COMPOSER 1945–2013

Opus 61

Musique de Clavecin (1974)

for Harpsichord

  • Rondeau: La Dame du Seigneur
  • Danse: La Walewska
  • Fantaisie: La Céleste
  • Noël: Les Suzannes
  • Passacaille: La Douleureuse

Duration: 25 min.

Recording: MSR Classics MS1443

Premiere: 1987; B. Harbach; SUNY Buffalo

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The opening movement, Rondeau: La Dame du Seigneur, is in pace and meter in the fashion of a sarabande. It refers to one of several women known to me through the chessplaying community. She also had a great love of Baroque music and, despite her youth, an intense bitterness about life altogether, though she was also capable of great warmth.

The subsequent Danse: La Walewska refers to a piano and music theory student of Polish extraction with a delightfully outgoing personality. While this section was intended as one of the “scherzi” of the set, upsetting news accompanies this re-issue. Since writing Musique de Clavecin in 1974, I have generally maintained scant contact with the women described in it. On August 19, 2012, however, Jane (actually née Waleski) was fatally involved in the crash of a small airplane in Long Island, New York.

I refer to another student of the same subjects in the central Fantaisie: La Celeste. She had jet-black hair and was exceedingly beautiful and said very little, though the compelling look in her eyes was at first alluring and later frightening. I have attempted to portray her with a grand study in crescendo-diminuendo, based on simple but, I hope, haunting material. The whole matter of dynamic variation on the harpsichord is a great challenge, as the player can provide very little of it with strength or force; the composer must write it in through accretion and attrition of notes.

The fourth movement, Noel: Les Suzannes, was prompted by the fact that several of my friends had married women named Susan. I enjoyed excellent platonic relationships with all of them and this movement, accordingly, attempts an atmosphere of elegance and grace. To those who recognize the music from my Five Meditations for small orchestra of 1967, I plead guilty in reverse. After its composition, I became dissatisfied with the second movement of that work and replaced it, using the title Carol, with a transcription of the present harpsichord material, which is thusly the Urfassung.

The final movement, Passacaglia: La Douleureuse, refers to another woman I had met through my interest in chess. She was then a doctoral candidate in French, was passionately physical and possessed of unusual vitality and energy. During the time I knew her, it was discovered that she was stricken with terminal Hodgkins’ Disease.

Of course, I have altered or disguised the names of the very real people described in Musique de Clavecin. As for technicalities, aside from its overall difficulty, the score calls for some very quick registration changes and specifies the 16’ stop, very much out of favor with current harpsichord builders but, of course, capable of adding remarkable bass resonance. (Notes by Arnold Rosner)