The Book of Musical Knowledge: The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers

By Arthur Elson | Go to book overview

LIV
SOME FAMOUS PIANISTS

NEARLY two centuries ago, in a large German city, a certain man sat playing industriously at a harpsichord, while a second man listened from a concealed nook. There came from the performer's fingers a series of beautiful works, in many-voiced and orderly succession; but the hidden hearer did not seem pleased, and after a time he took a secret but hurried departure.

The player was Bach; the listener, Marchand. Bach's works do not usually drive their hearers away. But Marchand was to have met Bach in a contest in harpsichord playing; and after hearing his rival, Marchand knew that he could not hold his own in such an unequal competition.

Yet Marchand was rated highly in his native France. Once he had boasted that he could add an embellishment to every note. The many turns, trills, and other fioriture of the eighteenth-century music came into being because the clavichord and harpsichord could not sustain their tones for any length of time. Any long-held note needed to be prolonged by some embellishment, to prevent a period of silence before the next note. But embellishments were used also because of their decorative effect.

Before Bach's time, the thumb was not generally used in playing, and scales were given by letting the fingers overpass one another. When the thumb came in, it was first marked by an 0, and later by an X, the fingers being numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4.

' Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of the great John Sebastian, was a master of expression, as is shown by his book on "The True Art of Playing the Clavier," -- the term clavier was used to designate all keyboard instruments; but his brother, Johann Christian Bach, who settled in London, was the real piano devotee of the family.

Handel, like Bach, was a masterly player. Handel used to conduct his own operas from the keyboard of a harpsichord, as custom then dictated.

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