• Richard Rodney Bennett
  • Harpsichord Concerto (1980)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the St Louis Symphony Orchestra

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  • harpsichord
  • 22 min

Programme Note

Having been virtually killed off in the 19th century by the development of the piano, the harpsichord has enjoyed a return to favour this century. The main reason, of course, has been the remarkable revival (spearheaded by Dolmetsch) in the music and instruments of bygone eras: however, the delicate tone of the harpsichord and its capacity for subtle blending with other instruments have made it an attractive prospect for composers of our own time. Despite this, there are still very few harpsichord concerti that don’t belong to the Baroque and so Bennett’s recent concerto is a particularly welcome addition to the repertoire.

Bennett has adopted the three-movement form developed by the Italians in the early years of the 18th century, a form which as quite remarkably survived the differing philosophies of several successive eras. Despite three prominent solo passages (two of which are cadenzas), the work belongs more to the concertante style than to that of the virtuoso concerto; the solo instrument weaves in and out of the foreground, enjoying many brilliantly conceived combinations with other instruments and instrumental groups. The first time listener will find this work generous in recognisable landmarks, as for example in the first movement in which the elements of sonata form are suggested by an exposition, a development, a cadenza and a brief reacall of the opening; or in the perpetuum mobile finale with its two interruptions - the fist a reminiscence of the opening of the concerto, the second a cadenza. The 12 note theme heard in the flute at the outset of the work gives rise to much of the material: interestingly, this is an economically conceived row of four three-note cells, similar in character to that employed by Webern in his Concerto for 9 instruments, op. 24. Bennett’s Harpsichord Concerto (1981) gives further proof, if it were needed, that is quite possible to write music which combines both elements of serial techniques and accessibility, and confirms its composer as one of the most brilliant craftsmen of the present day.

Stephen Pratt