The ability to project the shaping of a musical phrase, a feeling or really anything, on the harpsichord (or perhaps universally in baroque music) depends on the player’s command of gesture. Assuming you’ve put the work into understanding a piece of music, mastering the work of the fingers, the real art is in the gracefulness, the harmony of body, arms, head, fingers. It’s not just a show for the audience, although when done very well it does help communicate the music. We’re not talking about body language that gets in the way, or a player’s delusion that there’s something happening that just isn’t there. We’ve all seen that.
It’s a combination of looseness and a graceful, total involvement in the music that somehow adds detail and shape to phrase beginnings, middles and ends. I confess that this is really difficult for me to find; it doesn’t come naturally and wasn’t ever part of my training. So like a number of things I understand it better as an observer, and as something I’m trying to learn and internalize. I can perhaps I achieve what I’m looking for after a number of iterations, with a lot of concentration. But first time through I feel too stiff, and I have to let my ears guide me where a whole body fluidity would take me more readily and better. It’s important for students to understand that no amount of finger skill can replace this skill of physical movement. The proof is in the great players – really no matter what instrument. I don’t think there’s simply one way to integrate gesture into playing – that’s what makes it interesting. Watch, for example, several very imaginative and interesting harpsichordists; I’ll pick on Richard Egarr, Pierre Hantai, Marco Mencoboni – they’re all easy to find on YouTube, and they all represent this principle in one way or another. Their playing is as a result incredibly compelling. Andrew Lawrence-King, the harpist, has an interesting blog, well worth following; he just wrote a little piece about gesture that’s really on target. I won’t try to summarize – go check it out. Gesture and rhythm, they are what music was all about before the metronome.