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Bach Might Have Played This Piano


Artem Belogurov at the Cristofori

First Lutheran Church of Boston’s fabulous free Boston Bach Birthday concert begins at 8:45 AM on Saturday.  A German lunch comes at noon and the concluding Vespers Service begins at 5:00.

Amongst the nonstop early music making in between comes a piano, albeit a reproduction of an early one that Bach might have played. At 2:10 Pianist/harpsichordist Artem Belogurov, visiting from Haarlem, NL, will present a core solo recital of remarkable breadth and interest for the Boston début of builder Kerstin Schwarz’s acclaimed “Red Cristofori,” her replica of the 1726 original in the Grassi Museum, Leipzig.Brilliant Florentine keyboard instrument builder Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) worked for the final generation of the Medici, that tumultuous Tuscan ruling family. The security of a good workshop, access to select materials, and a protected existence allowed him a rare degree of freedom. We know little of his first harpsichords-with-hammers, but three 1720s pianos, each configured somewhat differently, exist in New York, Rome, and Leipzig. Exact modern copies by builder Kerstin Schwarz stand next to two of them.

Many Crisotoforis were or are agreed to have been exported to Würzburg, London, Dresden, and other mainland European centers. When Domenico Scarlatti left Naples for the Lisbon court, his interest in the new cembalo col pian’ e forte led to the importation of many Florentine pianos to Portugal. Sparked by his and his royal employer’s move to Madrid, a rich heyday of the new piano and its older plucked sibling ignited waves of new music in Iberia. Iberian instrument makers soon copied Cristofori’s elegant Florentine design, some with excellent innovations. A precious few of these early Iberian pianos survive.

Kerstin Schwarz completed this Cristofori replica early in the pandemic. Her effective championship of the instrument enabled musicians across Western Europe to play, record with, and rehearse on “the Red Cristofori” throughout those difficult years. Before flying to the US this month, the piano returned to where it was built, where its generous playing-in by many talented hands enabled Kerstin to bring it to its present high state of regulation and tone production.

When Cristofori’s invention joined the ranks of wire-strung keyboard instruments, all were in the cembalo family. They were simply harpsichords. The distinct term piano” was slow to evolve. Not until the end of the 18th century (in most cultural centers) or even in the first decades of the 19th (in musically conservative lands) did players begin to refer exclusively to the pianoforte or fortepiano. Eventually, it simply became the piano.

At 2 pm, builder Kerstin Schwarz will discuss Bartolomeo Cristofori and his invention of the piano. At 2:10 pm, Belgorov preside at the keyboard  with compositions plausibly heard on such an instrument in Leipzig and London: Bach Partita No. 6 in e, BWV 830; WTC II, P & F in e, BWV 879; Handel “Great Suite” in e, HWV 429.

Veteran recording engineer and early keyboard specialist Christopher Greenleaf has recorded Music from the Frederick Collection since the mid-90s. He curates and broadcasts his own series, Music Matters, at the La Grua Center, Stonington, CT.


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  1. Some of us have long referred to First Lutheran’s wonderful, day-long celebration of Bach and colleagues as the “Boston Back Bay Bach Birthday Bash”. BBBBBB or BBB, it’s a potent testimony to the church’s decades of commitment to bringing heartfelt performances to the city. The “free, with a suggested donation” designation appeals to enough generous souls that a stream of support continues to make each year possible.

    A Cristofori piano almost certainly spent time in Dresden, where organ and harpsichord builder Gottfried Silbermann no doubt spent extended time with it. Bach’s summary dismissal of Silbermann’s first attempt – assuming the sources get that right – resulted in a much-refined Mark II, of which Leipzig Thomaskantor JSB, in fact, thoroughly approved. So wholly did he embrace the brand-new German Baroque piano that, on his death, his estate included two of them. He and CPE succeeded in getting Friedrich II – “the Great” – to acquire a number of them for Charlottenburg, Sans Souci, and elsewhere around Berlin. This, then, was the piano Bach knew, and knew well.

    Given new evidence, it is credibly surmised that one or more Silbermann pianos made up the forces with which JSB premiered his multi-keyboard concerti at Zimmermann’s coffee house. O, to have been a fly on THAT blessed wall!

    Comment by Christopher Greenleaf — March 24, 2023 at 7:48 am

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