Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lewis Richards, American Harpsichordist

Lewis Richards
Michigan-born Lewis Richards (1881-1940) appears to have been the first American to figure in the harpsichord revival of the early 20th century.  He acquired a Pleyel harpsichord in Brussels, where he had trained as a pianist, and embarked on a career with it in 1923, becoming the first harpsichordist to play a concerto with an American orchestra - the Haydn D major in Minneapolis - beating Wanda Landowska to the honor by a matter of months.  In 1927 he was the first harpsichordist in modern times to play at the White House, for President Calvin Coolidge.  (One hopes that "Silent Cal" enjoyed the recital more than he did most societal functions.  One unfortunate lady, seated next to him at a dinner party, is supposed to have said, "Mr. Coolidge, I've made a bet with a friend who said it's impossible to get more than two words out of you." His reply: "You lose.") Richards made pitifully few recordings; only three ten-inch Brunswick issues, with this coupling (which duplicated a coupling by Landowska on Victor) being the first:

Mozart: Rondo alla turca ("Turkish March")
Handel: Air and Variations ("The Harmonious Blacksmith")
Lewis Richards, harpsichordist
Recorded May 21, 1925
Brunswick 2930, one ten-inch 78-rpm record
Link (FLAC files, 19.12 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 8.29 MB)

This was almost certainly the first electrical recording of the harpsichord, done by Brunswick's "Light Ray" process only about a month after the company began using it.  The Mozart side is frankly experimental - it begins and ends quietly, with a crescendo in the middle and a diminuendo at the end which are impossible on the harpsichord.  Although some of this can perhaps be attributed to registration, it really sounds to me as though the engineers were getting the effect by playing with the controls!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this – most enjoyable! Sounds like you're right about the dynamic effect in the Mozart. Also about Richards being the first electrical harpsichordist – Anna Linde's first electrical sides seem to date from late 1926. I've wanted to hear his playing ever since reading Gramophone's review of the British issue of his snippets of Rameau and Ayrlton (I'm guessing that should be Ayrton, an organist and composer in 18th C London). I see Stanford has copies of that and Richards' other disc, of Bull, Farnaby and Bach. I'd love to hear both! Best wishes and thanks again, Nick