Every other year, the Boston Early Music Festival brings the world’s top performers to Boston for a nonstop week of concerts, lectures, demonstrations, recitals, even a vendor section. If you want to buy a clavichord or a viola da gamba, this is the place to do it.
This year Neil and I decided that we should take advantage of this musical richness and got tickets to several performances. Later this week it’s Bach and a Handel opera. Last night was Mozart with Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation playing on Mozart’s own violin and viola. They were quite similar in appearance to modern instruments, but the neck of the violin was shorter and thicker and the violinist played with the instrument resting on her shoulder, not tucked under her chin.
The performances featured the amazing Kristian Bezuidenhout on fortepiano, the predecessor to the instrument we know. It has hammers like a piano but light harpsichord-style strings and a much lighter, softer tone than a modern piano and sometimes it sounded like either instrument. The fourth instrument was an early clarinet — a beautiful instrument that appeared to be made of rosewood. It had several keys to shift registers but the main fingering was with finger holes, similar to a recorder.
The combination produced a much different, softer, more relaxed sound than modern instruments. You could hear Mozart pushing the limits of all the instruments, especially the lower registers of the fortepiano. It also gave me a new appreciation for how deeply he understood the subtleties and nuances of each instrument and how much attention he paid to how they would sound together. I rather suspect he was able to hear the combinations in his head without having to think about it — but the overall effect was stupendous.