The Organ

Joel Speelstra: Bach and the Pedal Clavichord: An Organist’s Guide; with a foreword by Hans Davidsson

Joel Speelstra: Bach and the Pedal Clavichord: An Organist’s Guide; with a foreword by Hans Davidsson
University of Rochester Press, 2004. (Eastman Studies in Music; 26)
ISBN 1-58046-135-2; ISSN 1071-9989

I well remember reviewing a CD of Harald Vogel playing Bach on a pedal clavichord a few years back for The Organ. It was a real ‘ear-opener’. I had never before appreciated some of the music played, dismissing the compositions as ‘early’ works. But suddenly the style and textures made perfect sense. It seemed clear that at least some of JSB’s ‘organ’ music was written for the pedal clavichord. This book is all the more welcome, then for its exploration of the relationship between J.S. Bach and the instrument. The study is based on significant research at the GoArt Centre, described in the last issue of the magazine. This research resulted in the recreation of an 18th century pedal clavichord on which teachers and organ students could experiment with both technique and repertoire.

There are two parts to the work. In the first, ‘source studies’, Speelstra looks firstly at the historical evidence for the pedal clavichord; then he reviews the ‘rumour’ that Bach’s trio sonatas were actually written for the instrument and not the organ – the only way to test the proposal being to build a pedal clavichord – the subject of the third chapter. This provides a fascinating and detailed study of the 1766 instrument on which the copy was based, together with a discussion of the re-creation process. The final chapter in this first part of the book looks at technique, and draws extensively on primary sources from the 18th century and more recently.

The second part of the book concentrates on performance practice. This part begins with a detailed and thorough study of sound production and then moves on the figural notation. The second half then concludes with chapters on the Passacaglia in C minor (BWV 582) as a case study in performance on the pedal clavichord and then the relationship between the instrument and the organ in the 18th century. The book is completed by an appendix reproducing Griepenkerl’s Preface to Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (1819), extensive notes and a bibliography.

This is a fascinating study that deserves to be on the shelves of all serious students of Bach’s organ music and, indeed, 18th century keyboard instruments, their repertoire and performance practice. It should do much to rehabilitate the pedal clavichord as an instrument in its own right, and provide a basis on which to re-evaluate much of the 18th century ‘organ’ music repertoire. Very highly recommended.