The role of the harpsichordist
Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759), the Great Master of baroque music, spent four years in Italy in his early twenties. These years shaped him as a composer and musician. During this time he produced a tremendously exciting, varied and sometimes experimental body of work including several operas, oratorios, church music, and about a hundred secular cantatas in various formats. Throughout his career, Handel continued to reuse much of the musical material he wrote in these formative years – it became as much a treasure trove for him then, as it is for us today.
Christian Kjos’ artistic development project deals with Handel’s cantatas written for one voice and basso continuo, and aims to highlight the harpsichordist’s role and possibilities within the interpretation of basso continuo in this repertoire. The way in which basso continuo comes to life is crucial to the overall sound, and there is a wide range of possibilities in the intersection of improvisation, composition, source-oriented play, imagination and speculation. These exceptional cantatas have yet to receive the attention they deserve among performers, musicologists and audience members.
Softies and/or loudies?
Frequently, there are significant discrepancies between how the historical sources describe basso continuo playing and how today’s harpsichordists interpret and perform their part. Today there are two separate schools of performers: those who accompany discretely with fewer parts and a more meager expression: the so-called Softies; and those who take a more active role in the harmonic progression with multiple parts and a fuller, richer expression: the Loudies – from which the project receives its title.
Kjos aims to deepen the understanding of the discipline and the inherent possibilities of basso continuo. Hopefully, this will challenge existing views and conventions among several branches of today’s early music community, where strong performers and personas foster strong opinions.
Christian Kjos (b. 1980) is one of Norway’s most active harpsichordists. After completing his studies at the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Basel, Switzerland), he has worked freelance as a harpsichordist with several of the country’s leading ensembles and orchestras, such as Barokkanerne and the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra. Kjos is a member of the Swiss-based Ensemble Meridiana, which has won multiple first prizes in international early music competitions.