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Thank You, Gustav Leonhardt

The Economist obituary this week is for Gustav Leonhardt. the great harpsichordist who is credited as the father of the early music movement.

Last night I was a beneficiary of Leonhardt’s life work: I attended a stunning performance of The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera. This exuberant pastiche of great early opera, with harpsichords, countertenors and other sounds unheard in concert halls between the late 18th century and the late 20th century could never have happened without Leonhardt’s passionate advocacy for and mastery of the harpsichord and its repertoire.

Thanks to Leonhardt and the many who joined him in this great work, the world has recovered the extraordinary sounds of early music as it was intended to be heard.  Leonhardt never liked the 19th century with its lush sounds and, as he said of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy its ‘vulgar’ romanticism. My tastes are more catholic; I like it all.

But Leonhardt’s ear for the ‘salt, not sugar’ of early music has greatly enriched us all. Anybody who sees The Enchanted Island will realize that Leonhardt was a musical Christopher Columbus, whose voyage of discovery opened up a whole world.

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  • WigWag

    Bravo, Professor Mead. Gustav Leonhardt, right along with Britain’s Christopher Hogwood (founder of the “Academy of Ancient Music” is responsible for introducing (perhaps reintroducing is a better word) many listeners to early music. Hogwood is fortunately still with us.

    I envy you that you attended the performance of “The Enchanted Island.”. WQXR broadcast the performance a week ago Saturday and it was quite good.

    Your readers who are opera fans might be interested to know that WQXR now has a web based opera station (all opera all the time). What is particularly nice is that WQXR now has android and I-Phone apps that let’s you listen to the opera station on your smart phone wherever in the world you happen to be.

    One other thing; for opera to continue to be a vibrant and living art form it is important to show support by not only attending performances of repertory productions and early music performances but also productions of new operas. Last year, the New York City Opera (which is sadly imploding) premiered “Seance on a Wet Afternoon” by Stephen Schwartz (of Godspell and Wicked and Pippin fame). It was surprisingly good.

    In two weeks I an going to see the NYCO premier Rufus Wainwright’s new opera, “Prima Donna” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera Hall. I’m not dying to see it but I think it’s important to support classical music performances fro very old pieces to very new.

    And who knows; I might love it. Opera is endlessly surprising.

  • mark wauck

    As an early music fan I would point out that “catholic” is not a synonym for “indiscriminate.”

  • Corlyss

    “The Economist obituary this week is for Gustav Leonhardt. the great harpsichordist who is credited as the father of the early music movement.”

    I have many Leonhardt recordings, but really, he was hardly “the father” of anything about the movement. The early music movement has been underway and ongoing since the late 19th Century. Perhaps earlier if one wants to count Berlioz’ L’enfant du Christ as an attempt to cover his modern Xmas trifle with a patina of medieval antiquity. For heaven’s sake, he studied at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, which had been long established when he matriculated. Yes, as Wig Wag notes, he introduced early music to many a Wagner- and Tchaikovsky- besotted ear in concerts all over the world and through his many recordings. And for that we are most grateful, praise the Lord. But the parentage of the movement goes waaaaaay back beyond his generation.

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