Occasionally, one comes across individuals with a mission.
This is the case with J. Martin Stafford. He has managed to save several
rare, yet essential recordings from the abyss of oblivion, especially
this recording by Thurston Dart.
A clavichordist and harpsichordist, most of Dart's
solo recordings were of English music. He recorded five LPs of keyboard
music by the great English composers, such as Byrd, Bull, Gibbons and
others, on harpsichord and chamber organ. He also recorded a selection
of organ music by English composers. Yet, one must bear in mind that
this was all done in the 1950s, a period when early music was far more
confidential than it is today.
In addition to these great recordings of English music,
and the current disc of works by Froberger, Dart also recorded Bach's
French Suites, and some pieces by Purcell and other English composers,
on the clavichord. This recording is certainly unique, not only for
its historical interest, but also for the instrument.
The clavichord is a small, rectangular box-like instrument,
with a very simple mechanism, that was probably the domestic instrument
par excellence in 17th and 18th century Germany, as well as in other
countries. Its simple construction and small size made it easy to have
at home, and even to carry around. It is known that Bach owned clavichords,
and one can imagine that, when playing with his family, this instrument
might have been used often.
Frobergerís music had an important role in the history
of German baroque keyboard music. Born in Stuttgart, he was a student
of Frescobaldi and imperial court organist in Vienna. His keyboard works
are a link between the French and Italian baroque styles and what became
the more Germanic idiom. Bach was known to have appreciated his music,
and was one of the composers that he definitely played and studied.
Froberger was one of the first German composers to play expressive music,
and the titles of some of the piece on this disc show this: Lamentation
for Ferdinand IV, Le Tombeau de Monsieur Blancheroche. This is similar
to the French baroque keyboardists, and the English lutenists, who gave
attributes and names to their works.
This is a remarkable recording, both for the instrument
and the performance. Thurston Dart was a great clavichordist, and the
music comes through admirably on this instrument (even though it was
recorded in 1954). Frobergerís Suite no. X in A minor is a beautiful
example of the form that would later be adopted by all the German composers
- the multi-movement suite with melodic relations among the movements
(unlike the work of, say, Louis Couperin, who wrote separate movements
that performers were free to mix and match at will). The Ricercar no.
VI in C sharp minor is a fugue that begins with a slow exposition of
the subject, and continues through three sections as the melodies weave
together in an artful web. This is the basis for Bachís fugues. The
Fantasia no. 10 is another of Frobergerís finest works. This piece opens
with a slow, meditative fugal introduction, and is based on two contrasting
versions of a single theme. This contrapuntal work is light and airy,
yet its use of the sever Phygrian mode gives it a unique tone.
This recording also contains five early English pieces;
four by anonymous composers, and one by William Croft. These are light
and lively 16th and 17th century pieces, with the familiar sound of
the time. The Croft Sarabande closes the disc with a beautifully haunting
As with his other recordings by Thurston Dart, J. Martin
Stafford has done an excellent remastering job - the sound is as clean
as possible. He deserves kudos for saving these great recordings from
An excellent recording, commendable for the performance,
the music and the instrument. If you do not know Frobergerís music,
this is a fine way to discover it. If you do, you owe it to yourself
to hear it on the clavichord.