Biography

Friedrich Gulda’s interest in the clavichord can be traced back to the early 1970s. He first became acquainted with Paul and Limpe Fuchs and their ensemble Anima-Sound at his festival in Ossiach in 1971. The Fuchs duo made totally new sounds on home-built instruments and thus immediately captivated Gulda, who was always keen to broaden his sonic spectrum. His instrumental arsenal, already comprising the piano, electric piano and recorders, was supplemented by the clavichord, which, at this early stage, Gulda amplified by hanging microphones above the sound holes. The "Anima years" had a lasting influence on Gulda"s outlook and are well documented by recordings.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the clavichord evolved from the Greek monochord, an instrument that consisted of a soundboard above which a string was stretched and divided into the desired lengths by means of a moveable bridge. A more developed form was the polychord, which was fitted with several strings to allow for the simultaneous production of more than one note. The addition of keys to the instrument heralded the birth of the clavichord. At the far end of the key, a metal blade called a tangent would strike the string and make it vibrate. While holding down the key, the player can adjust the sound by means of a vibrato technique known as Bebung. On a fretted clavichord, a string is struck at various points by two or three keys, with different lengths of string giving off different notes. As a result, the instrument needs fewer strings than keys and can thus be accommodated in a small case.

His incredibly vivid piano-playing style was intensified all the more by his fastidiously refined touch on the clavichord. The two disciplines thus had a wonderfully stimulating effect on one another. Since the clavichord has no pedal, the player has to use sophisticated fingerings to link notes together in a smooth, flowing delivery. When applied on the piano, such fingerings ensure that the pedal is used only as a means of adding colour and not as a way of concealing poor technique.

In the summer of 1973, as part of his Viktring music forum, Gulda played each and every piece of Bach’s Wohltemperiertes Clavier on the piano and clavichord in turn. An introductory recital on the first evening, which saw Gulda present a kind of medley of the upcoming programme, was followed on the second day by a concert devoted to Bach’s clavichord works, featuring selected preludes and fugues from Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, the Sarabande from the third English Suite and the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue.

Gulda’s sell-out concert at the Regensburg Reichssaal was reviewed in the Mittelbayerische Zeitung on June 20, 1979: "Gulda initially played various numbers from the second volume of Das Wohltemperierte Clavier, crowned in the second half by the great work in E flat minor, in which he held together the augmentations of the fugue with a vividness that suggests no-one but Gulda. The Italian Concerto was memorable; the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue sensational! Freely improvised arpeggios, runs, trills and other Baroque mannerisms were gradually converted into a jazz idiom. Bach's music already had a swing to it simply because hardly any account is ever rhythmically spot-on. Now Gulda really was playing swing. He had previously performed a gavotte of his own that evolved from a “virtuous” Baroque piece into jazzy pyrotechnics. Everything sounded so natural and musically correct. Think how many jazzmen are needed in a combo or big band to play such a piece. He does it alone because he is a true musician."

In February 1980, Gulda devoted a concert at the Brucknerhaus in Linz to Bach’s clavichord works. Gerhard Ritschel commented at the end of his review in the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten: "Anyone aspiring to bring Bach alive again will have to look back to Gulda's Bach and measure up to this benchmark. At the end, everyone acclaimed Gulda as an idol and kept wanting to hear more".

When giving his three concerts in Vienna in October 1978 (the recordings were released by MPS as "Message from G."), Gulda used both the Widmayer and the Neupert clavichord not just for Bach but also as a means of adding significant colour to his settings of poems from Goethe's anthology "Westöstlicher Divan", thus giving the clavichord a whole new dimension. Upon finishing one of his morning recitals of Bach meditations on the clavichord, during which he spent almost two hours wandering through this incredible cosmos of music, he quietly said: "Pity! I’m back."

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