One day Beethoven got up and went to the house of Dorothea Ertmann, a woman he clearly loved. Her child had died. She had lost her ability to speak. The composer sat at the fortepiano and played for her a concert of late Beethoven that no one else will ever hear. She began to speak. Beethoven thought of music as a changer of things—a power—at its most powerful, a healer. The tale insists that Beethoven spoke no word to Dorothea. Anecdote? There is good evidence. And think of that other more important evidence—the motto he wrote at the top of the Missa Solemnis: “from the heart, may it go to the heart.” Think of the fundamental importance that actual physical sound had for Beethoven, how he relates in the Heiligenstadt Testament that losing his ability to hear made him suicidal. (Think of this also the next time you hear an expert say that he can hear the Beethoven 9th better reading the score than he can in the concert hall.) What healed Dorothea was a performance. The whole occasion was about sound. She made none, Beethoven made the sacred sounds; she spoke.
This year, the fiftieth anniversary of Wanda Landowska’s death, and the one hundred thirtieth anniversary of her birth, while celebrated with some new recordings of her uniquely affecting keyboard playing, has passed by the attention of most music lovers. In Lakeville, Connecticut, though, where Landowska spent the last years of her life, 1949 and 1950, harpsichordist/organist/choral director Christine Gevert has insured that her musical legacy should receive ample notice. From May through October, Gevert’s Crescendo Ensemble has offered concerts, film, and lectures celebrating Landowska’s achievements. As part of this commemorative festival comes this remarkable celebration of the harpsichord, in singular and in plural. It is largely Landowska’s due that the harpsichord was revivified in the twentieth century for early music performance; as well, its reappearance, and Landowska’s championing recitals, offered modern composers inspiration for a wave of newly composed works for this ancient instrument.