In January this year, Marie van Rhijn performed several movements from Stephen Dodgson’s two Suites for Clavichord as part of her ‘Time Machine’ concert at the Handel House in London. Here, she tells us about performing these works.
“On 10th January, I was delighted to perform several works by Stephen Dodgson at a recital for the British Clavichord Society and the British Harpsichord Society at the Handel and Hendrix House. I was lucky to play a beautiful clavichord by Peter Bavington.
From the first suite, I chose first the ‘Plaint’, then the ‘Tambourin’. To me, those two movements really connect to both the English and French style, firstly through their titles and what these suggest and secondly through the writing itself. The bass ostinato of the ‘Plaint’ could almost be reminiscent of the basso of a Purcell song, but with the beautiful addition of two daring intervals. It also refers to some French plaintes by Marin Marais, and we should remember that the name itself is a typical viol ornament in the French style. It may also reference the French passacaille. It moves at a steady pace – with no extra pathos – in a mournful way to a culmination ending up with a D minor arpeggio escaping into a scale and then calm again, as it began.
This suite was dedicated to Elizabeth Machonchy and was premiered by Vada Aveling in 1967. I find it really inspiring performing this music live again and again, as each performance brings a special atmosphere, depending each time of course on the instrument and the venue. As Stephen Dodgson suggests himself in his preface of the second edition in 2008, the ‘Tambourin’ for instance can be played on other keyboard instruments. I
have therefore performed it on the harpsichord (as well as clavichord). For the performer, it is fascinating to feel how the same music can suit both the clavichord and harpsichord very well, once you adapt your touch, articulation and character to the response of the mechanics of the instrument under the fingers.
To open my programme, I enjoyed starting with the elegant and brilliant ‘Overture’ from Suite No. 2 (‘poco maestoso’). With its scales and rich harmonies, I found the texture especially fascinating: its bicinium (two-part counterpoint) moments sounded as rich and full as the passagi with chords and four voices. The ‘First Fanfare’ that follows is very rhythmic and has to be quite steady, but without departing too far from the sense of a smile and happiness. The line is very clear as far as the dynamics are concerned and it feels very pleasing just to run with it. ‘A Dream’ makes me of course think of the big Virginalist School and the texture indeed is quite complex, the polyphonic lines are beautifully exposed and highlighted by the use of ornaments enriching the sound. The spreading of the chords allows the performer to make use of space, to widen the texture and to breathe (so important for keyboard players!) ‘A Fancy’ may also refer to the Virginalist era, evoking the ‘glorious past’ of the English Keyboard School. In the ‘senza fretta’ section, we move slowly but with ease to the final ‘Round Dance’. When I first practised it, it was hard for me to find the tenderness required with the mention ‘con tenerezza’ because of the energetic rhythms. But playing it, the challenge disappears the balance between the two aspects which, to me, co-exist here just comes naturally with a little listening and by slightly lingering more on some of the expressive intervals.”