Why harpsichord? Various reasons. From the practical standpoint, in my career as a countertenor I worked with a number of excellent Early Music harpsichordists who also had a keen interest in New Music. Over the years, a number of these players, who liked the music I'd written, asked me to write something for them. I also got to know instrument builders in Paris who encouraged me to press on. I love the sound of classical harpsichords and am continually amazed at the variety of colors available. Sounds with which we are familiar in certain musical contexts take on a special tension and vitality when we hear them in others. I also like the freedom of manuever which permits abstract material as well as music which is more referential in character. Perhaps it's an American thing not to feel threatened by or in competition with the past. A number of these pieces were conceived as companions for works from the instrument's great repertoire although, frankly, I'm not very interested in historicisms. I think The Music of Our Time is all the music, present or past, available in our global culture. It's a unique historical position which I feel no need to resist. Of course, if I'd had an equivalent access to an electronic studio, I would have happily written a great deal of music using new media and technologies. But my fate has led me to do something else.
Small Birds (1974), for solo harpsichord, was written as a companion piece for related character pieces by Rameau and Francois Couperin. The piece is dedicated to the Parisian harpsichord builder Reinhard von Nagel, Monica Chanler von Nagel, and their six children.
Pages (1988), for two harpsichords, consists of very restricted, hard-edged musical material, initially confined to single pages, which spills over into more extended fields of energy. The work was written at the request of Christine Daxelhofer and is dedicated to her and Irene Müller-Glasewald.
Imaginary Dances (1997), for solo harpsichord, is a set of pieces drawing on the tradition of the harpsichord suites of stylized dances from the 17th and 18th centuries. The five movements, in no way pastiches, are related to particular places and players which have brought me into contact with the great tradtion of harpsichord playing. The work is dedicated to Christine Daxelhofer and is played here by her distinguished student, Kristian Nyquist.
Millennium Music (2000) was commissioned by the three players featured in this recording to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach. The work, for three harpsichordists, is a companion piece for the Bach C-Major Concerto for three harpsichords and may be viewed as a kind of fan letter to the great composer, full of exhuberance and hope at the beginning of a new age. While the music of Bach provides a perspective on the past, another point of departure for the piece, anchoring it in the present and aiming it toward the future, was my encounter with the shimmering architecture of Frank Gehry.
John Patrick Thomas was born in Denver, Colorado in 1941.
His music studies began as a member of the American Boychoir in Princeton, New Jersey. At the age of 16, he became a composition student of Darius Milhaud and Charles Jones at the Aspen Music School and later studied with Andrew Imbrie and Seymour Shifrin at the University of California at Berkeley. After teaching at the State University of New York in Buffalo, he began a concert and opera career as a countertenor with a special interest in new music which brought him into contact with composers such as David Del Tredici, Lukas Foss, Betsy Jolas, Mauricio Kagel, Michael Finnissy, Elisabeth Lutyens, and Krzysztof Penderecki. He was also a founding member of The Five Centuries Ensemble. He currently lives in Hamburg, Germany, where he divides his time between composing and teaching singing. Since 2003, Thomas has been a member of the faculty of the Musical Department at the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen.
Christine Daxelhofer studied in Bern and with Huguette Dreyfus in France as well as with Gustav Leonhardt and Kenneth Gilbert. She is active as a soloist, as a partner in the ensemble "For Two to Play", and as a continuo player in various chamber ensembles in Europe and South America; her special interests in New Music have encouraged a number of composers to write for her. She directs the harpsichord class and the Studio für Alte Musik at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe and is often invited to lecture and teach as well as perform in Europe and abroad.
Irene Müller-Glasewald began her studies in Mannheim and later studied with Christine Daxelhofer in Switzerland and at the Basel Schola Cantorum. She teaches at the Conservatory in Biel, Switzerland and at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe. She has done special research into continuo notation and has special interests in contemporary music and the literature for harpsichord duo.
Kristian Nyquist began his studies with violin and piano lessons, and at 15 developed an interest in the harpsichord. He has studied with Christine Daxelhofer in Karlsruhe, with Huguette Dreyfus in Paris, and with Colin Tilney, Bob van Asperen, and Gustav Leonhardt. Nyquist is a professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe. He also teaches at the Hochschule in Mannheim as well as concertizing extensively and giving workshops in interpretation and performance practice for advanced students.