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Johann Sebastian Bach: Preludes, Fantasies & Fugues
Peter Sykes Plays the Clavichord
1789 Schiedmayer clavichord - [OAR-959]

Peter Sykes plays Bach works for keyboard on a period clavichord built in 1789 in Erlangen and located in the United States before 1900.

Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-Flat Major, BWV 998
Fantasy on a Rondo in C minor, BWV 918
Praeludium and Fughetta in G Major, BWV 902   
Prelude and Fugue after Albinoni in B minor, BWV 923/951
Fantasy and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903

About the Music

This recording brings together familiar and less familiar keyboard works of Bach performed on an original clavichord. Whether any of them were “intended” for the clavichord is unimportant; it is very likely that this music was played on any keyboard instrument at hand. Important is the matter of what sorts of musical ideas can be realized on the clavichord in contrast to the other keyboard instruments available in Bach’s day or in our day. The flexibility of clavichord tone color, the intimacy of touch, the preciseness of articulation, not to mention the dynamic range produced by touch inflection offer the player an opportunity to shape musical phrases on a small and large scale that far surpasses the capabilities of any other keyboard instrument. This recording is offered in tribute to those possibilities, with hopes that the music may be experienced in a different and perhaps more subtle light than the ways in which it is more often encountered.

The Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998, titled in the manuscript “pour la luth ò cembal”, is an attractive three-part work. The Prelude is reminiscent of the E-Flat Major prelude from book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier; the Fugue (one of only three in Bach’s output in da capo form) in its middle section calls to mind the F minor prelude from book I, and the Allegro is very similar to the last movement of the organ Pastorale, BWV 590. The Fantasy on a Rondo, BWV 918, is an extended two-part invention in imitative counterpoint, similar in some ways to the Duetti of Clavierübung part III but with a polonaise-like rhythm in the rondo, which recurs fully only at the very end. Dense and complex, this piece displays the argumentative nature of two-part writing in brilliant fashion. The Fugue of BWV 902 is an early version of BWV 860, the G Major Fugue from book I; the prelude is in some ways reminiscent of the Fantasy, BWV 904. The Praeludium, BWV 923, is similar in some ways to the Chromatic Fantasy in its combination of rushing scales, recitiative-like sections and arpeggiated chords, while the Fugue, BWV 951, is one of Bach’s more extended works in that form. The Fantasy of BWV 904 is in ritornello form, with the opening section recurring in different tonalities, while the fugue is a double fugue, combining both subjects at the end. The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903, is one of Bach’s more famous keyboard works, and deservedly so, due to its strong emotional tone, virtuoso demands, and dramatic character, all of which are shown to great advantage when played on the clavichord.
Peter Sykes

About the Instrument
The clavichord used in this recording was made in 1789 by Johann Christoph Georg Schiedmayer and is of the unfretted type with a range of FF to g3. Not much is known about the life of J. C. G. Schiedmayer (1740-1820) other than he was the eldest son of Balthasar Schiedmayer, who had established himself as an “Orgel und Claviermacher” in Erlangen where Johann was born. His workshop in Neustadt an der Aisch, about forty miles west of Nuremburg, was probably small with not more than one or two employees, but nine signed instruments of his have survived the years, and all show fine craftsmanship and carefully drawn designs. The 1789 Schiedmayer and one later clavichord of his dated 1796 (in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) are identical in range, internal dimensions, string lengths, string gauge markings and other respects indicating that this was a well established and successful musical design. Like other clavichords of this type, it is set up to be strung in plain brass wire from g3 down to tenor c, and wound wires from B down to FF, and has a string scale well suited for a reference pitch of a=415.

This clavichord made its way to America in a large collection of keyboard instruments belonging to the piano dealer, Morris Steinert. In 1900, Steinert gave his collection to the Yale School of Music, and some time in the 1950s the Boston harpsichord maker, Eric Herz, purchased it from the Yale Collection. Though the instrument underwent a heavy restoration in the 1960s, it maintains its original aesthetics, structure and action. This instrument is owned by Allan Winkler and was loaned to Peter Sykes for this recording.
Allan Winkler, March, 2014
Medford, Massachusetts

Peter Sykes
Peter Sykes is Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Historical Performance Department at Boston University, where he teaches organ, harpsichord, clavichord, performance practice, and continuo realization. He is also Music Director of First Church in Cambridge. He performs extensively and has made ten solo recordings of organ repertoire ranging from Buxtehude, Couperin, and Bach to Reger, Hindemith, and his acclaimed organ transcription of Holst’s The Planets, as well as harpsichord recordings of Bach, notably the six Partitas. He also performs and records with Boston Baroque and Aston Magna. A founding board member and current president of the Boston Clavichord Society, he is the recipient of the Chadwick Medal (1978) and Outstanding Alumni Award (2005) from the New England Conservatory, the Erwin Bodky Prize (1993) from the Cambridge Society for Early Music, and the Distinguished Artist Award from the St. Botolph Club Foundation (2011).

Johann Sebastian Bach: Preludes, Fantasies & Fugues<BR>Peter Sykes Plays the Clavichord<BR>1789 Schiedmayer clavichord
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