The British Clavichord Society Newsletter
Adrian Lenthall, Dunstable
Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch: Complete Keyboard Works, Vol. 2 (Sonatas and Character Pieces) and Vol. 3 (Variations and Miscellaneous Pieces), ed. Christopher Hogwood, Edition HH (www.editionhh.co.uk). Vol. 2: HH.301.SOL, price £32; Vol. 3: HH.302.SOL, price £24.95
These two volumes bring to completion Edition HH’s edition of C. F. C. Fasch’s keyboard works. (Volume 1, containing Six Sonatas, was reviewed by Julian Perkins in BCSN 52.) Like the earlier volume, each of these contains an introduction (in English and German), a table of ornaments, full textual notes and several pages of facsimiles. As well as setting out the editorial method, the respective introductions sketch Fasch’s life and (rather unusual) personality, and discuss the pieces presented, matters of performance, and the question of instrumentation; under the last rubric, Christopher Hogwood sets out a good case for the suitability of the clavichord as a vehicle for this music. The presentation and editing are of the same very high standard as in the first volume of the set.
In his own time (he lived from 1736 to 1800), Fasch’s fame rested chiefly on his powers as a performer, both at the keyboard and, later in life, as the founder of the Berlin Singakademie. He himself was responsible for destroying many of his own compositions, and his self-critical tendency seems tinged with obsessiveness in the pursuit of what Hogwood, following Eugene Helm,1 calls ‘fruitless projects’, including the building of card houses to exact scale without any fastening material except the cards themselves.
The two sonatas included in Volume 2 of this edition were not, unlike the six comprising Volume 1, printed in Fasch’s lifetime (several other manuscript sonatas by Fasch appear to have been lost). The first, in B flat minor, opens with a fine movement in which a recurrent Alberti bass requires careful control on the clavichord. Both serenity and passion are contained within the scope of the beautiful slow movement, and there follows an exciting, well-constructed and very well-paced finale. The other sonata printed here, in C major, makes much use in its first movement of hand-crossing, clearly a favourite device of Fasch’s, and one which attests to a sense of fun for which one might be thankful in this complex man. The slow movement contains a passage directing the left hand to be played ‘tenute’ (surely an opportunity for Tragen der Töne or Bebung); the finale might be a solfeggio by C. P. E. Bach, the lightning periodically lightened by short melodic passages.
The sixteen Character Pieces range from those in conservative, galant idiom, with few or no dynamic indications and harpsichordish textures such as style brisé, to others such as La Louise, an intense and up-to-the-minute adagio in C minor. I really enjoyed making the acquaintance of these pieces. But for me it is in the four sets of variations in Volume 3 that one encounters Fasch at his best and most distinctive. The concision of the habitually self-critical is here coupled with endless textural inventiveness, so that within the limitations imposed by the form his horizons continually expand in unforeseen directions. As in the pieces in Volume 2, Fasch’s tonal structures and transitions rarely approach the boldness or resourcefulness of some of his more famous contemporaries, but he is capable of rare harmonic touches, tiny inflexions bringing about not just variation but transformation. One such, in the Ariette in A with 14 variations, is the substitution of a supertonic chord in root position for one which appeared in first inversion in the theme – a detail far more telling than the description suggests; this is a very fine work, available elsewhere in a facsimile edition reviewed by Paul Simmonds in BCSN 44 – which also included as a music insert an offprint of the first variation. There is something of a childlike naiveté in the Minuetto in F with 12 variations, or at least the elective naiveté of originality; each variation is like a turn in a party-game, where the game allows for its own transcendence in vignettes of real grandeur or pathos. The Andante in G with 7 variations evinces subtle tonal awareness, not least where quite wide-ranging flatwards modulation in the final, summative variation succeeds in enfolding with all the others the central minore variation (No. IV). And in the brief Four Variations on a Minuet in G the discovery of chromatic possibilities latent within a conventional 16-bar theme is a little piece of alchemic transmutation. There is in these sets a tender but playful genius that can be delightful; it is hard not to entertain the idea that successive variations build perfect scale models with playing-cards, before re-using the same materials to raise up a contrasting one, and then another, and another … Christopher Hogwood and Edition HH have done us a service in bringing this small but intriguing œuvre together, and making it available.
1. Eugene Helm, Music at the Court of Frederick the Great, Norman, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1960, pp. 208–17.
We are grateful to Adrian Lenthall for permission to reproduce this review.