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Exploring Music: Wonderful Playing --Trevor Pinnock

The MHS Review 394 Vol. 11 No. 16, 1987

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David M. Greene


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For those of you who came in late, a couple of introductions are in order. First, Trevor Pinnock: Mr. Pinnock is the current darling, both as keyboard player and as director of the English Concert, of the oldie-but-authentickie fans. He plays, to my ears, wonderfully well, and there is no question that the instruments heard on this record, despite admittedly extensive modern restoration, are about as authentic as you can get. (For the statisticians, Pinnock was born 41 years ago, and began his musical career as a boy soprano at Canterbury Cathedral.)

I am inclined to think of the Victoria and Albert as the British Equivalent to the Smithsonian. The latter contains a less heterogeneous clutter than it first appears to, it being actually dedicated to Art--in a very broad sense. The idea for a complex of museums in the South Kensington section of London originated with Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert (of Saxe-Coburg- Gotha; the Prince Albert of the frock coat and the pipe tobacco was his son, better known as King Edward VII).

The first step was taken in 1852, when a building was begun with proceeds from the Crystal Palace Exhibition of the year previous, to house artifacts from that exalted trade fair and from the national school of design (in the hope of instilling some taste in the average Englishman). Popularly known as the South Kensington Museum, it got its present name in 1899, at the old Queen's behest, when the current building started going up.

My most vivid recollection is of its stunning collection of antique musical instruments, beautifully displayed under soft lights. (The more portable in-struments are mounted in vast sliding panels which the viewer pulls out at his wish.) The keyboards, of course, may not be played, and I seem to remember that they are not even strung because of their delicacy, but one can hear them on tapes played at a discreet level. On this recording Pinnock plays three of them (exceptions are made for such occasions), the most interesting being Queen Elizabeth's virginals.

Such instruments in their days were often referred to as "a pair of virginals," though no one is now sure why. A virginal was a small instrument of the harpsichord family which, lacking legs and pedals, for playing was set on a table. This one, which turned up around 1750, almost certainly belonged to the Virgin Queen, since it bears the royal coat of arms and the personal crests of Elizabeth and her mother, Anne Boleyn. But she did not lend her sobriquet to it, virginals being known long before she was born. It is generally said that the name was applied because the instrument was favored by young girls (presumed then with some reason to be virgins), though some think it comes from the Latin for the jacks or rods (virga) that activate the strings.

Pinnock also plays two later harpsichords. The Ham House example is so called because it is housed in Ham House, a branch of the V & A in a 17th-century mansion downriver near Richmond. It pretends to be a Dutch Ruckers instrument of 1634, but is really of anonymous domestic manufacture. The newest one (1776) was built by the Kirckman Brothers in London.

Lack of space precludes my sketching the composers involved. If you want to know about them, they are in Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers. Published by Doubleday. Thir-ty bucks. Run, do not walk. Etc.

Review of Trevor Pinnock Plays Works by Arne, J.C. Bach, Byrd, Croft, and Handel Pg 7

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