Urte Lucht & Stephan Mester
Gallant Harpsichord Music, Recitation, & Dance
ETH Zurich, Semper-Aula, 2017-01-17
The first concert in 2017 in the context of “Musik an der ETH“, given in the Semper Aula of the ETH in Zurich, was a special edition. It ran under the motto “Kielflügel und Federkiel“. That’s a hardly translatable word play: “Kiel” refers to a raven’s feather quill (the shaft of a feather), originally used as plectrum to pluck the strings in a harpsichord. “Flügel” is an alternative word for a grand piano. “Kielflügel” refers to a harpsichord, with the strings running alongside the keys. That’s opposed to a spinet with diagonal strings, or a virginal, with transverse keys. Both of these also would traditionally use raven’s feather quills to pluck the strings. “Federkiel” is a raven’s feather used as a writing tool.
So, the Motto for this concert really meant to indicate a combination of harpsichord music and (spoken) words written using a quill, as typical for the times when harpsichords were originally in use. The concert featured two artists:
The German harpsichordist Urte Lucht made her studies in Zurich, with Johann Sonnleitner (*1941), in Hamburg, with Gisela Gumz, and in Basel at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, with Jesper Christensen. She further attended master classes with Gustav Leonhardt (1928 – 2012), Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929 – 2016), and Jos van Immerseel (*1945). Urte Lucht is playing both the harpsichord and the fortepiano, and she also supports and promotes contemporary music on the harpsichord. 2000 – 2003 she was teaching at the International Spring Academy for Ancient Music at Stift Geras (Austria). 2005 she was teaching at the International Summer Courses at Bietigheim Castle. Since 2007, Urte Lucht is teacher at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe.
Urte Lucht played a French harpsichord by Johannes Hinrichsmeyer (Berlin, 1984) — a replica of an instrument by Blanchet (Paris, 1730). It’s an instrument with two keyboards and 8′ + 8′ + 4′ stops. On her Web site, Urte Lucht praises this instrument as being ideal for early baroque music from France, early classic pieces, works by Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757), as well as for modern music for the harpsichord. My auditive impression was rather one of a Flemish instrument. The Blanchet family did indeed start off with models that were close to or derived from those of the Ruckers family. Maybe I had this impression because I can’t remember the 4′ stop ever being used that evening. But I really liked the beautiful, full, rounded, well-sounding bass register of the instrument, particularly in the pieces by Froberger and Duphly (see below).
Stephan Mester is a man with many talents: he is known as voice from Swiss Radio (reciting literature etc.). He definitely has an excellent talent as actor—but in his main artistic function he is dance master (Maître à Danser) and expert in historic choreography, as well as ceremony master for festivities in the style of the Ancien Régime. Originally, Stephan Mester studied Romance languages and literature. Now, he is leading his own dance group, “Danza Antica”, and he is organizing the yearly Baroque Ball in Zurich. For the past 10 years, Stephan Mester has been performing musical-literary programs together with Urte Lucht.
As the pictures above show, Stephan Mester was dressed up in the manner of the Ancien Régime, complete with curly wig, make-up, etc. — an impressive appearance!
The Concert / Performance
Throughout this 2-hour concert (including a 20-minute intermission), short pieces of music alternated with segments of recitation, and with some of the music, Stephan Mester was performing dances around the harpsichord. The number of chairs was smaller than usual for this performance, such that there was more space for the dancing: there were probably only about 70 (well-sold) seats this evening.
Near the tail end of the harpsichord, there was a little table with (open and sealed) letters (folded parchment), as well as a few ancient books. Often, particularly while Urte Lucht was playing, Stephan Mester was sitting next to the table, either ostensibly listening (often bemused, sometimes belittling the music), or opening and reading letters, his facial expression indicating his thoughts about the writing. Then of course, he would stand up for dancing, and—more importantly—to talk to the audience.
Acting / Dancing
Stephan Mester has obviously studied baroque literature about dancing styles etc. in detail: it was clear that he was not just making things up. Needless to say that original baroque dancing looks / feels rather strange, if not sometimes a bit odd (or ridiculous) in our time. Nevertheless, watching these dances definitely was of more than scientific / historic interest.
Mester not just read the texts, but explained the biographic, social and historic context—all in a brilliantly unimitable mix of French and (mostly) German with a heavy French accent: excellent, superb, very entertaining, and never even remotely boring! The texts ranged from topics in daily courtly life, from vulgarities to coquetry, to intrigue, and more. All was of course underlined / associated with the appropriate gestures / actions / mimics. Sometimes, Stephan Mester would ask questions about history to specific people in the first row, like a teacher—and then pretend promptly having received the correct answer. Without effort, Mester was able to keep people’s attention throughout the evening!
Clearly, the acting / dancing / reciting was the central and dominant part of the evening. The music served as illustration, but of course equally as enriching ingredient. Stephan Mester also commented on the music, of course. In the following, I won’t comment on the recitation, nor on the musical interpretation, but will merely list the spoken and musical repertoires:
- Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné (1626 – 1696) to her son-in-law, François Adhémar de Monteil, comte de Grignan (1632 – 1714), and to her daughter, Françoise-Marguerite, comtesse de Sévigné (1646 – 1705);
- Liselotte von der Pfalz (Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess of the Palatinate, 1652 – 1722) to her aunt, Kurfürstin Sophie Dorothea von Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1666 – 1726);
- Madame de Pompadour (Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, 1721 – 1764) to Montesquieu (Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, 1689 – 1755)), to Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784), and to Duchesse de Boufflers (Marie-Amélie de Boufflers, 1746/51 – 1794).
Books / Novels
- excerpts from the novel “La princesse de Clèves“, originally published anonymously, but written by Madame de la Fayette (Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, comtesse de La Fayette, 1634 – 1693)
- comments on Denis Diderot’s encyclopedia (Encyclopédie) by Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, 1694 – 1778)
Jean-Henri d’Anglebert (1629 – 1691)
- Air d’Apollon du Triomphe de l’Amour
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
- From the Partita No.1 in B♭ major, BWV 825: 2. Allemande — 6. Gigue
Louis Couperin (1626 – 1661)
- La Piémontaise
Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665 -1729)
- Prélude in D minor
Johann Jakob Froberger (1616 – 1667)
- “Tombeau faict à Paris sur la Mort de M. Blancheroche” in C minor
Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (1656 – 1746)
- Praeludium harpeggiato — Sarabande from the Suite “Clio” (the muse of written history)
- Praeludium from the Suite “Euterpe” (the muse of lyrical poetry, accompanied by flute playing)
- Toccatina from the Suite “Thalia” (the muse of comedy)
- Praeludium From the Suite “Melpomene” (the muse of singing and of tragedy)
- Menuet — Rigaudon from the Suite “Uranie” (the muse of astronomy)
Jacques Duphly (1715 – 1789)
- Médée, from the “3me livre de pièces de clavecin, 1756″
- La de Vaucanson
Georg Böhm (1661 – 1733)
- Partita in C major, about the aria “Jesu, Du bist allzuschöne“
Claude Balbastre (1724 – 1799)
- From “La De Caze“: Ouverture
This last piece was presented in the form of a melodrama. Intermittent with the music, Stephan Mester recited a menu with 41 (!) courses, “light and digestible”, that Madame de Pompadour composed for King Louis XV. I personally can’s say that my stomach was full even before the concert, but I definitely felt stuffed after the first few courses! The “little Menuet” which Mester danced as encore didn’t really help the “mental digestion”!
Despite its length of around two hours (including the intermission), the evening was well worth the journey through icy, snowy, cold Zurich. It was excellent entertainment that I would not hesitate attending again!