American Music for Harpsichord


American HARPsiChORD

MUSIC of the

20th Century











works by

lou harrison

ellen taaffe zwilich

gardner read

walter piston

robert starer

lester trimble

The story of the 20th century revival of the harpsichord is now well known. After a period of neglect and near-extinction in the 19th century, the instrument was “rediscovered” and returned to its rightful place in the performance of Baroque music.

Contemporary composers also became intrigued by this new “old” instrument, its unique colors and sonorities, and they began to write music for the harpsichord almost as soon as it reappeared on the scene. Early contributions were made by Delius and Ravel and it is reported that Debussy himself had planned to feature the harpsichord in one of his Sonatas.

The harpsichord is now a standard “voice” not only for early music but also for the music of the present. In a sense the instrument provided composers with the best of both worlds. They could use the harpsichord to create an “antique” sound, or they could exploit its rhythmic incisiveness, its clarity and cantabile, or the aggressive effect produced by dissonant chords and repeated notes. Almost every composer has written for the instrument. The list includes Poulenc, de Falla, Ravel, Rieti, Milhaud, Xenakis, Ligeti, Carter, Berio, Cowell, Henze, Schnittke, Pinkham, Rorem, Dutilleux, Martin, Cage, Gubaidalina and Penderecki. American composers were quick to realize the potential of the instrument, and became particularly enthusiastic advocates. The works on this record represent some of the finest harpsichord repertoire of the 20th century.

LOU HARRISON was born in Portland, Oregon in 1917 and grew up in the culturally diverse San Francisco Bay Area. There he was influenced by Cantonese Opera, Gregorian chants and the music of California's Spanish and Mexican cultures. As a young man, Lou Harrison worked as a dancer and a dance accompanist, collaborated with John Cage and began studies in Los Angeles with Arnold Schoenberg. Harrison moved to New York City in the 1940's to serve as music critic for the Herald Tribune, and was a central figure in the recognition of Charles Ives. In the 1950's he moved back to California, where he has lived ever since.

Harrison has been cited as the “quintessential West-coast composer,” reflecting in his work the region's embrace of diverse opinions, its fascination with Asia and Latin America and its devotion to open space.

His musical style was certainly shaped by San Francisco, where he studied composition with Henry Cowell and became fascinated by Native American and early California culture. Harrison also developed a love of early music, played the recorder in Renaissance and Baroque ensembles, and even composed works for early instruments. His Six Sonatas For Cembalo or Pianoforte, written between 1934 and 1943, are the best examples of this passion.

As Harrison writes, “Along with my Mass and one or two other works, my Six Sonatas for Cembalo or Pianoforte are Mission-style pieces. They were directly stimulated by my studies about the feelings for the land, peoples, and history of California… These Six Sonatas reflect the romance and geometry of impassioned Spain, as well as the pastoral Indian imagery of Native America in its Western life. The artistic model was of course Scarlatti and Manuel de Falla.”

The composer adopts the Baroque binary form for the Sonatas and the textures and keyboard recall the music not only of D. Scarlatti, but also that of F. Couperin and Bach, intermixed of course with the sounds of flamenco, Hopi ceremonial dancing and Asian traditions.

In the true spirit of Baroque performance practice, Harrison encourages the performer to add ornamentation to the Sonatas. The editor of the Peer International edition, Susan Sommerfield, has offered excellent suggestions on possible ornaments. I have used some of these on this recording and, or course, added many of my own.

ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH was born in Miami, Florida in 1939, and is widely considered to be one of America's leading composers. She studied at the Florida State University and The Juilliard School, where her major teachers were Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter. She also studied violin with Richard Burgin and Ivan Galamian and was a member of the American Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski.

Zwilich is the recipient of numerous prizes and honors. In 1983 she became the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music, and she has also been awarded the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Chamber Music Prize, the Arturo Toscanini Music Critics Award, the Ernst von Dohnany Citation, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and 4 Grammy nominations. In 1995, she was named to the first Composer's Chair in the history of Carnegie Hall, and she was designated Musical America's Composer of the Year for 1999.

The Fantasy for Harpsichord was commissioned by the Concert Artists Guild for its 1983 winner Linda Kobler. Ms. Zwilich writes that it “was written on Linda's fine harpsichord, a 17/18th century Franco/Flemish-style instrument made by Frank Hubbard in Boston in 1970. The Fantasy explores in modern terms the musical “sound-world” of this delightful ancient instrument, using the dual manuals and registrational elements as agents of form and musical evolution, and otherwise exploring what I found to be a most attractive, rich and varied world, all existing well below the decibel level of modern life.”

The Fantasy begins with a slow arpeggiated chord in the free improvisatory style of the early keyboard fantasy and toccata. This is followed by an extended lyrical section in two voices, the melody being highlighted by an accompaniment with the buff stop. A vigorous section with an ostinato figure of repeated notes and chords follows, and the work closes with a contemplative and peaceful development of both the earlier melody and the ostinato pattern, underscored by a return to the buff register.

GARDNER READ was born in 1913 in Evanston, Illinois. He first studied theory and conducting at the Northwestern University School of Music, and subsequently received his B. Mus. In 1936 and M.M. in 1937 from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied composition with Paul White, Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson. After being awarded a Cromwell Traveling Fellowship in 1938-39, Read traveled to Rome to continue his studies with Pizzetti, and he then completed his training with Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood (1941). Gardner Read has taught composition at the St. Louis Institute of music (1941-43), the Kansas City Conservatory of Music (1943-45), and at the Cleveland Institute of Music (1945-48). In 1948 he was appointed composer in residence and professor of composition at Boston University School for the Arts, and remained in that position until his retirement in 1978. A composer of extraordinary fecundity, he excels in instrumental music. He has also written numerous books on such topics as orchestration and instrumental techniques.

The exuberant and majestic opening of the Fantasy Toccata, with its dotted rhythms and grand gestures, transports us into the world of the Baroque French overture. The clarity and incisive rhythms of the presto which follows leads us to a playful gigue-like section, which then, not unexpectedly, returns to the overture style of the opening. Then the presto material is again heard, this time in stretto, as if the style and virtuosity of the toccata can not be contained. The work closes with a joyful “precipitoso” dash to the finale.

WALTER PISTON (1894-1976), the grandson of an Italian seaman was born in Maine. After graduating from the Mechanic Arts High School in Boston he worked as a draftsman for the Boston Elevated Railway, and later studied at the Massachusetts Normal School of Art. In 1916 he enlisted and spent three years in the Navy, where he played the saxophone in a Navy band. Piston graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1924, and as the winner of the John Knowles Paine Fellowship traveled to Paris for two years of study with Nadia Boulanger.

Piston was appointed to the faculty of Harvard in 1926, where he remained until 1960. He was a renowned and beloved teacher, and his students included Elliott Carter, Irving Fine, Harold Shapero, and Leonard Bernstein. Among his numerous honors, awards and commissions were a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1934, and two Pulitzer Prizes for his third (1948) and seventh (1960) symphonies. In 1951 he became the first recipient of the Walter W. Naumberg Chair of Music, and he was named professor emeritus in 1960. The Sonatina for Violin and Harpsichord is vintage Piston. That is, unabashed neo-classical and sentimental, with memorable melodies, and composed with consummate craft. The jazz rhythms of the opening Allegro leggiero create the air of American optimism and insouciance. The deeply-felt Adagio shows us that Piston knew the harpsichord was capable of producing long and expressive singing lines. The virtuoso display of the final Allegro vivo, with its combination of new-world strength and innocence, highlights the brilliance of the players and their instruments. The Sonatina was written for and dedicated to the violinist Alexander Schneider and Ralph Kirkpatrick, Mark Kroll's harpsichord teacher.

ROBERT STARER was born in Vienna in 1924 and received his musical education at the State Academy in Vienna. He was expelled because he was a Jew after the German invasion of Austria in 1938, and his parents sent him to Palestine, where he became a student at the Jerusalem Conservatory. He came to America in 1947 to continue his studies at the Juilliard School, and has lived in New York ever since. From 1949 to1974 he taught at Juilliard and from 1963 to 1991 at Brooklyn College (where he was Mr. Kroll's teacher of theory, analysis and composition) and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. where he was named a Distinguished Professor in 1986. Among his honors are two Guggenheim Fellowships, election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Medal of Honor for Science and Art awarded by the President of Austria and an honorary doctorate by the State University of New York. His symphonic works have been performed by major orchestras both here and abroad and his stage works include ballets for Martha Graham.

The title of Yizkor, taken from the Hebrew word for memorial or remembrance, refers to the act of ritual prayers in the Jewish religion recited to honor the dead. It was dedicated to the flutist Paula Robison in memory of her mother. Following its premiere at the Maverick Concerts, Ms. Robison asked the composer to write another movement, which became the Anima Aeterna. The complete work was premiered at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. The work opens with a mournful chant in the solo flute, followed by a plaintive figure by the harpsichord. The two instruments join in a musical dialogue throughout the rest of the movement, expressing a wide range of emotions. The harpsichord opens the second movement with a jaunty and celebratory dance in 7/8 time. The texture, especially in the idiomatic harpsichord writing, is intense and kaleidoscopic, exploiting the extremes of both instruments. The main theme is eventually treated in fugal fashion and the work concludes quietly with a reflective return to the opening melody.

LESTER TRIMBLE was born in Wisconsin in 1913, and studied with Schoenberg, Copland, Honegger and Milhaud. In 1952 he was hired by Virgil Thomson to write music criticism for the Herald Tribune. From 1963 to 1968 he served as Professor of Composition at the University of Maryland, and he was composer-in-residence to the New York Philharmonic in the 1968-1969 season. In 1971 he was appointed to the faculty of the Juilliard School.

Mr. Trimble's many honors include an award from the American Academy of Arts for his Four Fragments from the Canterbury Tales. According to the composer, this work was conceived as a narrative melodrama, in which the individual sections add up to a formally balanced piece of chamber music. In a brilliant setting of Chaucer's old English text, Trimble states that he wanted a blend of archaism and modernity to prevail and therefore chose the harpsichord as the central instrument in his ensemble. The breadth and heaviness of the clarinet (to infer maturity) and the brightness of the flute (to represent youth) were used respectively to symbolize the Knyght and the Squier. For The Wyf of Biside Bathe he used the full complement of instruments to achieve a sense of culmination, and of the aggressive bawdiness of the wife's character.

MARK KROLL has long been recognized as one of the central figures in the field of historical performance and early keyboard instruments. During a career spanning over 30 years, he has concertized worldwide as a harpsichordist and fortepianist, winning critical acclaim for his virtuosity and expressive playing. His many recordings include solo repertoire, violin and keyboard music with Baroque violinist Carol Lieberman (including the Six Sonatas of J.S. Bach, hailed as the best recording of these works), and a world premiere recording of Hummel's transcriptions of Mozart symphonies. As an educator he has served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Historical Performance at Boston University since 1977, and he is frequently invited to teach as guest professor at music academies such as Wurzburg, Mannheim, Belgrade, Zagreb, Crackow, Warsaw, Padua, and Ljubljana. Kroll has written for both scholarly and general publications, including articles on performance practice and genre studies, and his edition of Hummel's Mozart transcriptions has been published by A-R.

In addition, Mark Kroll has never lost sight of the fact that he is a musician of the 20th century. He has therefore been a tireless advocate for new music written for harpsichord, commissioning works and playing most of the contemporary repertoire. This includes over 50 performances of Elliott Carter's “Sonata,” the de Falla and Poulenc concerti, Britten's “Phaedra” (with Jessye Norman, Senji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony), Dutilleux's “Second Symphony” and Stravinsky's “Rake's Progress” (with Ozawa and the BSO), solo and chamber works, and Martin's “Petite Symphonie Concertante,” in which he has been frequent guest soloist with the Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, and Minnesota Orchestras, under the batons of Sir Colin Davis and Charles Dutoit. Mr. Kroll has premiered Ellen Zwilich's “Fantasy” in Germany and Paris, and Gardner Read's “Fantasy-Toccata” in Paris, Germany, Warsaw and Slovenja.

NANCY ARMSTRONG's luminous performances extend across the musical spectrum from Renaissance to contemporary. The Boston Globe described her voice as “a plaintive, humane instrument …she is an intelligent artist with cherished words.” The San Francisco Chronicle wrote “she has a voice of quicksilver agility and radiance,” and The New Yorker honored her with the title “the Purcell Prima Donna of our day.” Her international career includes portrayals of seventeen Handelian opera and oratorio heroines. She is featured on CDs of Handel's “L'Allegro” (Arabesque), Mozart's “Mass in C Minor” (Demon), Virgil Thomson's songs (Northeastern), Perera's “The Outermost House” (Albany) and Handel's “Lucrezia”/Purcell's songs (forthcoming).

CAROL LIEBERMAN has been one of the leading exponents of Baroque violin performance for three decades, and is equally well known for her performances of 19th and 20th century violin repertoire. The scope of Ms. Liberman's versatility can be seen by her performance of the complete Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord of J.S. Bach in such cities as Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, Boston and San Francisco, and her recordings of works by such twentieth century compsoers as Erno Dohnanyi, Andor Kovach, Shirish Korde, Elliott Carter and Olivier Messiaen. She is currently Associate Professor of Music at the College of the Holy Cross where is Director of the Holy Cross Chamber Players.

Bruce Creditor, winner of the prestigious Naumburg Award in Chamber Music with the Emmanuel Wind Quintet, has appeared with such distinguished ensembles as Boston Musica Viva, Collage, Alea III and the Holy Cross Chamber Players. He has also performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops and Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestras as well as principal clarinet with the Boston Philharmonic, Boston Modern Orchestras Project, and the world-renowned, Grammy Award-winning New England Ragtime Ensemble. He has given numerous Boston premieres of works by Schuller, Martino, Harbison, Starer and others, and has recorded for CRI, GM, New World, Koch and Neuma.

He is currently Assistant Personnel Manager of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestras.

ALAN WEISS is a renowned soloist, chamber musician and pedagogue. He studied with Phillip Kaplan and James Pappoutsakis, and was a member of the Virginia Symphony, Mexico City Philharmonic, State Orchestra of Mexico, and the Iceland Symphony. He has premiered numerous compositions, notably two operas by Philip Glass. Weiss is the first American flutist to perform with the “George Enescu” Bucharest Philharmonic since its inception in 1868. Boston Globe has described Weiss' “light fantastic playing.” Fanfare Magazine calls him “a fine musician with complete command of his instrument,” and the American Record Guide writes that “His sound is light and fluffy, rendering each delicious note in spontaneous, joyful fashion.”

(Translation of Chaucer to English)

Prologe - Prologue

When April with his sweet showers has

pierced the drought of March to the root,

and bathed every vein in such moisture

as has power to bring forth the flower,

when, also, Zephyrus with his sweet breath

has breathed spirit into the tender new shoots

in every wood and meadow, and the young sun

has run half his course in the sign of the Ram,

and small birds sing melodies and

sleep with their eyes open all the night

(so Nature pricks them in their hearts):

as I was in Southwark at the Tabard Inn,

ready to go on my pilgrimage

to Canterbury with a most devout heart,

at night there came into that hostelry

a company of nine-and-twenty people—

all sorts of people, who had met by chance;

and all of them were pilgrims

who were riding toward Canterbury.

And shortly, when the sun had gone down,

I had spoken with every one of them

so that I had soon become one of their group,

Bug… before I pass on further in this tale,

it seems to me in order

to tell you all about

each of them,

and with a knight, then I will begin.

A Knyght - A Knight

There was a knight, a valiant man,

who from the time when he had first begun

to venture out, had loved chivalry,

truth and honor, liberality and courtesy.

He had proved his worth in his lord's wars,

in which he had ridden as far as any man,

both in Christendom and in heathen lands.

and he had always been honored for his valor.

Although he was valiant, he was prudent,

and bore himself as meekly as a maiden;

never in all his life had he been

rude to anyone at all.

He was a true, perfect, gentle knight.

He wore a fustian tunic,

much stained by his hauberk;

for he had just come back from his expedition,

and was on his way to make his pilgrimage.

A Yong Squier - A Young Squire

…a young Squire, …he was

a lover, and a gay youth on his way to knighthood,

with locks as curly as if they had been pressed.

He was about twenty years old, I guess;

he was of normal height

and wonderfully agile, and of great strength…

His clothing was embroidered to look like a meadow

all full of fresh flowers, white and red.

He sang or fluted all the day long;

he was as youthful as the month of May,

his gown was short, with long wide sleeves.

He knew how to sit his horse well,

…and ride beautifully;

he could compose songs and poems,

joust and dance, too, and draw and write.

So hotly did he love that at night

He slept no more than a nightingale.

The Wyf of Biside Bathe - The Wife of Bath's Tale

Experience, even if there were no other authority

in this world, would be grounds enough for me

to speak of the woe that is in marriage;

for, my lords, since I was twelve years old,

thanks be to eternal God,

I have had five husbands at the church door…

and all were worthy men in their different ways.

But I was definitely told, not long ago,

that since Christ went but once…

that I should not be married more than once…

Jesus, God and man, spoke beside a

well in reproof of the Samaritan:

`Thou hast had five husbands,' he said,

`and he whom thou how hast

is not thy husband'; thus he spoke, certainly…

But I ask this, why was the fifth man

no husband to the Samaritan?

How many was she allowed to have in marriage?…

God bade us expressly to increase and multiply;

that pleasant text I can well understand.

And also I well know that He said my husband

should leave father and mother, and take me;

but He made no mention of number—

of bigamy or of octogamy,

why should men speak evil of it?

Lou Harrison's Six Sonatas for Cembalo, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Fantasy for Harpsichord, Gardner Read's Fantasy-Toccata for Solo Harpsichord, and Walter Piston's Sonatina for Violin and Harpsichord were recorded December 26 and 27, 2000 in Brooks Concert Hall at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts. Robert Starer's Yizkor and Anima Aeterna and Lester Trimble's Four Fragments from the Canterbury Tales were recorded January 6, 2001 at the Sonic Temple, Boston, Massachusetts.

Recording Engineer: Frank Cunningham

Editing & Mastering: Mathew Packwood

Harpsichord by William Dowd

This recording was supported by a generous grant from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Inc.

Lou Harrison

Six Sonatas for Cembalo (1934-1943)

1 Moderato [[2:47]

2 Allegro [3:33]

3 Moderato [4:18]

4 Allegro [1:44]

5 Moderato [3:23]

6 Allegro [2:38]

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

7 Fantasy for Harpsichord (1983) [6:45]

Gardner Read

8 Fantasy-Toccata for Solo Harpsichord (1992) [6:55]

Mark Kroll, harpsichord

Walter Piston

Sonatina for Violin and Harpsichord (1945)

9 Allegro leggiero [3:43]

10 Adagio espressivo [4:52]

11 Allegro vivo [3:48]

Carol Lieberman, violin

Mark Kroll, harpsichord

Robert Starer

Yizkor and Anima Aeterna for Flute and Harpsichord (1992)

12 Not too slow [5:33]

13 Lively [6:14]

Alan Weiss, flute

Mark Kroll, harpsichord

Lester Trimble

Four Fragments from the Canterbury Tales for High Voice and Flute, Clarinet and Harpsichord (1967)

14 Prologe [4:41]

15 A Knyght [3:34]

16 A Yong Squier [3:22]

17 The Wyf of Biside Bathe [5:15]

Nancy Armstrong, soprano

Bruce Creditor, clarinet

Alan Weiss, flute

Mark Kroll, harpsichord

Total Time = 73:12