Gustav Leonhardt, early music pioneer

Gustav Leonhardt died on January 16, 2012

Gustav Leonhardt died on January 16, 2012

Today after church, one of our ushers, Chuck Pearson, handed me the obituary of Gustav Leonhardt (1928-2012), as he thought I might be interested in it. Little did he know that Leonhardt had an indirect influence on the LCH music program through his many recordings.

In 1971 Leonhardt and Nikolaus Harnoncourt undertook a massive project to record the complete cycle of Bach cantatas on period instruments and used a choir of men and boys as would have been performed in Bach’s time.

Leonhardt's recording of Bach's St. Matthew Passion was the model for LCH's performances.

Leonhardt's recording of Bach's St. Matthew Passion was the model for LCH's performances.

It was those recordings that Carl Crosier studied so intently, and in fact it was Leonhardt’s groundbreaking recording of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion that he used as a model when the LCH choir performed it in the year 2000. It was this recording which used two choirs, two orchestras and two sets of soloists that we copied in our 2000 performance. This particular CD was also the recording on which tenor Joe Pettit (who used to live in Honolulu) sang in the chorus, and Max van Egmond sang the part of Jesus. You may recall that Joe Pettit sang the part of the Evangelist in both our St. Matthew Passion (2000) and St. John Passion (2004) and that Max van Egmond himself came to sing Jesus in our St. John.

Back to Gustav Leonhardt, he made his first recordings of solo harpsichord music in the early 1950s, which quickly established his reputation as an eminent interpreter of Bach’s works. We were privileged to hear him in concert in Amsterdam in December 1999 — the concert celebrated 400 years of trade between the Netherlands and Japan — and the first part of the concert was 45 minutes of Japanese gagaku music. At intermission, Leonhardt himself came on stage to tune the harpsichord, and played all-Sweelinck music on the second half.

We also saw Gustav Leonhardt in 2007 at the Bachfest Leipzig, a festival which we will be attending again in June 2012. He was in the audience at an award ceremony honoring Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Leonhardt died January 16, 2012.

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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