Moravian History and Music Clavichord spurs discussion
A clavichord is a sturdy and proud rectangular keyboard instrument. It can produce soft and melodic sounds thanks to metal blades that are attached to the ends of key levers that gently press the strings. During a recent conference, however, the European instrument was used to help examine the relationship between musical artifacts and the musical performances of today.
This lofty intellectual pursuit was undertaken at a recital during the sixth annual Bethlehem Conference on Moravian History and Music, which uses lectures, concerts, art, music, food and drink to explain Moravian history and music in a global context. The conference, which was held from Oct. 11 through 13, focused on Moravian history from the 15th through 21st centuries in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australia.
The recital, titled “Singing at the Clavichord: interpretative aspects in repertoire from Brodremenigheten in Christiansfeld,” also featured a lecture by Christina Ekstrom and Joel Speerstra of the University of Gothenburg. It took place in the sanctuary of the College Hill Moravian Church.
The academics noted the Moravian Brethren, more than orthodox Lutherans of the late 18th century, had developed a great affinity for the clavichord and how the instrument played a role in the former denomination’s focus on personal piety. The lecture dealt, in part, with whether the aesthetics in the “Evangelische Bruder- Unitat” differ from or reflect contemporary art discourse.
“The aim of our survey is – with particular attention to emotions and emotional expressions – to investigate and problematize the encounter between musical artifacts from a historical context and musical performance in our time,” Ekstrom said.
To accomplish this, the colleagues embarked on finding “a dialogue between musical practice and reflection,” Speerstra said. To put it simply, this meant ideas were tested musically and then verbally evaluated.
They started by studying the instructions for keyboard playing and musical performance given by the German music theorist, composer and organist Daniel Gottlob Turk in a book from the late 18th century.
Ekstrom and Speerstra explained they examined two compositions from the notebooks of two women of that time period - Dorothea Catharina Nielsen and Gertraudt Christina Muller. The composers in the these notebooks from the late 18th century were unknown, Ekstrom said, but the lyrics came from a poem by Karoline von Brandstein.
Speerstra then sat at the clavichord while Ekstrom sang or recited the poetry and lyrics while sitting next to him or standing nearby.
“How should one place the singer in relation to the instrument in order to make the voice and the sounds of the instrument as a single unit?” Ekstrom asked.
After some discussion, the duo said the answer “was to have the singer sit next to the clavichordist and sing directly into the instrument.”
The educators also briefly examined other musical and intellectual concepts, such as how a phenomenon is conceptualized and described, and then how a phenomenon is perceived or experienced by the audience.
In an effort to engage the assembled audience, the duo invited many of them to sit in the sanctuary’s choir rows, as they continued to sing and play.
The three-day conference featured 17 different sessions and various lectures, concerts and receptions.