Even if you’ve never heard of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America, you might want to attend the series of free concerts the group is hosting this month in conjunction with its annual meeting at the U-M May 9-12. The first of these, to be held at the First Congregational Church on May 9, will include J.S. Bach’s dazzling Concerto for Four Harpsichords and a sonata by Baldassare Galuppi. Did you know that Robert Browning wrote a poem that mimics the sometimes eccentric rhythms of Galuppi’s keyboard writing? It’s true.
Also on May 9, gentle-voiced soprano Ellen Hargis will sing four songs by Franz Schubert, with Penelope Crawford at the pianoforte. As if to celebrate the passing of a winter that seemed like it would never end, they will offer “The Song of the Greenwood,” “In Springtime,” “To Be Sung on the Water,” and “Sunset Glow,” using a keyboard instrument more or less contemporaneous with Schubert himself.
Lieder will also resound at an all-Beethoven concert on May 10 at Britton Recital Hall on North Campus. Accompanied by Janice Wenger on an 1816 Broadwood, tenor Steven Tharp will sing “To the Distant Beloved” (the earliest example of a bona fide song cycle in the German lieder tradition); an ode “To Hope” and “Mephistopheles’ Song of the Flea.” Tharp’s operatic versatility is sure to provide the warmth and dramatic intensity essential to a Beethoven lieder recital.
In addition to the intimate pleasure of hearing music played on period instruments, there’s much to be learned from the stories behind the works. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, for example, was commissioned by–and initially dedicated to–George Bridgetower, a biracial violinist born to Polish and West Indian parents. Unfortunately the two men quarreled, and, when it came time to publish the sonata, Beethoven dedicated it to another violinist, Adolphe Kreutzer, who ironically found the work so weirdly complex that he never played it. On May 10 the Kreutzer will be interpreted by violinist Jerilyn Jorgensen and pianist Cullan Bryant.
On May 11 you’ll want to sit near the front of the First Congregational Church to observe Charles Metz playing on the virginal, a rare breed of harpsichord. Metz’s instrument was built in the 1590s by a Florentine named Francesco Poggi. Metz discovered it in a Midwestern antique shop and had it restored. Its decorative artwork has been carefully preserved, so that, with the cover raised, an arcadian landscape is revealed. Of the eighteen Poggis known to exist, this is one of the few that isn’t confined to a museum.
The concert at Britton Hall on May 12 extends the timeline from the Renaissance well into the twenty-first century with contemporary works for harpsichord, providing opportunities to hear new and unfamiliar works played on instruments usually associated with antiquity. You don’t need to be a musician, a musicologist, or a historian to participate in any of these concerts. Just bring your ears.