Released on ECM New Series, the British pianist performs six of Bach’s works on a replica of a 1743 clavichord
Hungarian-born British pianist Sir András Schiff is widely acclaimed as an influential performer of Bach’s music. For his new two-disc album on ECM New Series, Schiff performs J.S. Bach’s Capriccio in B-flat major, Two- and Three-Part Inventions, the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, the Four Duets, and Ricercar à 3 from Musikalisches Opfer (The Musical Offering).
“On first hearing, the sound of the clavichord may seem unfamiliar and strange but, little by little, you will become accustomed to it,” Schiff said on playing the clavichord. “Then a new world will open up, like a quiet oasis in our noisy, troubled times. Thanks to the clavichord I now play and hear Bach differently — even on the modern piano: it’s all more detailed.”
The period instrument used for this recording was built by Belgian clavichord and organ maker Joris Potvlieghe in 2003, and is a replica of the 1743 unfretted Specken clavichord. Schiff describes the instrument as “a most gentle creature, ideal for playing alone, accompanying a singer, improvising and extemporizing freely, meant to be heard by the player, or at most by a handful of listeners.”
According to Potvlieghe, the clavichord can be traced back to the 14th century and reached a peak in the 16th. The only clavichords built before the end of the 17th century were fretted — unlike the one used for this album.
Out of the six works on the album, the Capriccio is most notable for its programmatic subtitles that Bach provided for each movement, a move uncharacteristic of the composer. Additionally, like the Capriccio, the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue were initially for harpsichord. This improvisatory and demanding work is known for its cycling through all keys and is among Bach’s works that prompted Arnold Schönberg to name Bach a 12-tone composer.
“When I’m at home, my day always begins with Bach,” Schiff explained. “It used to be on the piano, now it’s on the clavichord, even before breakfast. After a few of the Inventions I feel reborn.”
To purchase and listen to the album, click here.
The album was recorded in the Kammermusik Saal of Bonn, Germany’s Beethoven-Haus and was produced by Manfred Eicher. Schiff has recorded extensively with ECM’s New Series and has drawn on period instruments for recordings on this label many times over the past decade.
Schiff works closely with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Budapest Festival Orchestra, and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), where he became an Associated Artist in 2018. In 1999, he founded Cappella Andrea Barcab which has appeared at Carnegie Hall, Lucerne Festival, and Salzburg Mozartwoche.
His many honors include the International Mozarteum Foundation’s Golden Medal, Germany’s Great Cross of Merit with Star, Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal, a Knighthood for Services to Music, and a Doctorate from the Royal College of Music. In 2021, he was awarded the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance from The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.