About this Recording
9.70262 - DODGSON, S.: Inventions, Sets 1-4 (Likhina)

Stephen Dodgson (1924–2013)
24 Inventions


Stephen Dodgson’s 24 Inventions for Harpsichord span a period of almost forty years. Born in 1924, he knew the music of the first harpsichord-revival composers—de Falla, Poulenc, Martin, Martinů and Henze—well. He felt Stravinsky’s use of the instrument in his opera The Rake’s Progress represented the crest of that wave, and detected a subsequent decline in interest in composing for the harpsichord, perhaps because of the previous linkage to Neo-classicism. He also thought that the Early Music movement resulted in many players not progressing further in time than C.P.E. Bach and late French composers such as Duphly, and that the turn to low pitch and meantone tuning also probably played some part.

However, Dodgson’s interest was roused before any such decline was detectable. In the early 1950s the harpsichord builder Thomas Goff encouraged Stephen Dodgson to write for his instrument. He was backed up by Stanislav Heller, a fellow student at the Royal College of Music, who was the first to perform Set One of the Inventions, which appeared in 1955 when Stephen was twenty-one. By degrees, several other well-known players, including George Malcolm, took them up. He found composing the pieces to be exciting, to say nothing of the players’ encouragement. Over the years another four sets of Inventions were added, making a total of 30 pieces. Throughout all the sets the term ‘Invention’ implies rhythmic interplay much more than contrapuntal imitation in the Bachian sense, although they get progressively more linear as time goes on. It is Scarlatti rather than Bach who was the inspiration.

The second set appeared in 1961 and received its first performance at the Wigmore Hall in London, by Trevor Pinnock. For all the rhythmic excitement, Stephen, like Scarlatti, recognised the deeply expressive power of the harpsichord, as is evident in the fifth piece in this set. The composer’s mischievous sense of humour is apparent in the sixth.

The third set was written in 1970. It follows the pattern established by the two earlier sets but Stephen wrote it because he felt he had come to understand the character of the harpsichord differently and more intensely due to encounters with copies of historical instruments. No. 1 is very clearly a Prélude, with rather free rhythms which show the influence of the French unmeasured préludes, whilst No. 6 is equally definitely a Finale with its persistent perky motif. The long-held sostenuto of No. 5 is a tribute to the sustaining power of the copy after the 18th-century Parisian builder Goujon with whom he was then living. At this point he had grown accustomed to hearing his pieces at low pitch. The set was premièred at the Purcell Room in London by Michael Maxwell Steer in 1973.

Set 4 was written for me, “whose part”, Stephen wrote, “in my continuing involvement is not to be underestimated, and who gave the première at the Cambridge Festival in 1990. She was also the first to introduce Set 2 in a BBC broadcast in 1963”. The opening Andante again has elements of the unmeasured Prélude while No. 3 reflects a personal homage to “the timeless idylls found in François Couperin, specially those of Les Bergeries.” François Couperin was a composer Stephen came to know well and love. The peaceful side of No. 5 inhabits a world of this kind, but in a more dramatic setting through the feverish interruptions which threaten its repose.

In all his work Stephen considered the particular character and potential of the instrument he was writing for. In many cases he stretched that potential but never beyond practical possibilities. He knew the harpsichord intimately and his music for it is always idiomatic and satisfying, if challenging for the player.

It was always his intention that, though any Invention from any set may be programmed alone or in any combination, each Set is nevertheless designed to create a satisfying sequence when performed en suite.

Jane Clark Dodgson

Producer’s Note

This project benefitted inestimably by having the composer’s widow, the eminent scholar and harpsichordist Jane Clark Dodgson, available as consultant. Questions about notation, tempo, and the character of each piece (the aspect which most concerned the composer, as she informed us), were always answered quickly and carefully as Miss Likhina and I went through the year-long process of gaining an understanding of these difficult masterpieces.

Our choice of instrument and its tuning need some elucidation. When Stephen Dodgson began composing for the harpsichord in 1955, the instruments available resembled modern pianos more than the historical harpsichord. These metal-framed instruments, with pedals for registration, a 16’-foot stop, heavy actions and poor resonance, were relics of the early 20th-century revivals by piano manufacturers. They have their place in music history; and it might even be thought that an ideal recording of these four Sets ought to follow, in regard to choice of instrument, the progression seen in the composer’s notation from pedal-registration indications and long phrase-lines to scores almost as spare as those of the Baroque era. These changes parallel Dodgson’s acceptance of the revolution in harpsichord building which took place over these decades. But as a matter of practicality, the use of two or three different instruments for this recording had to be rejected; especially since the nimbleness a good French action affords the performer is not a thing lightly to be relinquished. It seems a quality especially suited to Stephen Dodgson’s mercurial musical mind.

Stephen got used to hearing his music at a’= 415 Hz, the pitch chosen for this recording. Some readers might be interested to know that the temperament we employed is close to that recommended by Neidhardt in 1724 ‘for a large city’, which allows full use of all keys while keeping some slight difference in coloration. It is only three pure fifths away from the “modern” system of equal temperament—which in fact has a history going back many centuries. All of us felt that, in the Inventions, accidentals crowd in or evaporate parallel to the tides of musical tension and mood, and that this way of tuning reflects Dodgson’s instinctive sense of C major as the centre of a natural tonal universe.

Glen Wilson

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