To think of harpsichords as lovers

This idea came to me – consciously, at least – not long ago, one stormy and pitch-dark evening while practising in a church for next-day’s big concert featuring Gesualdo Consort in Leer/East Frisia. Huge rain drops whipping the streets of this otherwise cosy nordic German town made an almost deafening noise and it was cold outside – not at all an unsuitable atmosphere to practice my Sweelinck. The solid, spacious church was friendly enough with just a few indecisive ghosts wandering around, I felt fine. Only my first „date“ with the instrument did not go the way I hoped. This harpsichord would not always do what I wanted, not immediately, or not the way I expected, leaving me a bit worried and tense. At that moment I remember thinking „it’s like a much older boyfriend with rusty habbits a half-open heart“ and that made me sad. Soon my mind became full of the pictures of some other significant harpsichords from my history, and they were a merry gathering wearing their human masks, as if they thought that was fun. And because music making and love making are so much alike – AND because one cannot approach a harpsichord properly except with tenderness, and because… because… who doesn’t “humanize” their instruments anyway? – I realized that seing harpsichords as lovers is one of the most natural things in the world. And if not a lover, then a friend – or an enemy, or a cold bastard at worst. For sure, a harpsichord, for me, is always a „he“. And where there are many harpsichords, or lovers, they fall into categories. Here the inspiring kind, which brings to light some hidden sparkling jewels in the music you’ve been playing for weeks, months or years, here’s the comforting kind which replies with grace to your imperfections, here’s the trustworthy kind you can rely on because it never changes, and here’s “the perfect lover”. Mine is the Neuchatel-Ruckers (1623/1745) who carried me on his golden arms to places I did not know before, leaving me completely changed, reborn! There’s also, of course, the reliable trophy „husband“ at home (like my double-manual French after Hemsch). Then there’s also the deceiving kind, the one which completely changes (in the concert), after he promised you not to (during the rehearsal), or the unsetteled, whiny wimp who needs constant tuning, adjusting, permanent assistance for a poor result in return and at last, there’s “the enemy”, the rude kind who declares war the very moment you lay your fingers on. Many of those leaving you with a bitter taste and the wish never to see them again.

The harpsichord from Leer proved itself to be an intriguing and consistent companion after all. During the concert he stayed with me and even allowed me here and then to sense his beating heart under my hands. Soon I’ll be seeing him again. I expect he will need to be reconquered from scratch but I’ll glady try.

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