“The harpsichord according to Jean Rondeau”, on Arte.tv, the man of non-verbal eloquence
ARTE.TV – ON DEMAND – DOCUMENTARY
He doesn’t look like the job, if indeed the “job” of harpsichordist has a particular face: a bit of a lumberjack, bearded and hairy in a shaggy way, John Rondeau (born in 1991) was quickly dubbed the “harpsichord rockstar”. Which is (almost) good: in addition to being the most exciting French harpsichordist of his generation, the young man is an excellent jazz pianist.
What does not evoke besides the documentary portrait The harpsichord according to Jean Rondeau, by Andreas Morell, dedicated to him by Arte, who prefers to concentrate on the main activity of the musician (who is also a composer: he wrote the delicate and very French music for the film Paula, by Christian Schwochow, released in 2017) and follow him on a European tour. All of this is interspersed with fairly long musical sequences either solo or with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.
We cannot say that the words of Jean Rondeau, whom he holds in ripped jeans and shirt sleeves over a tank top and bushy chest, are memorable: he is obviously not one of those whose speech sometimes hides the weaknesses But when he plays, Rondeau gets to the heart of things, thanks in part to a splendid touch and a rich musical imagination.
As he explains, Rondeau belongs to that generation of “baroque” (a term originally derogatory, but which has come to prevail and which is less off-putting than the expression “historically informed interpreter”) who started directly with the harpsichord without going through an apprenticeship in the piano, as was more commonly done in the past.
In the mid-1990s, when the vogue for early music was in full swing, there were enough young practicing harpsichordists to make a 5-year-old boy want to learn this instrument, which was supplanted by the fortepiano. But, contrary to what is often said, the harpsichord did not give way to a more sophisticated instrument: it disappeared because it had reached an unsurpassable stage of refinement in its craftsmanship.
And it was only in the nineteenthe well under way that some performers (re)turned to historical instruments still preserved (which were then called “gothicities”), while the Pleyel house perfected a first harpsichord of modern construction on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1889.
During the second half of the twentiethe century, the return to the originals and the development of identical copies have become essential. Part of the documentary also focuses on the Czech maker Jukka Ollikka, who makes new harpsichords according to old canons. Even if, during a concert, the instrument barely out of the workshop is still a little “green”.
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Jean Rondeau says of Concerto in D minor BWV 1052 of Johann Sebastian Bach that he “is quite one of a kind” without knowing ” explain why “. But we understand everything when we hear him play his slow movement with painful figures and tortured harmonies, a bit like in the 21e of the Goldberg Variations that Rondeau interprets later in the film. He may not always have the words, but the musician certainly has other eloquence.
The harpsichord according to Jean Rondeau, by Andreas Morell (German, 2022, 43 mins). Available on Arte.tv until June 2.