Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Keyboard artist and researcher Jochewed Schwarz talks about early keyboard instruments and what we know and don't know about historic performance

Photo: Lauren Pressler
In June and July of 2020, Jochewed Schwarz and I met at her home in Kfar Saba, Israel. Ms. Schwarz talked of her life as a musician, about her career and her approach to early music. The Israeli-born harpsichordist and early keyboard artist is a graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music (now the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music) Tel Aviv, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensas (Switzerland) and the Faculty of Law, Bar-Ilan University. Jochewed Schwarz is active as an international soloist and chamber musician in leading concert series, has recorded for Israeli radio and for the Meridian and Toccata Classics labels and has taught at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music. She is often invited as guest lecturer in different countries and was granted the 2011 Israeli Artist Residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. For six years, she served as director of the Felicja Blumental Music Center and Library, Tel Aviv.

 PH: Jochewed Schwarz, you have studied piano, performance on early keyboard instruments, historical keyboard construction, keyboard instrument maintenance...and Law. How does one combine all of these disciplines in one career?

JS: Well, it's a rather long story…
I had and still have a great passion for music. As a child I played the piano and eventually studied piano at the Tel Aviv Music Academy with Edith Kraus before my military service (in the "academic reserve" unit). As a student, I would get to the Academy early in the morning to look for a practice room. In those days, the building was much smaller than today. I arrived there one day to find that all the piano practice rooms had already been taken. There was only one room free and that was a room with a harpsichord. I had never "met" or played a harpsichord before; So, I took its cover off, opened it, started playing it and really forgot myself - I liked the sound very much. And that’s how it all started. I looked for someone to teach me. There was hardly a harpsichord class at the Music Academy. Boris Berman played harpsichord; a few people were studying with him, so I became a student of his, graduating from the Academy in both piano and harpsichord.
After two years of military service I continued my studies at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis Switzerland, a school and research centre for Historic Performance Practice. I focused on harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano.  
Following my return from Basel, intent on performing and developing my career, I realized how difficult it would be to manage financially. While maintaining my musical career, I decided to return to the university to study Law. That was also very interesting.
Since completing law school some twenty years ago, I have been dividing my time between the two careers, but not always equally. There have been years when I engaged more in the legal profession, but then less so over the last decade, when I engaged in much more musical activity. But studying law had its advantages: I had acquired another discipline, seeing life from a new angle, as well as achieving financial independence.

PH: So where do the studies in construction and maintenance of historic instruments come in?

JS: This also happened for practical reasons. Returning from Basel, I brought back a harpsichord, a French model - Blanchet (c.1730) - from the William Dowd workshop in Paris. In those days, it was not easy to find technicians in Israel for harpsichord upkeep, so I decided it would be best if I myself looked after its “needs". I was able to carry out the simpler tasks, such as changing strings and plectra. But, with the Israeli climate very different to that of Europe, in particular the high humidity here, other problems arose and, in order to address them, I felt I would need to have more technical know-how. In addition, I was curious to familiarize myself with the harpsichord action in more depth. Unlike the piano, there are many styles and types of harpsichord with which I felt I needed to become acquainted.
So, some years after returning to Israel, I went off again, this time to do an apprenticeship for two months at Reinhard von Nagel’s early keyboard studio in Paris. There, I gained some knowledge on solving more complex problems than just changing strings and plectra. Today, I could not claim to be an expert technician and would not take on the responsibility of working on other people’s instruments, but I do have an understanding of the action, the soundboard and what one can do to maintain an instrument. I now have several keyboard instruments, which is wonderful, but all of them need some work from time to time, and it's great to be able to "do it yourself".

PH: Are you from a musical family?

JS: No. Not at all. My parents were both child Holocaust survivors, were not able to complete even their basic education and immigrated to Israel as young adults. At home, we would sing – both my parents sang well and loved listening to music. They did give my brother and me whatever they could, including a good, solid music education, the ability to dream and the determination to make a dream come true. With me, music became my big love. My brother plays the recorder quite well but engages in music only as a hobby.

PH: Who has influenced you in the world of early music performance?

JS: It really is hard to say. First and foremost, I owe a lot to my teachers, especially to Boris Berman, my first harpsichord teacher at the Rubin Music Academy. Of the many things he taught me was the importance of getting to know early repertoire.
When studying in Basel, I was greatly influenced by my teacher there, Rolf Junghanns. He had been a student of pianist, harpsichordist, conductor and musicologist Fritz Neumeyer, who, in turn, had been a student and colleague of Curt Sachs, musicologist and music ethnologist as well as the founder of modern organology (the study of music instruments). Junghanns was very thorough: he addressed touch and technique as well as theory-based interpretation. But, the emphasis of this school of thought was on two aspects of music-: being familiar with the many early instruments and getting to know as wide a variety of repertoire as possible. Junghanns himself owned a large collection of keyboard instruments, located, at the time, in a health resort close to Freiburg im Breisgau – Bad Krozingen, Germany. This fantastic, playable collection, the many concerts that were given there (which I could always attend) and Rolf’s vast knowledge have equipped me with a very special perspective.
Different in approach to other people of that time, he understood and emphasized (apart from technique and the repertoire) the great importance of knowing from what background a work had come. He taught me to dare and look for the unfamiliar, to be very cautious of convention when playing, to take careful note as to who had written the piece, what his style was, at what time it was composed, for what purpose, what instrument the composer had (or might have had) at his disposal, what else he had written in the same genre...in short, to put together a profile via a larger view of the repertoire.  To some extent, Rolf Junghanns and Boris Berman shared similar characteristics in their artistic approach. For both, what was important was to be curious about everything, to read essays and treatises and peruse all possible information. This school devoted a lot of time to the study of background information and not only to performance. 
Regarding other harpsichordists who have had an influence on me, this would be a very long list. I love listening to other players; there are so many inspiring musicians I have been lucky to listen to their playing live and to so many recordings… I could, however, mention some of the players hosted by the Schola Cantorum at the time I was there for masterclasses.
One was the Belgian musician Jos Van Immerseel, who also possessed a large collection of instruments; he, himself, is better known today as a fortepianist and conductor. Gustav Leonhardt visited the Schola annually, often teaching 17th-century repertoire; the way he presented a subject and the examples he brought to his lessons have left a lasting impression on me. Anthony Woolley dealt with the lute song in his eye- or rather ear-opening masterclasses. Of the faculty members there in whose classes I participated was Johann Sonnleitner; he always made connections between texts and music and he had a wonderful sense of humour.  I made a point of attending Jordi Savall’s lessons; they were informative and innovative...very interesting.
As to harpsichord recordings, my first strong impression was of Wanda Landowska's recording, of Bach's fifteen Inventions with the Concerto d minor. I didn't like the Pleyel harpsichord sound but hers was a very charismatic performance. There are so many fantastic harpsichordists! Mentioning only a few does injustice to a great many wonderful musicians, but I simply cannot mention all.
However, maybe Violet Gordon–Woodhouse, another pioneer of early keyboard instrument playing; Igor Kipnis, Kenneth Gilbert, Scott Ross, Davitt Moroney, Bob van Asperen, Ottavio Dantone, Pierre Hantai, Olivier Baumont… and I take pleasure in the “harpsichord personality” of each and every one of them. Those I listen to most scrupulously are the players who have made connections between musicological research and performance; that is very characteristic of Moroney’s approach, for example.
But it is not just harpsichordists. I absolutely love vocal music of all times, enjoy 19th-century symphonies and, of course, always have a place in my heart for chamber music…
PH: Where do you stand vis-à-vis the authentic early music performance movement?

JS: I am not sure one can reach any decisive point of authenticity in performance, but I do think and believe that, as far as possible, it is worth aspiring to understand in which musical world a composer existed in order to hold a dialogue with a work of his in the way that would be closest to what he might have imagined or wished to hear, the sound of instruments or media at his disposal and to his ideas and musical language. A work of art, including a musical composition, has a context which I feel must be respected, in the case of music this being sound, melody and harmony, tempo, rhythm and much more. Of course, one can only aspire to knowing all there is to know, without reaching any decisive point, and there will certainly be my own personal understanding, preference, musical ideas which I bring to my interpretation.  
I remember a concert I heard many years ago played by an early music ensemble at the Tzavta Hall in Tel Aviv - one of the more modern halls, its construction consisting of much concrete. One of the players introduced the concert program saying: “This Is what it would have sounded like in Mozart’s time”. Such a presentation was needed then in order to make a point, to show differences and explain artistic decisions taken. Today, of course, we would not be making this kind of error. With time, I think we have come to realize that we will never have the possibility of knowing exactly how music sounded in any specific time and place. And it's not only the inability to know things "for sure". When you read a book, it is not just the book’s text that is involved in your reading: you bring your own personality and life experience to the way you understand it; a meeting point is created…this is inevitable.
Preparing a composition for performance is a long process which anyway may produce various results. In playing a work, I don’t think I have ever performed it twice in exactly the same way, in any “authentic” manner; and I cautiously suggest that the ideal performance of a composer's work does not exist as the "one and only" possibility. A performance also depends on the acoustics of the music room or hall, on the instrument being played and on the audience present at any specific performance. And I would rather think of “historic” performance according to my philosophy, if I may say - “historically informed performance” is what I would prefer to call it, rather than “authentic”. 

PH: Do you play chamber music?

JS: Yes. A lot of it and with great joy. I love playing music with other people and have played a great deal of chamber music. This was my major focus all through the years before I took on directing the Felicja Blumental Music Centre and Library. The job there meant my having to limit my chamber music playing due to time constraints and to do more solo playing.
At home, I have been running a series called “Concert & Coffee”. Till now, the events have taken place twice or three times a year, but next season, if possible, I plan increasing the number of house concerts to as many as possible. Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to perform in Israel because of the high cost of moving the harpsichord to various venues.
Overseas, I am able to perform in venues that have historic instruments in place, which makes it easier.  But I am looking forward to returning to the long-established tradition of salon concerts. 

PH: Would you like to talk about your partnership with harpsichordist Emer Buckley?

JS: Yes, of course. Emer and I have much in common, in that we both come from small countries in which, at the time we were both students, the tradition of early music performance was very sparse. Emer is Irish. She studied in Dublin and in Italy and then in France, where she studied with Kenneth Gilbert. We were both very enthusiastic about playing the harpsichord, having encountered the instrument at our academies of music.
We have been close friends for decades. We met at our harpsichord maker's workshop - Atelier Reinhard von Nagel. During 2011, when I had a six-month artist residency at the Cité internationale des arts (Paris), we met often and decided to use the time for playing together. From the moment we started playing together, we have found so much enjoyment in it we cannot stop! Our work together is rewarding: we hardly speak, taking up ideas from each other as we play. Either I go to Paris or she comes to Israel and we engage in long playing sessions, but not before each has worked through the material alone. We both carry out much research.
Repertoire for two harpsichords that is in print or even written out is limited. But there are many different verbal descriptions from various sources and suggestions here and there for the practice of playing musical compositions written for other instruments – on two harpsichords or two keyboards. We do not only play existing scores but are constantly trying out all sorts of works, arranging music, looking for- and thinking about musical possibilities. This is very enjoyable.

PH: Some years back, you ran the “Sounds and Words” series.

JS: Yes. This was a concert series I initiated and in which I was involved with for nearly twenty years. At first it was called “Sounds and Colours” and was a collaboration with flautist Erella Talmi (the concerts were held in various art galleries; we looked for connections between the plastic arts and musical repertoire). Later, with traverso player Geneviève Blanchard, the series became called "Sounds and Words from the Baroque", our approach emphasizing historical performance practice. The focus was a question we asked ourselves: what had taken place in a certain year, or in a specific genre, what was happening with a certain vocal colour or timbre and so on. 

PH: You are about to complete a six-year tenure, in which you have directed the Felicja Blumental Music Center and Library.

JS: Yes. The Music Center houses a large library - a public music library. The former A.M.L.I Central Music Library, it is the largest and only one of its kind in Israel. It was established almost 70 years ago. The library comprises very interesting archives and there is a musical instrument collection, mostly of folk instruments, built up from many contributions and preserved there. The centre provides music information for all music lovers: teachers, students, musicians, amateurs, journalists, researchers and whoever else is interested. The archives offer a service to the academic world, to people engaging in communications - films, television programs, to people conducting research and writing books, newspaper articles both in Israel and overseas. It even serves to help people carrying out genealogical research. We have had more than one instance of people looking for family roots and who, through us, have ended up discovering previously unknown details or even unknown skills of family members.
The musical instrument collection has great value in that it can widen musicians’ perspectives on sound possibilities. It is important for us, musicians from one field of expertise, namely "art music", to get to know other fields. For example, kamenche player Mark Eliahu can be heard in the television spy series “Teheran”, for which he has written the soundtrack. An outstanding artist, he plays on instruments unfamiliar to westerners. Visiting the FBMC’s instrument collection can acquaint the public with this and other wonderful instruments.
The library also offers opportunities to the general public to get to know other disciplines - music therapy, music via the computer, film music, etc.
Throughout my six years there, I have made huge efforts to expand the collections, to present some of them on open shelves in order to make browsing possible; also, to gain new patrons and make the library appealing to children. For example, we have collected and added many children’s books about music as well as educational musical instruments, in order to enable parents to present the world of music to children in an attractive way. For adults, we have also built up a collection of novels that have some connection to music; there are many such books by writers like Natan Shaham, Vikram Seth, Batya Gur and Uri Adelman, to mention just a few, these ranging from high-quality literature to some fine detective novels, all with some element of music, bringing people closer to music. For those interested in playing music we have built up a modest collection of instruments - guitars, pianos and more, which can be used there, subject to availability. The library has sheet music, informative books and a huge collection of discs and records. It has something for everyone. 

PH: Now that you are leaving your position as the director of the Felicja Blumental Music Center, what is on the agenda?

JS: I will be devoting more time to playing music, discovering it again in all its fascinating aspects, and I hope to be teaching again. I have also begun PhD studies at Haifa University and am enjoying that very much!

PH: What music is occupying you at the moment?

JS: What I can say with confidence is that there is no day without Bach. This has to be. Either I play through some Bach works or work on a specific piece. At the moment, I am also working on Couperin’s Book 4; it is so different from his other collections…I find keyboard music of the second half of the 18th century, bridging the harpsichord and the fortepiano very interesting and my plans include covering works of all Bach’s composer sons. I am interested in understanding more closely the years from Bach’s sons to Mozart and Haydn, a subject on which I have focused less in recent years. 

PH: What about the local concert scene?

JS: I usually attend concerts when abroad; that's time for myself.  At home, always busy, I lack the time and, quite often, the peace of mind...  I love listening to non-classical music of many styles and, over the years, have attended many performances of popular music; but, in recent years, the sound volume in these performances has increased to a degree at which I find impossible to take. This is a pity, because a live performance is so much more interesting than a recording.
PH: What instruments do you have?

JS: All my plucked instruments were made by Reinhard von Nagel at his Paris workshop. I really fell in love with his work when I was a student at the Schola Cantorum and am still very happy with my harpsichords. He is a very good maker, aware of the gap between old instruments and newly "rebuilt" instruments. Just as an example, years ago, Reinhard and his team beautifully restored a 1765 Blanchet harpsichord. They even made the original leather from 1765 fully usable again using marmot fat. (Today, the instrument is in the Mamamatsu Museum, Japan).
My Reinhard von Nagel “continuo” harpsichord is quite a small, light instrument. Its external dimensions are according to the Couchet harpsichord of 1679, but expanded; it has 56 keys instead of the 49 keys of the original instrument. The compass is GG-d3 (56 keys, plus transposition) - the 1679 Couchet has a compass of C-c3 (49 keys without transposition). The compass of the old instrument lacked the short octave but had its C-c3 of 49 keys - chromatic. "This is the range that J. S. Bach, two generations later, uses for Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Jan Couchet was ahead of his time" says Reinhard von Nagel. The construction is interpreted freely; the instrument could not be considered a replica.
My double-manual William Dowd harpsichord is based on an instrument by Nicolas & François Blanchet, Paris 1730. At that time, François was an experienced builder at 30 years of age and head of the workshop, while Nicolas, his father, was close to death. The Blanchets were a dynasty of keyboard instrument makers. Their harpsichords were based on models of the Flemish Ruckers family, but they enlarged and improved their harpsichords to suit the new French style and taste. The compass of the original old instrument was FF-e3. My instrument has the very popular compass of FF-f3 + transposition, tuned on 392/415 Hz (it was originally tuned to 415 - 440, but I have tuned it down to 392, to early 18th century French pitch – and 415 - because I play a lot of French music and it really sounds well that way). It is about 24 mm wider than the older instrument, therefore, claims Reinhard von Nagel, not a replica. The construction is also an interpretation. In the choice of materials, von Nagel has tried to stay very close to the original instrument, but he has also used creative freedom there.
My single-manual harpsichord is a completely "free creation", even less of a copy, but clearly of the French school. 
Another instrument in my collection is an Anthony Sidey clavichord (built from a kit by Heugel Keyboard Instruments). It's an instrument with two independent strings for each key - a "bundfrei" clavichord. Compass -   C to d3. Anthony Sidey, a Parisian harpsichordist, learned his craft with Arnold Dolmetsch in England. He studied clavichords of various epochs and has restored a whole range of these instruments from private collections and from the Musée Instrumental du Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. This "historic" instrument has also been designed after these instruments.  
And finally, a square piano, a Broderip and Wilkinson from 1798, London. It's compass is FF - c4, five and a half octaves. Francis Broderip made use of three features under patent rights he was able to purchase from their inventor, William Southwell: a type of damper which was attached directly to the back of the key lever; additional notes in the treble for which the hammers could appear through an opening at the far side of the soundboard and fretwork apertures backed with silk on both sides of the keyboard to help the sound present itself with fullness. The instrument was restored by square piano restoration expert Michael Cole, Cheltenham, UK; it has a very rich sound and a soft touch.

PH: Do you edit music?

JS: Not as yet, but I have a manuscript sitting here that has never been published and on which I am trying to work. It is still in its very early stages…
PH: Do you write about music?

JS: Yes. About music and the people around it... Before taking on the job at the Felicja Blumental Center, I was writing quite intensively on my blog - “Keys and Strings”. I then started another blog called “A Musical Moment”, which covered the work we were doing at the Felicja Blumental Music Center. Some of this material was presented by me in recent years in lecture series for music lovers and the general public. Although I very much like writing, I do need a lot of time for it. I hope to be able to continue it….

PH: Do you write music?

JS: No, apart from noting down my own interpretations of certain embellishments here and there, I have never tried composing. Writing music is such a specific and complex skill

PH: When it is not music, what interests you?

JS: Mostly spending time with family and close friends. My favourite hobby is baking cakes and bread. I find it relaxing. I also enjoy reading, cinema and… walking the dog. 

PH: Jochewed Schwarz, talking to you has been most interesting. Many thanks for your time.  

No comments:

Post a Comment