‘The Grand Guru of Baroque Music’: Leonhardt’s antiquarianism in the progressivist 1960s

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kailan Rubinoff, Assistant Professor of Musicology (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: ‘The Grand Guru of Baroque Music’: Leonhardt’s antiquarianism in the progressivist 1960s In the 1960s, Gustav Leonhardt transformed from a locally successful Dutch harpsichordist into a global phenomenon. Ironically Leonhardt, an advocate for historical performance and building preservation, achieved critical and commercial success during an era marked by the rhetoric of social protest, renewal and technological progress. An analysis of Leonhardt’s American reception reveals paradoxes of taste, aesthetics and political engagement. Record company advertisements, interviews and other materials promoted Leonhardt not only as a virtuoso performer-conductor, but also as a serious and scholarly persona. Leonhardt’s recordings demonstrate an ‘authenticist’ stance, contrasting with the Romantic subjectivity of earlier Bach interpreters and the flamboyant showmanship of competing harpsichordists. Complementing this positioning were Leonhardt’s austere performances in Straub-Huillet’s 1968 film Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, his advocacy for historical instruments, and his uncompromising repertory choices. Associations with the Fulbright program and prestigious American universities further strengthened his reputation as a scholar-performer. To a conservative older generation, Leonhardt represented sobriety and a link to the past. Nonetheless, Leonhardt’s staid persona had broader appeal: an unlikely ‘guru’, he attracted flocks of devotees. Younger musicians, inspired by his speech-like harpsichord articulation and use of reduced performing forces, viewed his performances as anti-mainstream protest music—despite Leonhardt’s own self-consciously apolitical stance. Moreover, the antiquity of the harpsichord and historical instruments complemented concurrent interests in craftsmanship, whole foods and authenticity; yet early music’s popularity was dependent upon technological mediation, especially high-fidelity recordings. Leonhardt thus emerges as a complex figure whose appeal transcended generational boundaries and bridged technological mediums.

Additional Information

Early Music 42, no. 1 (February 2014): 23–35
Language: English
Date: 2014
Gustav Leonhardt, harpsichord, early music revival, reception, social history

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