Flemish-style virginals of the 17th century

In this clip the ‘Pavan Lord Salisbury’ by Orlando Gibbons, from the collection “Parthenia” (1613) is performed by historical keyboard instrument Virginal.

It is always great to enjoy the antique music with antique historical instrument. Virginal is a kind of keyboard instrument in Renaissance period. Altogether with harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano, they are the ancestor of modern piano. Their appearance, material used and sounding mechanism change a lot. Furthermore, change of the keyboard music writing style also reflects evolution of piano.

Copyright © 2015 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved


J. S. Bach: Allegro in E minor (from BWV 1019)

This is another transcription from grade 8 syllabus, J. S. Bach Allegro in E minor (from BWV 1019).  It originates as sonata for violin and keyboard and now transcribes into solo piano version. The piece is performed by violin and harpsichord in the youtube clip below. Instrumentation is an important issue in music authenicity. Bach did not specify what sort of keyboard instruments written for. He just simply stated “keyboard”. In Baroque period “keyboard” can mean harpsichord, clavichord or even organ.



From the clip you can hear the sonority of harpsichord. As the strings are plucked to produce sound, so each note is detached with little resonant. You will also find that there is no graduation of tone (crescendo and diminuendo) by harpsichord. But composers are still able to shape the music through so called “dynamics in musical context”. They use compositional device to give the illusion of dynamic and colour change. For example they use runnings of small-value notes to give out the momentum (and so louder). The other compositional devices include introducing more voices and adding more notes vertically within chords (especially in cadence). Composers also like to shift the register of the piece  to give colour change. Of course harmony plays very important role in shaping the music. It is through the sense of tension-and-relaxation from dissonance-and-consonance of harmonic progression and modulation.

You can also find such “dynamic in musical context” in early Haydn and Mozart’s keyboard works as they were still in the mindset of harpsichord playing.

It is always an art to modify the playing of the piece when it is played at modern piano. And this is why Bach and other Baroque music fasinating me.


Brown, A P. Joseph Haydn’s Keyboard Music: Sources and Style. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Ferguson, Howard. Style and Interpretation: An Anthology of Keyboard Music. Vol. 1. Early Keyboard Music (1) England & France. S.l.: O.U.P, 1971.


Copyright © 2014 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved