Bach and the Pedal Clavichord

Bach and the Pedal Clavichord

An Organist's Guide

Joel Speerstra


University of Rochester Press



An examination of the role of the pedal clavichord in understanding the work of J. S. Bach, as well as its relevance to contemporary organ performances.
Friederich Griepenkerl, in his 1844 introduction to Volume 1 of the first complete edition of J. S. Bach's organ works, wrote: "Actually the six Sonatas and the Passacaglia were written for a clavichord with two manuals and pedal, an instrument that, in those days, every beginning organist possessed, which they used beforehand, to practice playing with hands and feet in order to make effective use of them at the organ. It would be a good thing to let such instruments be made again, because actually no one who wants to study to be an organist can really do without one."
What was the role of the pedal clavichord in music history? Was it a cheap practice instrument for organists or was Griepenkerl right? Was it a teaching tool that helped contribute to the quality of organ playing in its golden age? Most twentieth-century commentary on the pedal clavichord as an historical phenomenon was written in a kind of vacuum, since there were no playable historical models with which to experiment and from which to make an informed judgment.
At the heart of Bach and the Pedal Clavichord: An Organist's Guide are some extraordinary recent experiments from the Göteborg Organ Art Center [GOArt] at Göteborg University. The Johan David Gerstenberg pedal clavichord from 1766, now in the Leipzig University museum, was documented and reconstructed; the new copy was then used for several years as a living instrument for organ students and teachers to experience. On the basis of these experiments and experiences, the book explores, in new and artful ways, Bach's keyboard technique, a technique preserved by his first biographer, J. N. Forkel [1802], and by Forkel's own student, Griepenkerl.

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February 2004
10 black and white illustrations
224 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580461351
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS050000
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Table of Contents

The Historical Pedal Clavichord
J.S. Bach's Trip Sonatas: A Reception History of a Rumor
Reconstructing the Gerstenberg Pedal Clavichord
J.S. Bach and the Clavichord: A Reception History of a Technique
Performance Practice at the Pedal Clavichord
Musica Poetica and Figural Notation
J.S. Bach's Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582: A Case Study
The Pedal Clavichord and the Organ in Dialogue


This is an extremely important study which brings together valuable musicological research and practical experimentation in a unique way -- every organist should read it! CHOIR & ORGAN, September 2004

Synthesizing a wealth of historical documentation along with the results of new, experimental studies, Speerstra [Eastman School of Music] has written a thorough analysis of the musicological and performance issues that surround the ambigious history and usage of the pedal clavichord. Despite its subtitle, this book should prove valuable for a broad audience not limited to organists; it speaks to all keyboardists interested in expanding their interpretation of Baroque literature. Highly recommended. CHOICE

Joel Speerstra's work presents a fascinating paradigm for the study of J.S. Bach's organ music that leads performance practice research in a new direction . . . [Speerstra] lays a path for a living performance practice that promotes an integral relationship between the organ and the pedal clavichord. NOTES, March 2005

There is much of brilliance in this book. EARLY MUSIC, January 2005

Joel Speerstra's book is a wide-ranging study of the pedal clavichord's role in the interpretation of Bach's organ music. Whether one accepts the author's premise or not, organists and clavichordists without access to such a rare instrument may discover new insights into baroque performance practice that can be applied to more readily available instruments. EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY MUSIC, 2005 [Stewart Pollens] Original and brilliant study . . . Anyone interested in keyboard instruments of any kind will find in it a great fund of information and insight into matters of general musical interest, especially the performance of Bach's music. EARLY MUSIC TODAY

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