I first fell in love with the harpsichord through the radio. We had an upright piano in the house and I loved playing all kinds of music on it, but I never felt entirely comfortable playing some repertoire on the piano, Bach most especially. Something was wrong.
Erin Helyard. Photo © Brett Boardman
When I first listened to the harpsichord I immediately thought: “what is this magnificent instrument that is so suited to counterpoint?” I thought it was beautiful: golden, flute-y, nasal, crunchy, and silvery. The harpsichordists I first listened to were the second wave of harpsichord pioneers, like Gustav Leonhardt, Bob van Asperen, Colin Tilney, and Scott Ross. So I wasn’t listening to Wanda Landowska on her enormous Pleyel instrument. The players on historical replicas were the ones that piqued my interest as a teenager.
I still remember the experience of playing my first harpsichord at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. It is an instrument that is still there – a German double by Von Nagel! I played some Scarlatti on it and immediately felt a rush of excitement at having the “software” (the music) and “hardware” (the instrument) align....