Pedal Harpsichord Ragtime

Download Scott Joplin on the Pedal Harpsichord

This is doubtlessly one of the more hip albums out there. Pedal harpsichords recordings are few and far between; the majority of the recordings with which I am familiar are to be found on the Baroque Music website. Even rarer are recordings of ragtime repertoire on harpsichord. To union the two is to produce unique, wholesome experience that the whole family can enjoy. I kid you not, this album brought tears to my eyes upon the first listen.

The pedal harpsichord is a harpsichord with a pedalboard like unto an organ. This innovation allows for the performance of organ repertoire on the harpsichord, which is exactly what most of the Baroque music website’s selections entail. However, on their website you may also find some special (and highly recommended!) recordings, including  Isolde Ahlgrimm playing the Art of the Fugue  and the Harpsichord Toccatas. I would provide downloads of the folders containing these selections, but that would deprive the Baroque Music website of valuable traffic, as well as your opportunity to explore their wonderful website. These people have good taste.

E. Power Biggs had a pedal harpsichord custom-made for him by the Challis firm in the mid-’60s. With it he recorded several selections of Bach masterpieces (including the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582) as well as two albums of ragtime music, two organ concerto albums, and a Christmas album. All of these are currently out of print, although low-quality rips of the ragtime album in its entirety and selections from the Christmas album are available on youtube (here and here).

Biggs’ pedal harpsichord interpretations of Scott Joplin are incredible. It is rare in the harpsichord literature to hear a baseline with quite the feel of a ragtime ostinato, but Biggs gives these a fundamentally stompy feel, without making the music feel too stilted. My favorite musical moment is without a doubt the second half of the Cleopha March and Two-Step (track 5).

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A John Challis pedal harpsichord (built 1967). This specific instrument is a later model than that used on this recording, and is currently  located in the Metropolitan museum in New York.