Why eating vast quantities of food helps playing Handel!

Back in October our trio had a coaching session with  RNCM staff pianist and historical performance expert. We took our non-Handel trio (see previous post) and got some great tuition on general style and 18th century culture.

One of the main things Harvey mentioned was ‘playing the bass line’ ie. the harmony directs how melody is phrased. You have to think vertically as well as horizontally because harmonic patterns shape the contours of the melody. This meant Caitlin (cello) and Harvey being very aware of each other and listening to how they’re shaping the bass line or how they’re using articulation and bow stroke etc.

On a less serious note, we weren’t fully getting the right style or mood of the piece and so Harvey thought it would be useful to think about how culture worked in Handel’s lifetime (1685-1759). The inside lid of the harpsichord had a beautiful painting of gentlefolk lounging around in powdered wigs and opulent clothes. This was an age of pleasure for the upper classes and emerging middle classes, who wanted musical entertainment in their homes in the form of small chamber groups, like our own. Everything was stately, savoured and washed down with enormous amounts of food and wine. Harvey recommended we read ‘The Diary of a Country Parson 1758-1802’ by James Woodsforde to see the typical menus laid on every day, understand the comfort they experienced and the quantity they consumed.

With this in mind, our playing really did change – we settled into the piece more, were less frantic and perhaps more joyful in our approach. Just like an actor, if you’re aware of the context surrounding the text, it adds a richness and depth to your interpretation.

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