The Blue Blot

notes, finds & fragments of research

Copulating Skeletons on a Roof ~ Rameau’s Rocking Gavotte

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764),
Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin‘ (1728) – Gavotte avec Doubles, played by Blandine Rannou.

This is hypnotically beautiful and perhaps one of the few pieces which make me regret allowing my piano teacher to bring me to hating the lessons I took (or better: had to take) as a child. For a long time I have sworn never to touch the keys again. But every now and then, especially when hearing this – oh, if only I were able to play this, I would just very likely make it a daily habit.

Apart from my incapability of playing this properly, the other problem would be to get hold of a decent clavecimbel/harpsichord. Having heard the gavotte being played on a piano for an odd number of times, it always stays a bit of disappointment. I can’t help myself: With this particular piece I prefer the sound of the clavecimbel over that of a piano. Although many will disagree, like the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) who’s alleged opinion was that the sound of a harpsichord is something in the lines of two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm. Quite an amusing statement but no less was to be expected of a man like Beecham, known for his sharp tongue and one-liners.

It cannot even be compared to that of a piano. Not just because of the difference in the mechanical process (the piano striking the string with a hammer, while the clavecimbel plucks the string), it is a completely and utterly incomparable atmosphere and emotion. When this gavotte is played on the piano I find it melancholic and warm, while it sounds vibrant and booming on clavecimbel. This rendition especially, given by the talented Blandine Ronnau (1966), proves that Jean-Philippe Rameau was a bit of a rockstar in his days.

The Gavotte avec Doubles cheered me up tremendously and (please, indulge me in this one) drove away the dreary storming weather in this wretched Dutch climate forcing it back to blue skies with thick fluffy clouds and a warm sun. And on top of that, let us not forget the dear old skeletons; for they enjoyed another eight minutes of jolly good fun on the roof.

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