Harpsichord

King of continuo back for Bach

Friday, April 29, 2016
Friends of Avondale Conservatorium help restore harpsichord

The restoration of a harpsichord by friends of Avondale Conservatorium has enabled a lecturer to conduct a Bach cantata as part of her doctoral studies.

Built locally more than 30 years ago, the Zuckermann Concert V Harpsichord may not have provided reliable performance during Johann Sebastian Bach’s King of Heaven, Welcome. Avondale Conservatorium Director Aleta King is conducting the church cantata for an Evensong on May 28 as part of the Avondale Concert Series. Lecturer Claire Howard Race will play the harpsichord for the cantata.

Bach originally scored the cantata for vocal soloists, choir, strings, recorder and continuo, “and the harpsichord is the backbone of the continuo section,” says King.

One of three projects identified as a funding priority, the restoration of the harpsichord received $900 in donations from those attending the conservatorium’s first Soiree in November this past year. The conservatorium had already raised $1257 from its Symphony of Psalms concert at Avondale Alumni’s Homecoming in August. An anonymous donor covered the balance of the cost of the restoration.

“I’m absolutely humbled by the generosity of the donors who made the restoration possible,” says King. “Their financial support has breathed new life into the instrument.”

The harpsichord now features new strings, plectra and dampers. Its keys and stop levers have been cleaned and new jackrail cloth fitted. The soundboard has also been cleaned and a new shellac wood finish applied. The legs of the case have been strengthened, too.

The restoration has enabled Avondale Conservatorium to present King of Heaven, Welcome because the harpsichord is central to the performance of baroque works such as Bach’s cantatas or Handel’s Messiah oratorio. The last time the harpsichord at Avondale appeared in a performance of Messiah was December 2013. Subsequent performances have not been possible because of the instrument’s rapid deterioration. “Performances of Messiah are a cherished part of the musical life at Avondale, so I’m thrilled we can once again continue this time-honoured tradition,” says King.

King of Heaven, Welcome is the first of four recitals King will conduct for her Doctor of Musical Arts, which brings two professional passions—musicianship teaching and choral performance—together by examining the conductor’s role as musicianship mentor. Her choice of the cantata is intentional because polyphonic and homophonic music is central to the musicianship curriculum. Bach also composed his work at the “epicentre of the tectonic shift” from polyphonic to homophonic music texture. “He is a master of both,” says King.

The German also saw himself “first and foremost as a church musician,” says King. “Even though he composed for earthly royalty, he believed his gifts were ultimately God-given.” Bach signed his scores Soli Deo gloria, a Latin term for Glory to God alone, to signify the works were produced for the sake of praising God.

Bach composed King of Heaven, Welcome while serving as the court organist for Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar in Germany. He first performed it in Schlosskirche, a Protestant church within Königsberg Castle in Königsberg, on Palm Sunday (March 25) in 1714. “The lyrics and the music match the readings for that day,” says King. “So, on the one hand, there’s the story of Jesus entering into Jerusalem, on the other, there’s the underlying meaning of welcoming Jesus into our hearts. It’s the pastor in Bach coming out.”

Evensong: King of Heaven, Welcome

Celebrate the close of the Sabbath with Johann Sebastian Bach as Avondale Conservatorium’s ensembles present his intimate church cantata King of Heaven, Welcome. Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church, Saturday, May 28, 6 pm.

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Brenton Stacey

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Brenton is Avondale College of Higher Education’s Public Relations Officer. He brings to the role a decade’s experience as a communicator in publishing, media relations, public relations, radio and television, mostly within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific and its entities. He is also co-convenor of Manifest, a movement exploring, encouraging and celebrating #faithfulcreativity in the Adventist Church.