This film focuses on a beautifully constructed harpsichord in the V&A’s collections that was made in Venice in 1574. Giovanni Antonio Baffo made the instrument for the wealthy Florentine Strozzi family. The harpsichord was acquired by the V&A primarily because of its rich decoration. The Baffo harpsichord can longer be played.
To give visitors to the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries and impression of how the instrument would have sounded, Giulia Nuti, Research Associate at the Royal College of Music recorded several pieces of music on a historic harpsichord that is in playable condition.
The film begins with V&A curators James Yorke and Kirstin Kennedy introducing the Baffo harpsichord. The film then shows Giulia Nuti performing a piece called Passemezzo di nome anticho on a harpsichord in the Museum at the Royal College of Music. The music for Passmezo di nome anticho was written by Marco Facoli in the late 16th century, is preserved in a manuscript in the library of the Royal College of Music.
The recording will be available for visitors to listen to in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries alongside the Baffo harpsichord.
James Yorke, V&A Curator:
This harpsichord was made by Giovanni Antonio Baffo in 1574; the dates are just above the keyboard. Baffo was one of the leading harpsichord makers in Venice and he flourished from the 1550s until the 1580s. And it was made for a member of the Strozzi family who were a banking family in Florence, although they had branches in Venice as well.
Kirstin Kennedy, V&A Curator:
I’m Kirstin Kennedy and I’m part of the team that has put together the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries that are opening at the V&A in 2009. So that means I’ve helped choose the objects, I’ve helped select the themes and I’ve helped develop the computer interactives and the other learning and interpretation activities that are going with the galleries.
The harpsichord is in the galleries, of course we chose it because it is very beautiful, I think you can see that. But another reason is of course we’re talking about what people did in their homes. And of course one of the things people did to entertain themselves, and their guests, was to play music. And by showing an object like this in the context of other things such as plates and tapestries and chairs, we can convey the idea that music was also, of course, a part of people’s everyday life.
Visitors to the gallery who see this beautiful instrument and wonder what it might have sounded like will actually be able to hear a similar instrument being played on a computer interactive which is beside the harpsichord. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a collaboration with the Royal College of Music and they’ve recorded for us the type of music that would have been heard in the home or at gatherings at that time in the 16th century. And so you will be able to go in to the galleries, select your screen on the interactive, put your headphones on, and away you go.
Seb Durkin, Royal College of Music:
First of all Giulia will pick which pieces she wants to do, and then we’ll arrange a space to record, this time we’ve chosen to use the Museum because the instrument over there is specific to the piece and the time that has been specified. Once I’ve miked it up, Giulia will come across here, she’s going to listen to the sound and we can make sure between us that we’re both happy with where the mike placement is in the room and how the instrument sounds generally. Once we’ve established a sound and we’re happy with that, we’ll start doing takes as we refer to them. So we’ll do a number of different recordings, sometimes of different sections of the piece, sometimes of the whole piece together. And then at other points, usually afterwards, we’ll go over bits that we’re maybe not happy with or that Giulia’s might voice an opinion on so that we have to record again. Once we’ve got a bulk of materials, so here we’ve been recording for about three hours this morning to do two pieces, once we have enough takes, Giulia can sit down with a score, I’ll create a CD for her and she can listen to all these and select edits. So she’ll select the highlights or the best bits we’ve got so this differs from a live performance where you only have one go at it. We can do a number of different versions of it until we’re completely happy that every single bar has been covered. Once Giulia’s got suggestions for edits, she’ll come in with me and then we think about how we can piece those bits together to create one solid take which then will hopefully end up being the definitive version.