Jonathan Darbourne plays on a copy of a single-manual Delin harpsichord by Oliver Moor (2000)

JULY 2021

P. Bustijn - Suite no.1 in D minor: Sarabanda - Giga


PIETER BUSTIJN, baptised July (probably…) 1649

Pieter Bustijn (1649-1729) is by no means a famous figure. We know he played the organ and harpsichord, composed music – although Nine Suites for the Clavecin (Harpsichord) is the only set of pieces we have today – and was also employed as a carillon player in the Nieuwe Kerk in Middelburg. If you’ve never been to hear the Bournville carillon near Birmingham, take a visit and think of Pieter. Even though he isn’t a ‘house name’ on the list of Baroque-era composers, Johann Sebastian Bach owned some of Bustijn’s music, so his music was clearly well-travelled and well-respected.
The two movements I play here are dances typically found in an instrumental ‘suite’ or ‘set’ at this time. The ‘sarabanda’ was originally an Arab-Spanish dance which became slower as it was used by composers in Italy and France. In this slower three-time form, it was invariably coupled with a faster ‘giga’ or jig, a dance we will all recognise as the bedrock of much Irish folk music. If the Baroque era was about anything, it was about contrasts – in colour, dynamics, movement, tempi, and in dramatic and musical affectation. These two little pieces by a little-known musician are a little bit of the Baroque.

JUNE 2021

G. Muffat - Partita in D minor: Prelude


GEORG MUFFAT, born 1 June 1653

Surely a strong contender for ‘Best in: Baroque Hair/Wig’, Georg Muffat (1653-1704) is best known for his two collections – or ‘Bouquets’ – of string pieces. Though containing brilliant pieces in their own right, the detailed performance directions he included – about tempo, how to use the bow, and how to play well in an ensemble – offer us as present-day musicians insight into how this sort of music would have sounded. Indeed, the very fact that Muffat felt the need to write these instructions tells us more: that there was at that time no ‘one style’ across Europe, something musicians playing ‘Baroque’ music today must contemplate when approaching pieces in different genres and styles, and from various places of composition.

The piece I play here is, like the Bach from our March birthday, a ‘Prelude’ from a Partita, the role of which is to explore a key (here D minor) on the instrument in an semi-improvisatory way. One feature I have explored is the ‘spreading’ of chords (which on the page are in vertical blocks), thus softening the ends of musical statements and bringing out the harp-like sonority of the harpsichord.

MAY 2021

A. Scarlatti - Corrente from Six little pieces



Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), born in Palermo, was first and foremost a composer of vocal works, writing over fifty operas (with some wonderful titles like The Enemy of Himself, Happy Deceptions, and Fickle Love and The Cheer) and more than 500 solo cantatas. Prolific is the word. This work-hard mentality was clearly in the genes – his son, Domenico, famously composed 555 keyboard sonatas (the harpsichordist Scott Ross has recorded them all…).

This piece here – a ‘Corrente’, or ‘Courante’ in French – is, I think, intended to mean ‘in the running style’ and not the dance form, which is always in triple time. Indeed, the music theorist Johann Matheson wrote in 1739 that a corrente is ‘clearly music on which hopes are built.’ This definitely ticks that box, with smiley gusto and an optimistic gung-ho attitude. Just what the doctor ordered.

APRIL 2021

J. P. Sweelinck - More palatino (Variations 1 and 4)


JAN PIETERSZOON SWEELINCK, born April (probably…) 1562

Living either side of the fabled ‘Baroque’ watershed moment of 1600, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 -1621) plied his musical trade as an organist and composer. Nicknamed the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’ by his contemporaries, his stand-out skill was improvising at the keyboard, a talent certainly nurtured by Calvinist protocol whereby an organist’s role was to embellish simple psalm tunes for congregations to hear before and after services. Here we have a famous student drinking song – ‘More palatino’ – being embellished in flamboyant ways, Sweelinck demonstrating how games can be played within the lines, how instinct can rule whilst still obeying the rules. We can imagine him doing this when improvising for a congregation or gathering of admirers. Think of a jazz musician today impressing us with a witty version of a standard song we all know, then think of ‘J P’ doing just the same. Given the song text, perhaps listen with a beer… We drink in palatial style. Let not a drop remain by which a fly could quench his thirst. Thus we drink, and thus we live while we are students.

MARCH 2021

J.S. Bach - Partita no. 1 in B flat major: Praeludium


JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, born 31 March 1685

Whatever stars align in March they are baroque ones that’s for sure. We were spoilt for choice this month, with J. S. Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi in with a shout. It may not surprise you that I went for Bach, who is one of the most prolific writers for the keyboard in his time or any other. With literally hundreds of pieces, from huge bombastic organ works to microcosmic studies for students (and his children), where to start? Well, as we are celebrating Johann’s birthday, I thought at the very beginning – the first piece in his first publication, the ‘Praeludium’ of the Partita no.1 in Bb major. And it is actually a birthday piece: a few months after he had published the Partita in 1726, Bach copied it out and presented it to the new-born Prince Emanuel Ludwig of Anhalt-Kothen. Not a bad gift, that..


John Blow - Chacone in G minor


JOHN BLOW, baptised 23 February 1649

John Blow (1649-1708) will always be viewed in the shadow of Henry Purcell – the more famous man and the better composer – but he sits at the high table of the English choral tradition, having been teacher to the choristers at Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Chapel Royal. If you think this pandemic could be bad for musical education, spare a thought for those who lived through or were born during Cromwell’s dictatorship. We must be serious in our gratitude to him as a teacher to Purcell and inspiration for his compositional style.

After the golden era of Elizabethan and Jacobean virginalist composers (see the Gibbons recording from December), Blow’s writing for keyboard, with dance forms and idiomatic writing borrowed from the continent, feels completely new. The Chacone I play here is an example of a harmonic ‘ground’, where a basic four-bar pattern in the bass is repeated, offering the composer a foundation upon which they can build up their ‘fantasy’.


Johann Friedrich Agricola - Sonata per il cembalo solo: Allegro Assai



Born in Thuringia in 1720, Agricola had the fortune of studying under Johann Sebastian Bach whilst a student in Leipzig, and indeed later with Johann Joachim Quantz (right place, right time…). By all accounts he had a successful career, becoming director of Frederick the Great’s Königliche Oper and writing extensively as a musical commentator and theorist. He co-authored Bach’s obituary along with C. P. E. Bach, and copied out Bach’s great keyboard collection, the Well-Tempered Clavier, which we still have today. Agricola is, therefore, an important touchpoint for this period in music history. This sonata movement I play here is, however, very much driven by what we would call a ‘classical’ instinct – we step forward out of the ‘Baroque’ with Agricola to embrace a new vogue. Of course, one doesn’t have to agree with that analysis, but I felt it somehow as I learnt and played it – a sort of fond (almost sad) waving-goodbye to the musical world of his teacher and the ‘High Baroque’.


Orlando Gibbons - A keyboard Fantasia


ORLANDO GIBBONS, baptised Christmas Day 1583

Gibbons was an English composer of impressive versatility who developed what we would now label a Baroque style, especially in his sacred and (most especially) secular choral music. In around the year 1621, GIbbons, alongside William Byrd and John Bull, had various pieces published in Parthenia, subtitled The Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the virginals. At that time, ‘virginals’ was a word in England that referred to any plucked keyboard instrument, so I beg minor forgiveness for playing this Fantasia on a copy of an 18th-century Flemish harpsichord.


François Couperin - Quatrième Prélude - L'Art de toucher le Clavecin


FRANÇOIS COUPERIN, born 10 November 1668 
For our first slice of birthday gateaux, we’d like to share with you our Artistic Director Jonathan’s recording of the fourth prelude from François Couperin’s (1668 – 1733) L’art de toucher le Clavecin. This manual was one of the most important instruction books of the 18th century, especially with regard to style and ornamentation. Points awarded to anyone who can spot the following: appoggiaturas (lower and upper), mordents (short and long), and series of notes played in an ‘unequal’ manner. Bonne anniversaire, François!