Dodgson Sonata – Divisions – The Stephen Dodgson Charitable Trust
Stephen Dodgson Six Inventions, Set Five – The Stephen Dodgson Charitable Trust
Elizabeth Maconchy Sonatina for Harpsichord – Alfred Lengnick and Co.
Elizabeth Maconchy Notebook – Chester Music

Katarzyna Kowalik’s harpsichord: Andrew Garlick (2012) after Jean-Claude Goujon (1749) Two-manual, compass FF-f3
2 x 8ft + 1 x 4ft
Buff to lower manual 8ft
Pitch: a = 415 temperament: Neidhardt