In Celebration of Ralph Kirkpatrick’s 107th Birthday

Today marks the 107th birthday of eminent harpsichordist, scholar, and early music pioneer Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984), perhaps best-known today for his interpretations and recordings of works by Baroque composers, notably J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti. In honor of the occasion, we are happy to share this short tribute written by his niece Meredith Kirkpatrick, whose two books on Ralph Kirkpatrick were published by the University of Rochester Press and met with great acclaim (details below). For this week only, we are offering a 30% discount. Remember to use promo code BB610 when ordering online. Offer ends midnight 16 June.


My research interest in the life and career of my uncle, Ralph Kirkpatrick, began in 2006 when I thought it might be a worthwhile project to publish a bibliography and discography of his publications and recordings, as well as some publications about him. I published this online through Boston University in 2007 without knowing how much interest there still might be in my uncle’s career thirty years after his death. I was gratified to see how many people from all over the world were viewing this bibliography and discography and I even received emails from as far away as Australia thanking me for doing this project and indicating that students at an Australian university were directed to look at and use the bibliography and discography in their courses.

This continuing world-wide interest in my uncle led me to visit his archives at the Yale University Music Library to see whether there might be material there that would be suitable for publication. I focused first on his correspondence and found interesting letters to and from many major musical figures as well as family letters and the University of Rochester Press published that selection of letters in 2014.

I went to the archives again in 2015 to see what other unpublished material might be worthy of publication and was amazed at how much interesting material there was, including memoirs, reflections on performance and recording, and essays and lectures on various topics. The memoirs and reflections were fascinating and written in an elegant, non-technical style that I thought would appeal to many readers. As I looked through the material, I was constantly exclaiming to myself that the anecdote or insight I had just read would surely be of interest to people other than a biased niece.

One anecdote that might surprise some readers relates to recitals of Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, and Liszt that he gave to small groups of friends in the 1960s and 70s. I have read on a number of occasions, including in a recent posting on a British music blog, that Ralph Kirkpatrick hated the piano and that he was strictly a “harpsichord-only man.” Although he was known primarily for his performances and recordings as a harpsichordist and early-music specialist he had recorded Mozart and Stravinsky on the modern piano and had a Steinway in his home in Connecticut along with a harpsichord and a clavichord. Those readers who know him only as a harpsichordist and early music specialist, however, probably could not imagine him playing Liszt on the modern piano!
I am glad that these memoirs, reflections, essays, and lectures were published by URP in 2017, and I hope that both of these books have provided additional insights into the life and career of my eminent uncle, Ralph Kirkpatrick.


Ralph Kirkpatrick

Letters of the American Harpsichordist and Scholar

by Ralph Kirkpatrick, Edited by Meredith Kirkpatrick

This collection of letters to and from the eminent harpsichordist, scholar, and early-music pioneer Ralph Kirkpatrick provides a portrait of the musician from the beginning of his career in Paris in the 1930s to its end in the early 1980s, offering new insights into his work and scholarship.

“Engrossing picture of a brilliant and passionate man working to establish a place for what he loved, against many handicaps, in a world that was barely ready. The correspondents include musical and artistic luminaries of the age, such as Nadia Boulanger, Serge Koussevitzky, Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter, [and] Thornton Wilder”. – EARLY MUSIC AMERICA

Reflections of an American Harpsichordist

Unpublished Memoirs, Essays, and Lectures of Ralph Kirkpatrick

Edited by Meredith Kirkpatrick

This collection of unpublished writings by the eminent harpsichordist and scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick contains his memoirs for the period 1933-77 as well as essays on a variety of topics, including his preparation for the first performance of Elliott Carter’s Double Concerto, thoughts on editing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and reflections on recording, chamber music, performance, and harpsichords and their transport.

“Brilliant observations that apply to all fields of music. The fascinating writing itself is so elegant and polished. . . that the reader constantly wants to turn the pages. . . . Should be of interest to all lovers of keyboard instruments and the music written for them”. – AMERICAN ORGANIST

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