Harpsichord Concerto

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for harpsichord and string quartet
Commissioned by the Fromm Foundation at Harvard
Premiere: Merkin Hall by Bradley Brookshire and the Corigliano String Quartet – November 2003
Duration: 15 minutes

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Harpsichord Concerto is a three movement work written for harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire and premiered by him with the Corigliano String Quartet at Merkin Hall in 2003. The underlying thrust in this work was to take the height of idiomatic writing for harpsichord into a modern-day expression through the transformation of antiquated stylistic mannerisms.

The first movement, Preamble, was fashioned after J.S. Bach’s motor-rhythmic Prelude in C Minor (Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I). The harpsichord part deploys the continuous sixteenth-note pattern of the C-minor Prelude while the string parts enter with sustained notes that support the harmony of the harpsichord part. As the harpsichord part shifts harmonically, the string parts lag behind and the harmonic fields between the two parts fall out of alignment, creating wildly different sonorities. The rest of the movement is structured on this principle of the two parts being in and out of phase.

The second movement uses French style ornamentation ala Couperin as its point of departure. The ornate trills and other decorations of the harpsichord part serve as the main material for the quartet, creating an impressionistic texture full of filigree and color. In this movement I sought to create a distance between the harpsichord and the string quartet, treating the harpsichord as a voice of mourning or longing and the quartet as a voice from the beyond.

The last, and longest, movement adopts the Baroque tradition of ending with an upbeat dance and draws inspiration from the colliding consonances that are so characteristic of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard writing. The opening dance theme is a ritornello that returns several times over the course of the movement. Fragments of this theme are developed in the intervening sections, which create striking contrasts with the straightforward presentations of the dance theme. In one mutation, the material gradually takes the form of a tango, which leads to the movement’s conclusion. This work was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.

Score Dimensions

Page Size: 14"x11"

Part Dimensions

Page Size: 10"x13"