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Harpsichord and Clavichord Music of the Twentieth Century.

Harpsichordist Frances Bedford, professor of music at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, has collected a treasure trove of twentieth-century repertory for harpsichord and clavichord in her comprehensive, international bibliography, which contains information on 5,600 works for harpsichord and 174 for clavichord. This includes 1,450 solo pieces as well as representing over 2,600 composers.

There is a listing for almost every imaginable combination such as solo harpsichord, harpsichord with MIDI, multiple keyboards (works utilizing 2-6 harpsichords), and miscellaneous instruments and harpsichord (including such exotic instruments as mandolin, harmonica, baryton, accordion, and musical saw). The more usual combinations of instruments with harpsichord include woodwinds, brass, strings, mixed combinations, small ensemble, and orchestra. Voice and harpsichord are represented, and also genres that include harpsichord: opera, cantata, oratorio, requiem, multimedia works, musical drama/theater, ballet/dance, and film, All these categories apply to the clavichord repertory as well. No string has been left untuned in Bedford's quest. Besides the usual listings of a bibliography, each entry provides the composer's nationality, dates and duration of the compositions, degree of difficulty, sound recordings, commissions, premieres, and extended techniques and unusual requirements.

The foreword - written by Larry Palmer (author of the critically acclaimed Harpsichord in America, [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989]), professor of harpsichord and organ at Southern Methodist University - is in English, French, and German. It provides an overview of the revival of the harpsichord as a viable concert instrument in the twentieth century, Palmer cites performers who commissioned, performed, and recorded harpsichord repertory earlier in this century, including such legendary women as Wanda Landowska, Sylvia Marlow, Antoinette Vischer of Switzerland, and the English virtuosa Violet Gordon Woodhouse.

Bedford's introduction contains several anecdotes that she encountered on her quest in collating this bibliography. One fascinating story concerns American composer Dante Fiorillo (b. 1905). He won a Guggenheim Award and a Pulitzer Prize based on his huge oeuvre. Ralph Kirk-patrick, harpsichord pedagogue and performer, premiered Fiorillo's Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings in 1938. Later, musical authorities decided that he had plagiarized compositions from European composers. Fiorillo vanished from the musical world and no one has traced the remainder of his life.

Bedford prepared an earlier version of this catalogue with Robert Conant entitled Twentieth-Century Harpsichord Music: A Classified Catalog, (Hackensack, N.J.: Joseph Boonin, Inc., 1974). This earlier volume, although modest by comparison, was a great boon to record producer John Proffitt (Houston, Tex.) and myself as we searched for a contemporary harpsichord work to complete a recording already in progress. As we looked through the volume, we found many gems including Daniel Pinkham's Partita for Harpsichord, Bohuslav Martinu's Deux pieces pour clavecin, as well as others. These pieces were included in subsequent recordings. I am sure that present and future harpsichordists will likewise scrutinize this new catalogue in search of the perfect twentieth-century piece to complete a program or recording.

Bedford has included compositions in manuscript in her compilation - an extraordinary undertaking. One such gem is Robert Starer's Heptahedron - A Statue Having Seven Faces, a work he wrote for the legendary harpsichordist Fernando Valenti. Starer, admitted last May into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, considered the piece to be the exclusive property of Valenti's. Only after Valenti died did Starer decide to allow it to be published, renamed The Seven Faces of Fernando in honor of Valenti (Pullman, Wash.: Vivace Press, 1994).

This bibliography provides an invaluable reference resource to performers, teachers, researchers, or to anyone interested in the harpsichord and clavichord. It is remarkable that these two instruments, almost totally out-of-fashion by 1800, should have made a comeback of such heroic proportions as to generate and inspire 5,600 new compositions in under one hundred years.

BARBARA HARBACH Washington State University, Pullman
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Author:Harbach, Barbara
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1995
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