Bach D minor Harpsichord Concerto, Baroque music, classissima,, Elaine Comparone, Elaine Comparone Harpsichord, harpsichord, Harpsichord Unlimited, J.S. Bach, piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, wordpress,, you tube,

Comparone plays Bach on the harpsichord with a palette of emotions

Elaine CD cover best

I must admit that I usually experience the “minor” key with poignant intensity, but when I heard Elaine Comparone’s most recent performance of J.S.Bach’s celebrated D minor concerto, I felt her inner smile radiate through ripples and waves of luscious phrases even as a tragic dimension blanketed the work. Comparone’s tapestry of moods, feelings and affect, made the reading more than one dimensional.

The performance fueled my desire to import a collection of photos I’d taken at Elaine’s harpsichord palace, for her CD soundtrack. (first movement)

Finally, the Maestra provided an enticing dessert in encore comments about Bach’s monumental composition, her relationship to it, and matters of interpretation.

Elaine Comparone

“I first played the d minor concerto in my senior recital at Brandeis University almost 50 years ago. It was a disaster! I hadn’t memorized it at that point.

“Once I began my professional career in my early 20s, I decided it was important for me to memorize solo pieces and concertos, just as most pianists do! Some harpsichordists feel exempt from this particular requirement. For me it is a sine qua non that enables me to internalize a piece and probe its depths.

“Memorization was tough, almost painful, but it was necessary for me to hear everything that goes on. Unlike other concertos of J.S. and certainly anyone else’s, this one is perfectly complete without the string parts. Sure, the strings add to it, but you could play it without strings for someone who hadn’t heard it and they wouldn’t miss a thing. Everything’s there! There’s a certain amount of doubling of the harpsi-part by the strings in the tutti passages, which makes the piece sound HUGE! I had fun rehearsing with the string players separately. It helped me to hear all the lines along with my own. In particular, I’ve rehearsed it a lot with Veronica the violist over the years. Johann Sebastian probably played viola in the first performance of this piece with one of his sons as soloist. It’s a fantastic part. As in all his works, the line is complete and self-contained from beginning to end. This particular immersion resulted in our recognizing and making audible more subtleties than we had before.

“For instance, to outline the structure of the middle movement, I added new dynamic contrasts to the first statement of the bass line theme that my left hand, cello and bass continue throughout the piece. No other interpretation that I have heard treats the line this way.

“In the first movement cadenza I added new stresses (in the form of time stretches) to several spots that, again, recognize and reinforce the harmonic structure. In the first and second movements especially, I stretch some phrases for expressive purposes in addition to structural ones, but always maintain the basic beat.

“In choosing tempi for the recording, I opted for a slightly broader tempo for the first movement than one usually hears from period instrument ensembles. I wanted to convey the tragic nature of the first movement which gives it its singular power. It is not a light, dancing piece and should not be played too quickly nor flippantly. The last movement can dance and should fly!!

“The middle movement in my mind reflects Bach’s response to the tragedies he experienced in his life, from the deaths of his parents when he was quite young, to the discovery of his wife’s having died while he was away traveling, to the deaths of a number of beloved children. This man intimately knew sorrow, but was able to channel his life experiences through music into the creation of this magnificent and moving work.”


Elaine in a relaxed, unguarded moment:

Elaine and dog


Vibrant Music-making at Rest or at Play

Andras Schiff, Bach Prelude in C BWV 846, Elaine Comparone, Harpsichord Unlimited,, piano, playing Bach with pedal, playing Bach without pedal, playing the piano, The Well Tempered Clavier, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube video, you, yout tube,

Playing Bach on the piano: pedal or no pedal

I thought I was dazed silly on this topic, ready to bury it in a time capsule for generation Z Baroque scholars to quibble about while the polar ice caps have their ominous, final meltdown.

No such luck. A hot debate is brewing on Facebook, of all places, and the posts are surviving annoying POKES.

Bottom line:

What does it take to convert a pianist who always played the first Bach Prelude in C, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One, WITH pedal. (Remember how it became the sonorous underpinning for the religioso “Ave Maria”) Should we therefore trade a rich bed of harmony for a bare bones framing?

Bach Prelude in C

I was a cynic, if not a blatant heathen, refusing to surrender my precious RIGHT pedal in the interests of PURITANICAL purity, even if Andras Schiff adjudicated my aesthetic decision about Prelude 1 on the Final Judgment Day! (Schiff’s Bach performances were notoriously sustain-less)

With stubborn resistance, I would stick to my pedal, holding it down as long as I needed to….

That is, until I had a consciousness-raising in the days following my recent trip to New York City.

Seymour Bernstein, celebrated pianist, author, scholar and composer, weighed in at the piano, while Elaine Comparone, world-renowned harpsichordist demonstrated at her music/love/repository.

Two side-by-side playings with commentary fed my intellect and spirit.

Seymour advocated a pedaling that was NOT at the beginning of the measure, in the usual legato bar-to-bar sequence, so commonly embraced, especially by those who were into the harp-like effect. His mid-measure pedal depression after the first E of the opening broken chord, with an echo effect driven by sub-groupings of notes, was inviting. In a unique way, it allowed a counter-voice in the bass/tenor to have a clear and defined outline, and for the first time, I heard a separation of voices reflected in a pleasing counterpoint.

The uppermost soprano line had also gained more prominence through this approach.

Finally, Seymour’s revolutionary impulses were registered in a decision to make the CLIMAX of the prelude the final secondary DOMINANT of the Sub-Dominant in measure 32 right before the Coda. He insisted that this very CODA would “lay an egg” otherwise. (Would I chuckle and go along with the menu?) I always considered the peak of this composition to be measure 29 at the PRIMARY DOMINANT juncture after which I tapered off to a relative whisper in a silky diminuendo. (using judicious pedaling so as not to muddle the notes)

Seymour chose to leave the coda entirely pure.. no pedal underfoot.

Juxtapose his interpretation with Elaine Comparone’s. But why should we compare what the harpsichord might say in its own unique language? Still, harpsichord-inspired ideas swam around my head for days in the wake of my NYC departure.


Harpichordists use finger pedaling at times to create desired sustain. And I watched Elaine hold down notes as she played the Prelude in C both at the harpsichord and then at the piano. Sandwiched in were performances that were improvised in a charming way to flesh out hidden appoggiature. A cascade of FOUR voices emerged to my astonishment!

The video provides more detail and explanation.

The upshot of this touchdown was my having second thoughts about my former pedaling choices that were framed in legato style, but had become modified by Seymour’s awakenings.

Where would I ultimately settle along the pedal/no pedal spectrum?

As I resumed my practicing and teaching schedule in California, I was wooed to the following performance rendered by Irena Koblar, a favorite of mine in the Scarlatti-playing universe. Naturally, I was more than curious about her feel for Bach, a Baroque contemporary:

While I loved her singing tone, I felt something was missing in the counterpoint. (She used legato pedaling through the Coda) and made the climax at the predictable PRIMARY DOMINANT measure, with a nice tapering to the end.

Last year, one of my student’s used the same legato pedaling in our annual Spring recital, producing a lovely reading. Naturally, at the time, the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree.

Into the present:

At the request and prodding of a FACEBOOK friend, Louise Hullinger, and having absorbed Elaine Comparone’s example at her Knabe grand piano following the harpsichord rendition, I decided to try Bach’s Prelude in C without pedal. It was the first time I ventured into a drier yet equally satisfying universe.

Enlightenment! I didn’t feel stripped of the piano’s soul. And I could follow voices, without undue attention to my foot pedaling activity.

While the final verdict isn’t in, I’m going to separate from my pedal companion in a civilized manner.

Who knows what the future might bring? It could invite a reconciliation or change of heart in the Baroque cosmos of performance practice.

For certain, the sustain will not be completely banished from my playing universe. I’ll continue to embrace it in the good company of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and their heirs who followed in the long line of musical masters.


Bach counterpoint, Bach Prelude in C BWV 846, Carey Beebe, Elaine Comparone, Harpsichord Unlimited,, Hubbard Harpsichords, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, The Queen's Chamber Band

A Visit with Elaine Comparone at her Harpsichord Palace in New York City

best harpsichords and chandelier

The colors are splendid in a royal procession of well-maintained harpsichords. THREE reside in Elaine Comparone’s West Side musical sanctuary. They are at the service of her Majesty, the Queen. (She leads a chamber group known as The Queen’s Chamber Band which is Harpsichord Unlimited’s featured attraction) The nonprofit organization keeps harpsichords in the limelight as living, breathing instruments with well publicized performances of Baroque to Contemporary music. (You Tube has a growing archive of Comparone’s solo and ensemble offerings)


A towering, acoustically favorable space fleshes out subtle differences in timbre among Comparone’s instrumental treasures. Count in the Hubbard and Dowd (with two manuals or keyboards) and a Hubbard kit driven 16th Century Flemish model with one keyboard, whose case shimmers under chandeliers. A gorgeous floral pattern is embedded in the soundboard area beneath the strings.

DSC05285Dowd 4


A guest at Elaine’s divine milieu, I spent precious hours conversing with her about the harpsichord, piano, Bach, performance practice, and whatever else spontaneously came to mind. It was an intellectual, musical and spiritual feast, captured on video and uploaded to the Internet for universal sharing.

In a basic introduction to the harpsichord, (Part one) Comparone played her custom-made two manual Hubbard, and carefully explained mechanical features, stringing, instrumental voicing and use of “stops” in samples from the Bach literature. The Little Prelude in F Major, BWV 927, attained feature status with a whimsical ending, energized by a “harp” stop. (the notes suddenly became detached and lost resonance) Elaine mentioned that such timbre-related changes or “muted” sounds were often applied to repeated sections of music.

While J.S. Bach’s Little Preludes initially sparked our discussion, the interchange soon shifted to the issue of pedaling the Well-tempered Clavier, Book One, Prelude 1 in C Major, BWV 846.

Comparone emphasized the composition’s poly-rhythmic, multi-voice dimension and convincingly argued against using the sustain pedal in an acoustic piano rendering. Instead, she recommended a form of “hand pedaling” that’s commonly used by harpsichordists. (holding notes down with the fingers)

Following her more traditional performance of WTC I, Prelude 1, Comparone played a no holds barred jazzy version with a delightful syncopation that tweaked my ears. A new world of counterpoint emerged, with appealing threads of voices.




An Addendum:

Carey Beebe Harpsichords, Sydney, Australia

Website link:

A little history behind the instruments we help you to build

“Wolfgang Joachim Zuckermann invented the concept of the harpsichord “kit” in the early 1960s. Produced in his New York workshop, it was a rather simple affair without a bentside. Even though the keyboard more resembled that of a piano and its soundboard was made from plywood, the “Slantside”, as it was affectionately known, became one of the most popular harpsichord models ever. The wooden pieces for the case, along with some other commonly available parts, were not included, so the price was set at a most economical $150. Little by little, the first Zuckermann “kit” became more elaborate and complete.

“In 1969, Wolfgang wrote The Modern Harpsichord, in which he described all the harpsichord makers of his time, together with their philosophies and details of their production. He soon became the close friend of his editor and publisher David Jacques Way of October House, to whom he in fact sold Zuckermann Harpsichords Inc. in 1970.

“David J. Way set about enthusiastically and rapidly modifying Wolfgang’s original kit, with the aim of making the design more traditionally based and aesthetically pleasing. A workshop was established in the picturesque fishing village of Stonington Connecticut (between Boston and New York) in 1972. The decade to 1980 saw the arrival of many models inspired by original instruments, commencing with the Flemish Single. The French Double followed, then a Virginal, Italian and Clavichord appeared. The Flemish keyboard range was enlarged and a second keyboard added. The English Bentside Spinet and the Fortepiano were next. During this time, original materials were also researched, and the Stonington workshop was the first in the world to establish the general use of solid wood, soft wire and historic-profiled tuning pins that we all take for granted on the finest instruments today.

“In 1973, Marc Ducornet, who had initally learnt his craft of harpsichord making from an English builder, became the French representative of David J. Way. Their relationship developed so much so, that in 1982, he entered into partnership with David Way to open the Montreuil (Paris) workshop for the manufacture of the Zuckermann “kits” in France. The output of this workshop initially paralleled the American production, and both shops continued to work closely and successfully together over the years.

Little by little, the atelier in Montreuil thrived and before David Way died suddenly in February 1994, Marc Ducornet was supervising the conception and design of the instruments, as well as manufacturing fully 70% of the parts for USA and Europe.

“To avoid the possible closure of the American workshop at David Way’s death, Marc Ducornet, with the agreement of David’s wife Katherine, decided to keep it running to perpetuate David in our memories. Accordingly, Marc Ducornet offered Richard Auber—one of his early American apprentices who knew David and already lived nearby the Stonington shop—the position of heading the US operation.

“After five years of continued cooperation, it became apparent on both sides of the North Atlantic that it was time for change. For this to be best accomplished it was agreed that it would probably be impractical for two workshops on separate continents to continue working so closely together. In March 1999 therefore, Marc Ducornet decided to peacefully conclude his lengthy association with the American workshop so he could concentrate on the creation of numerous new instrument designs in France.

“To distinguish the differences with the original United States-based models which evolved over more than two decades, Marc Ducornet, together with his Agents, decided it was high time to come even closer to the historic principles of construction and materials—wooden jacks would be standard, for example—and to benefit from the excellent manufacturing facilities available at Montreuil and twenty-five years of experience to make the instruments even more professional. Wolfgang Zuckermann, who has been living in the south of France for many years, has come out of harpsichord retirement to eagerly join his friend Marc Ducornet in the “new” enterprise.

“The output of the newly-produced instruments from France will be known very simply under the name “THE PARIS WORKSHOP”, and will be available direct through a worldwide network of knowledgeable and helpful Agents.

Elaine Comparone:


“Frank Hubbard Harpsichords, Inc. offers custom-built instruments (like my two big ones) as well as various kits, of which the yellow harpsichord is an example. In the old days, builders decorated not only the soundboards (under the strings) but the lids as well. You can find pictures of such instruments and examples in museums.

“The kits fed the “do-it-yourself” hunger of many people who liked to work with their hands in those days and thought building an instrument would be an exciting and rewarding task.


“As to your question of my version of the C Major, I’m charmed that you find it humorous. That may be because my interpretation is redolent of my love of jazz and my rejection of romantic interpretations of Baroque music, and specifically Bach. The appoggiatura idea comes from the repetition of that second voice in the right hand , that you correctly recognized as one of three, the third being the second two notes of the repeated chordal figure.

“Actually, the chord can be further broken down into two more “voices”—if we’re talking counterpoint—that move throughout the piece. Now, try playing the piece and eliminating those top two notes-voices of the chord throughout the whole piece. You’ll get an idea of what I initially heard and recognized as a melody—though not a melody in the 19th century meaning!

“My idea came from my awareness that in those days appoggiature were an integral part of the improvising vocabulary of the period—perhaps the most important element! One can create dissonance with an appoggiatura that inevitably adds to the flavor, expressivity and interest of a musical line and its harmonic surroundings. The early composers didn’t always write everything down. Bach did, though, and a legend–perhaps true—has it that he complained when people altered his lines. It was assumed that people would ornament and embellish, especially if you were a performing composer (all the Bachs!!)

“Bach had reached the summit of a musical era ( popular historians as well as musicologists frequently describe him as musically “summing up” what had come before.) But he was simultaneously at the beginning of the decline of his musical era (Bach’s style was referred to as the “learned style”) with C.P.E. and others of his children cheerfully leading the vanguard. Of course, they did not perceive it as a musical “decline” but as a simplification of musical composition and an increased emphasis of emotional expression as a value (“stile galant” and “empfindsamkeit”) But the strong improvising tradition continued and its importance has lasted a long time. Even now, the French organist tradition requires that students learn how to improvise. (You’ve gotta do something when the service is dragging and you need to fill up space—that’s a simple explanation of course!)

“So back to the appoggiatura! That strong improvising tradition meant that musicians were inserting appoggiature everywhere they could. Who could resist? You can see how well the approach works in my little version. Music has always been a product of improvisation and inspiration. Most composers—at least of tonal music, and maybe atonal as well—improvise. Who knows? I just can’t vouch for them. Tonal music lends itself to it. But wait!! As I think of it, you can improvise atonally. I remember now that we did it in college as a joke and it was lots of fun! In his book (The Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments), C.P.E. gives a lot of examples of possible free improvisations as well as examples of how to embellish aspects of a musical line. Those guys were amazing!!!

“P.S. As to your question about which instrument they used to play the Prelude in CM: Any instrument that was around!! It could be a harpsichord (which could come in various shapes, size, styles and number of manuals); a clavichord (supposedly CPE’s favorite); or an organ (if you could get someone to work the bellows.) People weren’t picky about which instrument in those days. This “free thought” extended to melody instruments as well. If you composed a trio sonata (a bass line and two trebles), you might expect the trebles to be two flutes or two violins, or a flute and a violin or a flute and an oboe. And your bass could be played by a keyboardist improvising chords from the bass line—because they didn’t write out the accompaniment–providing only figures to indicate chords. And that bass line might be doubled by a cello or viola da gamba or bassoon or another instrument to be identified.

“Pedal-harpsichord: pedals were like an organ’s pedal-board, not a piano’s damper pedal. Organists used pedal harpsichords to practice when it was too cold to play in church. (You’d have to heat the church and hire a bellows boy–so it was an economical substitute) Bach left “a set of pedals and two keyboards” in his will to Wilhelm Friedemann (eldest son.) I don’t think they work well as performing instruments.”


Hubbard Harpsichords:

Angela Hewitt, Bach's tempos in clavier music, Baroque music tempo, classissima,, dance-like tempo in Baroque keyboard music, Elaine Comparone, Glenn Gould, Halida Dinova, Harpsichord Unlimited,, J.S. Bach's tempos, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano, Quantz, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word, wordpress,, you, yout tube,

J.S. Bach and tempo in his Little Preludes

A few days ago, I posted a You Tube of Bach’s Little Prelude in F, BWV 927, which is popular among pupils in the Intermediate range of study, though to be candid, these “Level” classifications should be taken with a grain of salt. Why? because all Bach’s compositions require an understanding of voicing and counterpoint that deepens with seasoned exposures. In essence, as eternal students, we commit to layered learning and study spanning a lifetime.

That said, the whole universe of Bach’s tempos can be a challenge to those of us wanting to play his music with a degree of authenticity. (Recommend: “On Bach’s Rhythm and Tempo” by Ido Abravaya:

My first inclination was to draw on the vast body of Bach’s choral works for tempo reference: Oratorios, cantatas, etc. as well as the solo concerti for violin, flute along with the composer’s collections of chamber music. (The Brandenburgs, for instance, contain dance-like movements)

Elaine Comparone, world-renowned harpsichordist and scholar suggested that I consult Quantz in my research endeavor, so I raced off to Google where I found the following:

Although the header pertained to ORGAN works, I benefited from tempo choices linked to DANCE movements and metronome markings.

Comparone, likewise characterized some of Bach’s music in a dance frame even when the composer didn’t specifically attach a French or Italian adjective to his manuscript.

For BWV 930 in G minor, she referenced the “Courante” as well as “harmonic rhythm” as cues for tempo decisions.

Courante: a) “Italian variety, in a rapid tempo and in simple triple time. b) French variety, similar to the above, but with a mixture of simple triple and compound duple rhythms, the latter pertaining especially to the end of each of the 2 sections. Occasionally, in Bach’s keyboard examples the conflicting rhythms are found together, one in each hand.”

Attribution: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, Third Edition, Editor, Michael Kennedy

Here’s Angela Hewitt’s dance-like reading:

Gould, by contrast, was thinking more of the vocal model in his chosen tempo.

I must confess that my original perception matched Gould’s even before I hastened to You Tube to check out his performance.

My latest recording, however, turned out livelier:

In BWV 926 (d minor) Gould fleshes out a definitive rhythmic dualism. He plays this Little Prelude rather briskly, suggesting, for me, at least, a sprightly dance movement. (His detachee–detached note approach is emphasized)

The artist, known for his many original, and sometimes unorthodox performances, perceives a stream of triplet 8ths at the beginning of this work, though the notes are seemingly comprehended as parcels of two to the quarter note (in 3/4 time)

He then reverts to duple division of the beat, fleshing out a perception that is uncommon to most performances of this Little Prelude. (two against three in the larger sense) If we agree with Gould’s interpretation as authentic to Bach, then the composer had something whimsically sophisticated up his sleeve. (Comparone favored Gould’s rhythmic disposition)

Here’s Angela Hewitt’s reading which I prefer in it’s more singable frame:

(I love the way she “relaxes” alternate measures in the opener, and responds so beautifully to the harmonic rhythm dimension of this work)

I adopted this same spirit in my rendition, before locating Angela’s You Tube offering.

Having matched up in tempo and character with an artist I revere as one of my favorite Baroque period interpreters, I was a bit puzzled by the tempo she chose in BWV 927 that I mentioned at the beginning of this writing.

Hewitt is so intrinsically musical that she seems to pull off any reading at whatever tempo frame she chooses.

Yet I can’t fully grasp the counterpoint in this rapid speed.

My own humble choice seemed to be one where two voices could be more easily followed, though a You Tube poster to my website asserted that I played the composition “too fast.”

Gould’s reading seems to corroborate my more conservative underlying beat, though taken a tad faster: go to 3:30 in the track.


Another Little Prelude:

BWV 999 (The broken chord pattern permeated C minor) is played in a very brisk tempo by pianist, Halida Dinova: Go to 1:46 in the track

Compare to Hewitt’s tempo (which I prefer)

The question remains what tempo would Bach have envisioned, and what character reference would he have chosen for any number of his compositions?

A partisan of separating the vocal model from that of the dance especially in these shorter works, I would favor such a point of departure.

Finally, does the character of the composition upend the metronome marking assigned to the piece? (or should they have equal weight in conjunction with Key/Major/minor tonality?)

I leave readers with food for thought.


Elaine Comparone, harpsichord, word press,, you tube video, you, yout tube,

In this corner, the “Elephant in the Room Piano,” in a match-up with the Harpsichord

Why does it have to come to this? A pianist, with an esteemed reputation, does a rope-a-dope– then verbally assaults the harpsichord to aggrandize the piano.

Did Bach see this coming?

Andras Schiff took the defensive when asked to explain playing J.S. on the pianoforte. (The event took place in New York City under the lights)

Schiff could have made his case on its own merits, but instead, went quickly on the OFFENSIVE, taking jabs at the harpsichord, crowding the poor thing into a corner.

More rope-a-dope.

Bach would have been astonished to hear falsehoods proliferated about the sacred family of keyboard members. Why would the “greatest composer of all times” favor the clavichord (miniature) over the more developed harpsichord?

Wait! The Heavyweight made no bones about the harpsichord being weak on crescendos. For heaven’s sakes “it couldn’t even resolve appoggiaturas gracefully without a clunk, or a Baltic delay.” (The latter sounded like an elephant)

Enter Elaine Comparone, world-renowned harpsichordist, who refusing to be pinned to the ropes, mustered the strength of Sampson to put this one away!


“OK, I’ve stood by long enough…The elephant in the room has obviously not spent much time with a harpsichord, and why should it? It has enough clout to make it on its own!

“Now a couple of bad calls need correction!!! (She eyed the referee with suspicion)

“The clavichord was NOT JS’s ‘favorite instrument.’ It was CPE’s favorite. (Ref’s decision: Round One goes to the Harpsichord!)

“No source anywhere attests to the clavichord being JS’s favorite. Burney says the clavichord was Bach’s favorite, but he was talking about CPE whom he heard play.”

Is this a TKO? The Elephant never forgets. How could this fudge of names happen so early in the match?

“And by the way, the Elephant talks about pedal harpsichords as if they were all around—just one of the garden variety keyboards that people had hanging around. No. They were practice instruments for organists when you didn’t want to heat up a whole church or get a bellows boy. They don’t work very well as instruments sonically, even when you get somebody who pushes the idea and plays the thing in public. Maybe you can get away with it on a recording, but in person, the feet and all that plucking action drowns out the rest of the instrument.”

Amen to that. The Elephant had miss-characterized PEDAL harpsichords without justification!

“Oh and the Elephant in the room talks about the distortion that a lot of harpsichordists engage in to create the illusion of diminuendo on the second note of an appoggiatura.

“His demonstration was really exaggerated, but OK, in his defense, I’ve heard ungodly distortions from harpsichordists, so I’ll concede the second round to the elephant!

“But for those of us who play the thing, we know we have to create illusions of crescendo, diminuendo because the harpsichord can’t do it. But that much exaggeration is not necessary to create the illusion.”

She put it squarely back in the elephant’s corner! But he was slipping now.

Third round went to the Harpsichord!

“HE thinks that by not using pedal he’s being more authentic, I guess, or is he trying to use what he thinks the harpsichordist has at his/her disposal?”

Referee rules the elephant was impersonating the harpsichord and called a foul. Whoa! He’s breaking up the two. They’re in a clench.

“Look, he’s chosen the piano! It can do just about everything. And those of us who have a genuine appreciation of the harpsichord, it’s the quality of sound that the thing gets that we love. It’s an acoustical phenomenon that’s very different from the elephant in the room. He’s using an all-purpose instrument that’s very serviceable. He’s never even tried to create the illusions that a harpsichordist works on. It’s one of the most fun, challenging things about it.. Truly, we discover, there are other things besides crescendo and diminuendo. Really!!”

THAT DID IT. The Elephant couldn’t take another round of perfectly timed, well-placed body blows.

It was a KNOCK-OUT! The Ref called it a night!

Bach’s Music flowed from inspired words!

And Brandenburg 5 followed!


Important Links RE: Elaine Comparone and the Harpsichord

The Harpsichord has a new lease on life!

"Aglow with Creative Fire", Appel Farm, Appel Farm Art and Music Center, Appel Farm in Elmer New Jersey, arioso7, classissima,, Elaine Comparone, Elaine Comparone Harpsichordist, First Moravian Church NYC, Harpsichord Unlimited,, Hubbard Harpsichord, J.S. Bach Cantata no. 78, Lyrichord, Lyrichord Early Music Series, Peter Seidenberg, Robert Zubrycki, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, The Queen's Chamber Band plays Mozart, Veronica Salas, word press,, you tube, you tube video

The Harpsichord has a new lease on life! Elaine Comparone is its biggest advocate!

Elaine Comparone is a champion of the harpsichord like no other. Not only does she play with “red-blooded” passion sweeping it off its mantle of obscurity, but her nonprofit organization Harpsichord Unlimited is dedicated to stimulating interest in the instrument as a living, breathing, contemporary musical communicator. Its museum portrait is a thing of the past.

A few mouse clicks over at You Tube lead to a treasure trove of Comparone’s riveting solo and chamber ensemble performances. They reflect the harpsichord’s new-found status as a prominent player amidst the rough and tumble cosmos of bravura, show-stopping pianoforte offerings.

Try this one out for size–a sizzling Scarlatti sonata, “aglow with creative fire,” with over a half-million hits!

Not bad for an instrument formerly relegated to the background, muted by strings, woodwinds, and even choirs.

The mere fact that Comparone stands at her Hubbard, a custom designed harpsichord with shimmering resonance, allows her to project its life-size personality while also giving the artist increased freedom of physical and musical expression.


Comparone’s latest gift to the CD universe is an impressionable release by Lyrichord, titled The Queen’s Chamber Band plays Mozart.

According to the artist’s own Program Notes, her chamber group has 1762 antecedents, dating to J.S. Bach’s youngest son, John having journeyed to London to be appointed Music Master to Queen Charlotte Sophia (wife of “Mad King” George III) and the Royal Family. “With a few close musical friends, the ‘London Bach’ formed an ensemble to entertain her Majesty in her private Chambers: The Queen’s Chamber Band.”

Fast forward to the present and Comparone’s personally founded ensemble is a re-creation of its earlier model having “nine distinguished soloists, whose mastery of both solo repertory and chamber music thrills audiences worldwide.” (Donald Henahan, New York Times)


The Queen’s Chamber Band plays Mozart contains an ear-catching musical menu of two selections:

“Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in A Major, K. 526” and “Keyboard Quartet in G minor, K. 478.”

At the harpsichord helm is Elaine Comparone with her long-standing musical companions, Robert Zubrychi, violin, Veronica Salas, viola, and Peter Seidenberg, Cello.

In erudite notes to her album, her Majesty the Queen, Comparone justifies the enlistment of the harpsichord in these Mozart readings by historical documentation. She references Ernst Fritz Schmid’s preface to his 1960 edition for G. Henle Verlag which explores Mozart’s choice of instrument with some ambiguity tied to the composer’s dynamic markings.

Otherwise, Comparone remains assertive in this concluding paragraph, providing strong evidence to support her choice of keyboard medium.

“In the late 18th century the piano gradually displaced the harpsichord. But the original editions of almost all Beethoven’s sonatas up to Opus 27 bear the inscription: ‘Pour le Clavecin ou Pianoforte’ (For the Harpsichord or Piano)…so “harpsichords were still widely used around 1800 and music publishers were eager to accommodate the players and owners of the old instruments as well as those of the more modern ones…People of the era while ultimately accepting and adjusting to the intriguing new piano technology and sound seemed less in a hurry than their 21rst century counterparts to dispose of an instrument that had served them well for so long.”

On this scholarly note, Comparone amplifies how she realized dynamics within compositions that might have been a playing toss-up between Clavecin and Fortepiano.

With a disclaimer that some measures of Mozart’s Sonata manuscript might have referred to the fortepiano by their specifically notated crescendi, (getting louder) she shared her harpsichord-adapted approach:

“I followed the dynamics that my instrument allowed, even the quick changes between piano and forte (soft and loud) that required me to move from one keyboard to another.”

These nifty manual shifts compare to Comparone’s jaw-dropping page turns in J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 78 posted on You Tube. Not even a rigged iPad would rival her fleet fingers and eye-hand feats of coordination!


The second CD track, Keyboard Quartet in G minor is particularly familiar since I’d played the piano part while enrolled at the Appel Farm Music Camp in Elmer New Jersey. Uncannily, our ensemble included the gifted violist, Toby Appel, who years later carved his own reputation as a leading soloist, lifting his instrument out of relative obscurity. It’s certainly a parallel tie-in to the harpsichord’s elevated public persona through the ardent efforts of Elaine Comparone.

To summarize, every precious nuance of performance is imbued in the Queen’s Chamber Band’s current Mozart CD release.

That’s why I strongly recommend its inclusion in any music lover’s living library of treasures.


Comparone’s You Tube Channel:

Couperin, Domenico Scarlatti, Dowd Harpsichord, Elaine Comparone, Harpsichord Unlimited, J.S. Bach, Jean Phillipe Rameau, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press,, you tube, you tube video

Aglow with creative fire: My NYC visit with harpsichordist, Elaine Comparone


The centerpiece of my trip back East this past weekend was meeting up with Elaine Comparone in her acoustically magnificent West Side apartment.

Two splendid harpsichords of incomparable beauty, a custom made Dowd and Hubbard, graced a divinely resonant space with a cathedral high ceiling. And with a snap of my fingers I ignited a bright and brilliant reverb that musicians lust after in the presence of responsive musical instruments such as these:

It was this same fire, that lit up another space and captured my attention a year before. A Facebook link had led me to Comparone’s “red-blooded” harpsichord playing as she stood, no less, in the musical spotlight. (Hubbard Harpsichords, Unlimited, designed a tall oak stand in consultation with Elaine, that elevates the instrument to required height) It had been “dubbed” the “Brooklyn Bridge” by technicians. Talk about innovation.

Comparone performing Scarlatti Sonata, K. 517 in D minor:

Gushing with enthusiasm, I found Elaine’s You Tube Channel and raced to “Subscribe,” be-“friend” and “like” just about anything she had uploaded including the works of J.S. Bach, Rameau, Couperin, Scarlatti, among other composers. Soon enough I found the Queen’s Chamber Band, her majesty’s ensemble of fine local musicians who perform early music and newly commissioned works as part of an ongoing concert series. Harpsichord Unlimited, the non-profit umbrella organization, in which Comparone serves as Director, is “dedicated to stimulating interest in the harpsichord and teaching audiences about the instrument.”

A ground breaker is a good description of Elaine Comparone and her efforts to lift the harpsichord out of obscurity and into light of day. Just soaking up an afternoon in the life of this towering artist has inspired me to learn a bunch more Scarlatti sonatas, side-stepping the desired medium, of course, until I can well afford to order a custom designed Hubbard or Dowd from Massachusetts.

Hey, who on earth is pretending to play the Hubbard? What a daunting task with those black notes subbing in for white ones. And the whites raised up where the blacks are normally found. A dizzying panoply of keys, closely spaced, with an unfamiliar touch. I’d need a ton of practicing to get things rolling.


For now I think I’ll defer to a pro……

Related Links:

Hubbard Harpsichords: