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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the March 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Rare Music, Rare Instruments
The multi-faceted exploits of recorder player John
Burkhalter and keyboard player Eugene Roan surface in a pair of concerts
this weekend. While their roles vary from performance to performance,
this spring’s performance calendar is a hint of the wide interests
of the couple.
As performers Burkhalter and Roan created in 1999 "The Practitioners
of Musick," a duo devoted to performing baroque repertoire. On
Friday, March 7, the "Practitioners" appear with Andrew Megill’s
Fuma Sacra vocal ensemble in a program of 17th century Dutch music
at the Princeton Theological Seminary. During the evening, Roan will
play, in addition to standard harpsichord, a Lautenwerk, a lute-like
harpsichord; and organ. From time to time during the concert, the
Practitioners will supply verbal notes. The Dutch repertoire is familiar
territory for Burkhalter and Roan, who have investigated, on site
and at length, Dutch musical life and culture in the age of Rembrandt
As collectors of original editions of music printed in the 18th century,
Burkhalter and Roan have gathered more than 250 scores. Their collection
is the basis for the program of Le Triomphe de l’Amour that will be
presented Saturday, March 8, at the Unitarian Church of Princeton.
Entitled "Garrick and His Age," the program continues Le Triomphe’s
tradition of presenting each season a noteworthy performance based
on the Burkhalter-Roan collection. Burkhalter gives a pre-concert
lecture on Garrick, his musical world, and the concert program at
The concert features soprano Laura Heimes, with violinists Lisa Brooke
and Daniel Elyar, flutist Tom Moore, gambist Donna Fournier, and harpischordist
Janet Palumbo. Listeners will be treated to songs and instrumental
music by George Frideric Handel, Felice Giardini, Thomas Arne, William
Boyce, and their contemporaries. Only one work on the program has
appeared in a modern performing edition.
As pursuers of exceptional instruments, Burkhalter and Rowan have
also been drawn into planning a third concert where the centerpiece
is a George Frederick Handel concerto for the rare Welsh triple harp.
The small 18th century instrument, few of which survive, has three
separate sets of strings and no pedals. The inner row of strings furnishes
the chromatic pitches achieved on modern harps by pedals that move
the harp’s single set of strings. Fingering the triple harp is complicated
and requires unusual athletic ability.
The planned performance will be part of the Friends of Music at Princeton
annual members’ symposium and will feature solo harpist Ellen Tepper.
The event will represent the first official performance of the Handel
work played on the original instrument in recent times. The performance
will be open only to members of the Friends of Music; however, it’s
not too late to join. (For information and date, call 609-258-2800.)
I call on Burkhalter and Roan at home to explore their
interests, which threaten to explode out of their living quarters.
Leaving the African violets at the entrance, I sidle along a table
covered with a paisley shawl, past the two six-foot harpsichords,
and around a bulging bookcase to reach the dining area. The walls
are hung with pictures in four tiers. Japanese and English ceramics
are in sight, along with the Moroccan drums, carvings from New Guinea,
and a Japanese scroll. A genuine feather duster is at hand to keep
the multitude of furnishings dust free; synthetic feathers would merely
redistribute dust, Burkhalter says.
My appointment is with Burkhalter, and he does most of the talking.
But Roan is present, and joins in from time to time. The two didn’t
plan the three concerts as an independent entity. "It just developed,"
Burkhalter says. Giving in to 18th century modes of thinking, I boldly
inquire whether the chance development is a proof of the existence
of God. Burkhalter playfully replies, "We believe in the transcendent
power of the muses. It’s the muses’ desire."
"The common element in the programs is rarity," he says. "They
dip into an unusual repertory that spans roughly the 150 years from
the earliest permutations of the baroque in 17th century Holland to
the unusual matrix of musical life in London in the 18th century."
The official cut-off date of the programs, 1779, coincides with the
death of David Garrick, a giant of the London theater, whose circle
forms the boundary of the Burkhalter-Roan score collection.
The genesis of the collection was 1985 when Roan, a professor at Westminster
Choir College of Rider University, was on sabbatical leave in London.
Browsing at a London bookseller, he found a volume of organ music
by John Keeble. "The appeal was the engraved title page,"
he says. "I had never seen this music before. I knew Keeble’s
name from reading it in books, and I knew that he wrote voluntaries,"
music that originally had a liturgical function in the Church of England.
Acquiring the Keeble album roused Roan to visit other antiquarian
music dealers and to look into their catalogues. "I noticed two
developments," he says. "First, that French and Continental
music, even 20 years ago, was attracting considerable interest and
at a great price; second, that music published in London by English
composers, including Handel, was more modestly priced."
Without a grand design, Roan thriftily acquired a number of 18th century
British manuscripts. "The English have now discovered their musical
treasury," he says. "So sources are drying up, and prices
The acquisitions gradually took up space. "Finally, we realized
that we had a collection," Roan says. The collection now approaches
300 pieces printed in London, Dublin, and Edinburgh between 1696 and
1796. "It’s a mirror of musical life in England during the period.
The core is Handel’s circle in London," he says. However, the
music is not necessarily of English origin. A volume of Scarlatti’s
keyboard sonatas, intended to introduce Scarlatti to England, is among
the music included.
"The collection tells about the marketing and making of music
in 18th century England," Roan says. (Or maybe it was Burkhalter.)
"The engraving and printing of music publishing is charted through
our collection. John Blow’s `Ode on the Death of Henry Purcell’ is
one of our earliest items. It was printed with wooden moveable type.
Later, engraved copper plates were used; you can see the plate-marks
on the pages. The etcher and engraver would often sign their names.
Sometimes it was so beautiful that the musical calligrapher has signed
the plate. I look at the loose-leaf notebook containing title pages,
which serves as a catalog of the collection. The graphics are handsome;
pages are well-balanced and tasteful; the calligraphy is imaginative,
"Because we’re both interested in theater and painting in 18th
century London, we wanted to acquire music that brings them to life,"
Burkhalter says. "Music in 18th century England was a social leveler.
Everyone could be part of the excitement. Tradesmen and cabinetmakers
would attend concerts next to the aristocracy."
Music was a magnet for friends and associates of 18th century cultural
leaders, he points out, all of whom met socially. Artist Thomas Gainsborough
played viola da gamba and harpsichord. Artist William Hogarth, along
with composer Handel, was a member of the Board of the Foundling Hospital
in London, a foundation that still exists. Both artists painted their
musical friends. Literary figures Samuel Johnson and Henry Fielding
traveled in the same circle.
While Burkhalter and Roan prize their collection as a key to 18th
century English cultural life, they are equally interested in the
performance of its music. "The collection represents music that
we could perform, or share with other performing ensembles," Burkhalter
says. "We see it as a major resource. For some of the works we
have the only known copy." Bruce Becker, co-artistic director
of Philadelphia-based Philomel, is helping extend the use of the collection
by developing a database to extend access to Burkhalter and Roan’s
loose-leaf inventory of their manuscripts.
Eventually, the collection is to be a bequest. "It will be presented
to a research institute known for its dedication to 18th century English
studies," says Burkhalter, "someplace concerned with the material
culture of 18th century England. We’re narrowing down the choice.
The recipient has not yet been chosen."
Born in 1951, Burkhalter grew up in Trenton and Lawrenceville.
Both of his parents were dedicated amateur musicians, participating
in church choirs and amateur choral societies. "My father had
a tenor voice of great beauty," Burkhalter says. Roan adds, "It
was an incredible voice with a huge range." Burkhalter’s mother
was among the women artists hired by Flemington’s Stangl Pottery to
decorate ceramic birds, which have now become collectors’ items. One
of them sits on the sideboard among the decanters, eggcups, and mugs.
Burkhalter’s first instrument was the recorder, which he started before
age 10, and temporarily abandoned. He played clarinet in school ensembles,
and then oboe. He studied the performance of early music at the New
England Conservatory of Music with Daniel Pinkham, and baroque performance
practice at Harvard with Frans Bruggen.
In addition to his baroque interests, freelance musician, and lecturer
Burkhalter’s expertise includes the ancient musical cultures of the
Americas. He collects and plays ancient meso-American musical instruments.
"My meso-American interest has a direct link to the baroque,"
he says. "There’s early music and earlier music."
Roan, born in 1931 in Albany, Georgia, began piano studies at age
nine, and added organ as a teenager. "I was intrigued by the organ
because it had gadgets," he says. "I had a fine piano teacher,
who was also an organist. If I had four good piano lessons in a row,
he would give me an organ lesson. I had very few organ lessons."
While he was a student at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, Roan
heard a concert by the French organist Marcel Dupre in nearby Louisville.
"It changed my life," he says. "In the morning I went
to the Dean and changed my major from English to music."
Roan completed his organ studies at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute
in 1954 and earned a degree in choral conducting from Westminster
Choir College in 1956, where he was invited to teach organ. Now a
professor emeritus, Roan teaches harpsichord at Westminster, where
harpsichords arrived in the mid-1960s.
Burkhalter and Roan have been living in their present house for 16
years. Their teeming quarters are replete with legions of lovely objects
that invite fingering and fondling. "What we have here mirrors
our world, and mirrors our interests," Burkhalter says.
The pair of concerts this weekend mirrors some of their musical interests.
Whether it’s billed as such, or not, the set of musical events is,
in its way, a Burkhalter-Roan festival.
— Elaine Strauss
Miller Chapel, 609-497-7890. The Practitioners of Musick present "The
Dutch Baroque: Musical Life in 17th-Century Holland," featuring
John Burkhalter, Sheila Fernekes, Eugene Roan, and Fuma Sacra. Free.
Friday, March 7, 8 p.m.
Church of Princeton, Cherry Hill Road, 609-730-8796. Baroque entertainment
in the style of 18th-century London, highlighting the music associated
with the celebrated English actor David Garrick and his friends. John
Burkhalter presents an illustrated pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. $15;
$5 students. Saturday, March 8, 8 p.m.
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