The piano became the dominant keyboard instrument in Mozart’s lifetime in the late 18th century. Before that, the harpsichord had ruled. But for more than a hundred years after Mozart’s day, the harpsichord seemed as dead as the dodo, and even the great harpsichord works of Bach and other early 18th century masters were always played on the piano—that is, until Wanda Landowska came on the scene.
This indomitable woman was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1879, and single-handedly brought the harpsichord back to life. It was on today’s date in 1927 that she inaugurated an historic series of harpsichord concerts at her summer home near Paris—and, two years later, in 1929, Landowska premiered the “Concert champêtre,” by Francis Poulenc, a brand new harpsichord concerto written specially for her.
Very much in the spirit of Wanda Landowska, the contemporary composer and performer Barbara Harbach is in the vanguard of today’s advocates for the harpsichord.
A passionate advocate for new music, she has recorded several compact discs of “20th Century Harpsichord Music” for the Gasparo label, featuring works by American composers from Samuel Adler to Ellen Taafe Zwillich.
J. S. Bach (1685-1750) – Little Prelude in C, S. 934 (Wanda Landowska, harpsichord) Pearl 9489
Barbara Harbach (b. 1946) – Cante Flamenco, from Tres Danzas para Clavecin (Barbara Harbach, harpsichord) Gasparo 290