In January the Horniman Museum in south-east London unveiled a new display in its music gallery. ‘At Home With Music’ explores five centuries of keyboard instruments used in domestic settings and features virginals, clavichords, small organs, square pianos and modern electric keyboard instruments. The showpiece of the display is the beautifully restored 1772 Jacob Kirckman harpsichord, an instrument still in playable condition and now being used by the museum for a series of short recital-talks called Hear It Live! which give visitors the opportunity to hear the instrument in action. Recitals take place on the last Tuesday of each month, and the first took place this week with a performance by Dulwich-based harpsichordist and piano teacher Lorraine Liyanage.
Lorraine is a passionate advocate of the harpsichord, not only as an instrument on which to bring to life the music of the Renaissance and early Baroque and masters such as Couperin, Rameau and J S Bach, but also its place in modern music making and musical study for students of all ages. Lorraine gave a brief introduction to the instrument, how it works and what effects the player can achieve by the use of the “stops” (knobs mounted within the case). Her performance began with My Lady Carey’s Dompe, a short work, simple yet refined, originally composed for the virginal by an anonymous composer in the early 16th century.
Lorraine then performed a selection of movements from J S Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G, explaining that the movements were all derived from dance forms common at the time, but stylised by Bach to create a work of chamber music. This was an opportunity to explore the range of the instrument and to compare different effects, as Lorraine employed the lute stop in the ‘Sarabande’ and ‘Loure’, and the ‘buff’ stop in the ‘Gavotte’, which produced a more muted sound, with a pizzicato effect.
The recital closed with a movement of the Württemberg Sonata no.1 in A minor by C P E Bach, one of J S Bach’s sons, who was active at the time the harpsichord was built and when the earliest pianos were in production. (This year marks the tercentenary of C P E Bach’s birth.) Fuller textures and greater musical contrasts looked forward to the keyboard works of Haydn and Mozart.
This was a very engaging short recital which really brought the Kirckman harpsichord to life. The next Hear It Live! recital is on Tuesday 27 May when Richard Ireland will play sections of music from the 17th century English virginalists, J S Bach, Domenico Scarlatti and Haydn.
An excerpt from C P E Bach’s Württemberg Sonata no.1 in A minor, performed by Lorraine Liyanage
Review of At Home With Music by Lorraine Liyanage
Further information about forthcoming harpsichord recitals by Lorraine Liyanage