Last time we introduced the harpsichord as an early keyboard instrument. Today, let’s listen to a piece performed on this beautiful instrument.
Composer Johann Kuhnau was a cantor of St. Thomas’ Church in Leipzig just before J.S. Bach took the position. The most fascinating of his keyboard compositions is a set of six Biblical Sonatas composed in 1700. On them, Kuhnau indicated that he intended them for organ, harpsichord, or other similar instruments. These sonatas contained a programmatic element built upon Old Testament scenes in the Bible. These scenes include “The Fight between David and Goliath,” “Saul Cured through Music by David,” “Jacob’s Wedding,” “The Mortally Ill and Then Restored Hezekiah,” “The Saviour of Israel/Gideon,” and “Jacob’s Death and Burial.”
Here’s a listening example of “The Fight between David and Goliath.” This sonata begins with dotted rhythms meant to depict the big, brave and fierce giant, Goliath. He follows with a chorale-prelude meant to reflect the prayer of the Israelites. The third movement contains a dance depicting the point when David decides to trust God and approach Goliath. When the stone flies toward the giant, we hear a quick scale and when Goliath falls dead, we hear short, descending chromatic passages.
What do you think of this excerpt? Do you enjoy the sound of the harpsichord more or less than the clavichord?
Once the piano gained dominance, the harpsichord was forgotten, including the repertoire. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the music was revived for piano but it still was not performed on the original instrument. It wasn’t until the 20th century that we see a revival of ancient music/instruments.