Johann Pachelbel :: Ciacona in F Minor

And so we ran into a problem...! The girls (and especially Evelien, our youngest) had asked many times lately when daddy could use their services again as beautiful page turners. The "beautiful" is not added by me, no false modesty here, although I think the girls believe honestly that their presence add to the overall human beauty of the video, a statement or conviction to which I would be the last one to object ;-).
And purely by accident, Pachelbel's famous Ciaona in F Minor jumped spontaneously from the shelve, and let it be so, again, purely by accident that page turnings of the Bärenreiter 1974 edition I use, need a page turner. Or two.
And so we started off that evening, with our Evelien as you could expect from a not yet 5 year old girl, forgetting her job immediately and forgetting the cameras at the same time. Starting to dance instead, responding in a natural way to the music. That she does often. You will see her but very rarely pass the clavichord, without unconscientiously dancing, moving, shaking her head, hands, arms, legs,in the rhythm of the music. Sofie is the same, although you would not tell if you watched her here in this video so seriously next to her daddy. She is eleven, so FULLY aware of the 'importance' of her job.
So there we stood, all three. Happy. But then daddy wanted to make a second take...things went slightly off script. More jumping, more expressiveness, more joy I'd say. All still happy, but The Neumann's didn't like the booming sounds of the jumps, but hey, they are to be neglected here. So third take. More jumps, more movements with arms and legs, dangerous at times, with one absolute high point: Evelien lifting my left arm from the keys. I should show you once that passage, it is really funny (not that I believed it was funny at the moment though 🙂 ). Unnecessary to say that it is essential for playing to keep both hands ON the keyboard. So a bit of discussion going on. Fun was over. She'd stayed at Anja's lap. Period. Once decided, ever decided. O, they say Evelien is 'exactly' her daddy (that exactly is emphasized then). Don't know what they mean by that. So we made our third take - the previous one was interrupted by demanding my left arm for dance purposes;- with Sofie only.

Next day.
"Yes, snoepeke" (that is the Flemish diminutive for candy).
"Daddy, why did you had to play more than one time?"
Daddy thinking (what a great question).
'Hmm, I...don't know, why do you ask?"
Mila -the second generation cat - distracts her and off she goes.

And so I sat at the computer, still thinking on our conversation on the one take and looking at a too wide-angled shot that showed too much of the Erard, the stairs, cables... I could move the whole view to the left, but how to fill the empty spot then?
Ah! And there you have the solution: Sofie on the left, Evelien on the right, stolen from the first take. Thank you digital age, we not always agree, but now I owe you a little girls smile :-).


Pachelbel, today, apart from some of his music, is in fact a great known-unknown to me. After playing his works again more, lately, amongst which this Ciacona, I realized that it is about time to dive somewhat more into his life and works. So, I am far from a reliable source on this, but let me give you some of my thoughts of today.
The Art of variation is connected to the great master Pachelbel was, and he was, partly because of this masterly skill he possessed, Pachelbel was a really big name in his days, more perhaps than we today think he was.
Apart from that he wrote much contrapuntal music, many fugues, and his influence on JSB is among others, very important.
Just a few facts on his life, and briefly a few worts on the connection with JSB before we dive into the ciaconna. Taken from a large article on Wikipedia (

Johann Pachelbel was born in 1653 in Nuremberg where he died in 1706.
Mattheson, in his Grundlage einer Eherenpforte of 1740 is the main source about Pachelbel's life.
He studied in Altdorf and Regensburg, where the authorities were so impressed by his talent, that he was permitted to study music outside the Gymnasium. His teacher there was Kaspar Prentz, he a student from Johann Kaspar Kerll, influenced a lot by italian composers like Carissimi.
In 1673 Pachelbel lived in Vienna, where he became assistant organist in the Stephansdom. Vienna was influenced by Italian culture, and knew great musicians, like Froberger and Muffat. He stayed there for five years.
In 1677 he became court organist in Eisenach, where he met members of the Bach family.
One year later he became organist in Erfurt, where he stayed for 12 years. Here he established his fame as leading organ composer of his time.
He then moved to Stuttgart, Gotha and finally Nuremberg again, where authorities gave him actually what would be today considered as a pension.
Further on, much information is to be found in Christoph Wolff's brilliant Bach biography:
There is a strong connection between Pachelbel with Ambrosius Bach, J.S. Bach's father. Pachelbel became godfather of his daughter Johanna Juditha and would teach Bach's older brother Christoph Bach.

The same brother to which he went after the death of his parents, and of which we have the romantic story that the young JSB was not allowed to copy the works Christoph had, among which Pachelbel, and stood up at night to do it secretly with moonlight.

So one of JSB's first teachers was his brother Christoph, who probably used teaching material he had from his time with Pachelbel.
In the Neumeister collection, where some of the oldest works of JSB are preserved, many of them probably before 1700 – he might have destroyed his first works himself – the resemblance to Pachelbel is very big.
So there is a clear connection to Bach's work, although the influence in what we today call his early work of the North German style (Buxtehude, Bohm) appears to be bigger. Bach was supposed to go South to study with Pachelbel, as his brother had done, but he choose the North to go, certainly because of the great names there, but possibly because of the larger organs as well.
Anyway, what strikes me, is the affekt of Pachelbel's chaconne. I knew the piece, played it many years ago, when I was 15 or so -there is still a tape recording of that concert...- but today, putting this in perspective of that time, it is strikingly modern to my ears. As probably can be said of music of Monteverdi, showing what a huge influence the Italians had on music in Germany until early 18th c. It has affect, emotion, almost empfindsamkeit, and that for a composer that is actually to be considered as a 17th c. One. In any way, it is far from the style we know today as the late 17th century North German style.


Visit to Joris Potvlieghe

Last week, I payed Joris Potvlieghe a visit, as I do regularly with a focus on two very interesting organ projects, the building of two replica Contius organs, one for Leuven in collaboration with Flentrop in Holland, and one for Wondelgem, which is being build entirely by himself. For the first project I'm project manager, for the second, consultant, so it's part of my job to see if the famous clavichord builder keeps track of his promises as an organ builder. All jokes apart, collaborating with Joris is always a pleasure as he combines fine craftsman ship with a good organisation, two critical aspects in today's landscape of instrument building. The organ projects are worth a video once. They are both directly related to JSBach and his sons.

Anyway, seeing three clavichords in his small workshop here -the large workshop is around the corner, and might be a topic for a follow-up video, I thought we had to show you something of all these precious instruments. You'll see two of his so called house-style Saxionian instruments, and one, in the corner on which he was working, a smaller one. That nice little instrument is a copy of an instrument built by Specken in 1743, currently in Stockholm, unfretted with a compass of C-d'''. It could be seen as a small Bach instrument, allowing the player to perform the WTC completely, but not, for instance, the big partitas.

I only had my USB microphone with me in the car and a laptop, and one camera. The microphone is the one you see me often use in the spoken videos when I'm behind my computer. Not really suited for this job, but we did play anyway. The Cianona of Pachelbel sounded wonderful on that Swedish instrument and so let me share it with you.

If you like this kind of video, let me know, and we'll make more of that.

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