Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis — Antoine Forqueray And His Son; Gustav Leonhardt And His Students

I spent part of the afternoon listening to a CD of the late and truly great harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt (1928‑2012), performing works mostly by Antoine Forqueray (1671‑1745) as arranged and amended after his death by his son Jean‑Baptiste Forqueray (1699‑1782).

Father and son were reportedly both cranky people, and one of the son's arrangements was from his father's viola da gamba composition to the son's transcription for harpsichord (no small step!), with some movements newly composed by the son, all two years after his father's death. Had they lived in a different era, that family was almost dysfunctional enough to have been American!

But the music was stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful. Here is the recording (if I got the link right in spite of YouTube's new "simplified" mechanism for chaining volumes together (so "simple" that you'll likely do just that even when you don't intend to):

Life is short. Music is shorter (with the exception of a few pathological 20th-century works; some of those are still going well into the 21st century). Fathers write music and perform it; sons learn how to play in part from their parents, but again in pathological cases await their parents' departure from this world before tinkering with their parents' music.

Performers relearn the essence of a particular work sometimes literally centuries after the work was created; then they pass their own performance traditions on to their students, who do their own things with the work.

Is the work recognizable as the one the composer created centuries ago? Some performers don't care. Some care so much they obsess over every particular of style and craft. Music is an emphatically human activity, engaging every human foible; when music-making involves multiple generations of a family, well, that's when it gets really challenging.

I guess if I intend to leave any compositions to my child or my student, I'd better, first of all, write some music, and second (and not incidentally), have some kids, or at least some students...

ASIDE: lately I feel too old and tired to participate in even the passing-on-traditions part of the process (let alone passing on genes or technical advice on playing an instrument). Would one or more of you do all that for me, please? I can't promise your efforts will be appreciated, except by me...

ANOTHER ASIDE: I've had the privilege of rehearsing and performing with one of Mr. Leonhardt's excellent students, an American now living in Amsterdam (I think) with her cellist husband and their two sons. Like all of Leonhardt's students I have met, she was aware of the community in which they all participated, and, again like all of his students, was crestfallen at his death; it's going to be tough without him. But whatever tradition that family and I were once part of for about a decade in Houston continues, different in every particular in a land utterly familiar to that family and utterly foreign to me, but still a part of a tradition. I worry about humankind a little less every time I think of them.

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