Suite for Harpsichord (Shirley, Nathan)

Sheet Music


PDF typeset by composer
Nws (2017/10/15)

Publisher. Info. Marsyas Music, 2016.
Misc. Notes For double manual harpsichord
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General Information

Work Title Suite for Harpsichord
Alternative. Title
Composer Shirley, Nathan
I-Catalogue NumberI-Cat. No. INS 18
Movements/SectionsMov'ts/Sec's 4 movements
Year/Date of CompositionY/D of Comp. 2016
First Publication. 2016
Dedication Daniel Angerstein
Average DurationAvg. Duration 11 minutes
Composer Time PeriodComp. Period Modern
Piece Style Modern
Instrumentation harpsichord

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Suite for Harpsichord is dedicated to Daniel Angerstein who graciously provided his beautiful double manual harpsichord for the premiere performance and recording.

As the piano evolved and began to dominate musical life in Europe, the harpsichord slowly fell out of favor. However, at the time the piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori (around 1700), the harpsichord had reached perfection over a period of roughly 400 years beginning in the 14th century. It was an extremely capable instrument. Many of the more robust varieties borrowed features from the pipe organ -- two keyboards and various stops to alter timbre which offer a range of sonic possibilities.

The biggest limitation of the harpsichord is the same for the pipe organ -- the inability to fully control dynamics. This shortcoming forces the composer to think more narrowly about music -- to focus on pitch and rhythm above all else. In the world of art, forced limitations often lead to novel solutions, and sometimes the perfection of the medium. And so the limitations of the harpsichord and organ almost certainly helped shape music of the baroque era. I would go so far as to suggest that Bach’s mind boggling perfection of counterpoint might very well have not been achieved, had it not been for the limitations of the harpsichord and organ -- two of his main musical tools.

“It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time.” -J. S. Bach

So I attempted to fully embrace these limitations and write a new work, in my own style, for the instrument that gave birth to the piano.

The suite opens with a brutal scene of some strange ritual Sacrifice. The cold and harsh sounds exploit the harpsichord’s natural metallic tone to a degree not often heard from this instrument. The upper manual periodically echoes the dominant lower manual.

The Lament presents its solitary little melody over and over, each time separated by silence as sufficient energy is summoned to begin again. Near the end it seems as though the music is finally leading towards some sense of closure. But no, it returns once again to where it began, lost in grief.

No suite would be complete without at least one dance, and so, we are now thrust into a lively Folk Dance.

With Reanimation we emerge from the momentum of the dance. The melody is given to the bass in the first section with chords in the treble pushing things along. It twists and turns and eventually leads into a set of variations which build in intensity as the sacrificial offering rises from the dead. After this climax, the original melody returns with a tender accompaniment guiding it along.