'Emotional pedagogy' in the 21st century:

Linking sources and performance in early music

Skip Sempé (speaker), harpsichord
Saraswathi Shukla (speaker), UC Berkeley (USA)
Lillian Gordis, harpsichord

Session introduction
Over the last half century, early music pedagogy has crystallized through the dissemination of books and recordings and has been institutionalized through pedagogical “schools” and lineages, particularly in conservatories. Three generations into the revival of early music, we take this moment to consider how early music specialists approach primary sources and how this has affected trends in early music performance. As musicians and musicologists, we explore the relationship between “text and act”—to quote Richard Taruskin—and the directions in which it could develop.

While each of the participants in this session argues for the necessity of reintegrating discourses of emotional engagement into the performance and pedagogy of Baroque music—what they call “emotional pedagogy”—their contrasting backgrounds and ideologies result in different approaches to this issue from a variety of perspectives.

Skip Sempé draws on his professional experience as a solo harpsichordist, on his work with Capriccio Stravagante, and on his personal experiences as a student of Gustav Leonhardt, to discuss early music pedagogy and performance today and in the future. He focuses particularly on the recent publication of Leonhardt’s harpsichord transcriptions of Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas, as well as the solo cello suites. These transcriptions, a product of Leonhardt’s familiarity with Bach’s works, historical and cultural knowledge, pedagogy, and inventiveness, exemplify how imitating authoritative “sources” is only one step in developing a historically-informed performance practice.

Where Sempé focuses on Leonhardt’s transcriptions as an example of going beyond sources, Saraswathi Shukla demonstrates one way of gleaning more than technical descriptions and prescriptions from music treatises by relating them to art historical and philosophical texts of the period. She uses François Couperin’s Art de toucher le clavecin to establish the historical basis for discussing emotional engagement, and ultimately argues that the “art de toucher le clavecin” was seen not only as an essential tool in realizing the harpsichord’s potential to “touch” listeners emotionally, but also as symbolic of the basic human capacity to relate the physical world to the spiritual one.

Finally, Lillian Gordis is in a prime position to respond to both Sempé and Shukla in relation to her experiences as a young professional and as a student in conservatories in France and Switzerland. She trained privately with Pierre Hantaï and Bertrand Cuiller and studied in conservatories in Paris and at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where she was mentored by Pedro Memelsdorff. She concludes the session with a short recital around the themes raised during the session.