As you will probably realise, I do not refer to the pint-sized, baby-faced Canadian singer – in fact, I am pretty sure I’ve never heard him sing (or indeed recite poetry or give us his Lear). He’s not big on any of Radio 3, Radio 4 or 6Music. No, I refer to the man with the incredible name of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern. With a name like that, I would rule the world, but in fact Biber was only a Bohemian-Austrian composer of the later 17th Century.
It is term-time again here on the Cam (Lent since you ask), which means my Tuesday early afternoons are much improved by the Cambridge University Lunchtime Concerts (CULC). My enjoyment is always tinged with jealousy as the performers are all young enough to be my children and are far more talented than I will ever be.
Last Tuesday was my first exposure to the work of Herr Biber (one of his Mystery Sonatas) – and very pleasing it was too, much enhanced by the presence of a viola da gamba (so much better than a mere ‘cello).
The gig (or gigue) ended with Corelli – and no sign of a military rank or mandolin. His La Follia sonata which was absolutely amazing – despite the gamba being replaced by a ‘cello.
The pieces also used a harpsichord – what an incredible instrument! The mechanics of the two keyboards and their linking was fascinating (I think it must have been a double manual). I now want a double manual harpsichord (forget the iPhone – where’s the visible engineering for the true geek to enjoy) – though I am little worried about (a) how much space it will need and (b) how often it would need tuning. It would also seem that they cost about the same as quite a large family car – but with a much more pleasing sound and a smaller carbon footprint (but less help when bringing a wardrobe home from B&Q or transporting four children to football practise – but you can have furniture delivered and my policy of abstinence reduces the need to transport my issue to sports training). I think it should also be a fairly neighbour-friendly instrument – much quieter than a baby grand. The only downside is that it is not (currently) perceived as cool – you don’t often get invited to jam with a harpsichord and the current indie music scene has only a rather limited role for continuo. However, I think I will make it my mission to change this position.
So, a harpsichord it is!