Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gustav Leonhardt (1928-2012), the J.S. Bach of Straub and Huillet

Gustav Leonhardt, the great man of Renaissance, Baroque and Classical music, is dead. He is film-relevant because of his central role in Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (1968), the labour of love of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. The movie is a spiritual biography of Johann Sebastian Bach based on material aesthetics, the materials being the music, the instruments, the documents, the places and the buildings in the life of the J.S. Bach family. The bewigged Gustav Leonhardt "plays" Bach without any representational psychological approach. But he does really play the instruments in this remarkable movie which has practically "musique non stop" on the soundtrack, and his interpretations are the ones that we hear. They are one man's interpretations among many, but they are compelling ones.

Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach belongs to the highest plateau of cinematic biographies of artists. It belongs to the company of Alain Resnais's Van Gogh where we stay exclusively within the frames of his paintings and follow his spiritual journey via them only.

From the English Wikipedia: "Gustav Leonhardt (30 May 1928, 's-Graveland – 16 January 2012, Amsterdam) was a highly renowned Dutch keyboard player, conductor, musicologist, teacher and editor. Leonhardt was a leading figure in the movement to perform music on period instruments. He played professionally the harpsichord, pipe organ, claviorganum (a combination of harpsichord and organ), clavichord and fortepiano, and conducted orchestras and choruses."

"Leonhardt performed and conducted a variety of solo, chamber, orchestral, operatic, and choral music from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods. Among the dozens of composers whose music he recorded as a harpsichordist, organist, clavichordist, fortepianist, chamber musician or conductor were Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Heinrich Biber, John Blow, Georg Böhm, William Byrd, André Campra, Francois Couperin, Louis Couperin, John Dowland, Jacques Duphly, Antoine Forqueray, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Johann Jakob Froberger, Orlando Gibbons, André Grétry, George Frideric Handel, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Georg Muffat, Johann Pachelbel, Henry Purcell, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Christian Ritter, Johann Rosenmuller, Domenico Scarlatti, Agostino Steffani, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Georg Philipp Telemann, Manuel Valls, Antonio Vivaldi, and Matthias Weckmann."

"Central to Leonhardt's career was Johann Sebastian Bach. Leonhardt first recorded music of the composer in the early 1950s, with recordings in 1953 of the Goldberg Variations and Art of Fugue. The latter embodies the thesis he had published the previous year arguing that the work was intended for the keyboard, a conclusion now widely accepted. The recordings helped establish his reputation as a distinguished harpsichordist and Bach interpreter. In 1954 he led the Leonhardt Baroque Ensemble with the English counter-tenor Alfred Deller in a pioneering recording of two Bach cantatas."

"In 1971, Leonhardt and Harnoncourt undertook the project of recording the first complete cycle of Bach's cantatas on period instruments; the two conductors divided up the cantatas and recorded their assigned cantatas with their own ensembles. The undertaking took almost twenty years, from 1971 to 1990. Leonhardt also recorded Bach's St Matthew Passion, Mass in B minor, Magnificat, and complete secular cantatas, as well as the harpsichord concertos and Brandenburg Concertos, and most of his chamber and keyboard music; he recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations (three times), Partitas (twice), The Art of Fugue twice, The Well-Tempered Clavier, French Suites, English Suites (twice), Inventions and Sinfonias, and many individual works for harpsichord, clavichord, and organ. Further, Leonhardt appeared bewigged in the role of J. S. Bach in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, the 1968 film by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet."

"Leonhardt had a significant influence on the technique and style of many harpsichordists of the second half of the 20th century, through his recordings, editions, and teaching."

I noticed the news about Gustav Leonhardt's passing in The Economist (28 Jan - 3 Feb, 2012) whose remarkable obituary is unsigned.

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