Hommage à Kenneth Gilbert

I had the privilege to study with some of the greatest harpsichord masters: among them, Huguette Dreyfus of course, and Kenneth Gilbert. Both were, are, dear to my heart. I met Kenneth for the first time in Geneva in 1978. I was a young harpsichordist and sort of a fan of great musicians. I went to his concert in the beautiful hall of the Geneva Conservatoire. He played twelve Preludes and Fugues by Bach from the Second Book. After the recital, I brought my programme to have it dedicated. Kenneth didn’t seem very interested in fans… but when I showed him the First Harpsichord Book by Couperin, which he had published for Heugel Edition in Paris, he said immediately: “Ha! That’s more serious”. I obtained a beautiful signature which is still on my book ever since this time. Then, in 1981, after my First Prize at the Paris conservatoire in the class of Robert Veyron-Lacroix, I attended a masterclass with Kenneth in Annecy. I remember I played for him the First Harpsichord Book by Michel Corrette, the great Chaconne in G major by Handel and several Louis Couperin pieces. I was immediately impressed by his amazing artistic culture and by a huge understanding of baroque music, and especially the organ and harpsichord repertoires. Before the recording of my first CD in 1982 (it was Michel Corrette), I played this programme for Kenneth in the Musée du Conservatoire (when it was based in the Rue de Madrid in Paris). I played the beautiful historical instrument by Jean-Claude Goujon that I had chosen for the recording. Kenneth encouraged me very much, he was so benevolent and… at the same time he was so demanding… Of course, the result was revealed after the lesson: I made a lot of progress, and was very inspired to practice for hours and hours… 27 at the International Harpsichord Competition, Paris, 1976. left to right: Huguette Dreyfus, Robert Veyron-Lacroix, János Sebestyén, Gustav Leonhardt, Ruggero Gerlin, and KG (photographer unknown) In 1985, at the Strasbourg Conservatoire, I did what we call in France “le troisième cycle” which comes after your First Prize in Paris. There, I studied the Well-tempered Clavier with Kenneth (the complete first book) and a lot of Froberger pieces. My lessons usually took place in his flat in Chartres, just in front of the cathedral. 1985 was the anniversary of Bach's birth, and for this occasion Kenneth published a wonderful recording of the Well-tempered Clavier for Archiv Produktion. It is still my favourite version. It’s a reference for me every day…

In 1988, the Paris Conservatoire appointed Kenneth Gilbert after Robert Veyron-Lacroix’s retirement. I won’t say here what I have written twice in the past about the teaching of Kenneth in Paris. An article was published in the 'Perpectives on early music and revival in the Twentieth century' edited by our friends Rachelle Taylor and Hank Knox, as you all know. The article is in English and there is a French version of it in La revue du Conservatoire - easily found on the website of the Paris Conservatoire. Then, gradually, we became closer, Kenneth and I. We did a wonderful tour in USA in 1991 with Davitt Moroney and Andrew Appel, and playing the harpsichord concertos by Bach in New York and Yale… One evening, in a restaurant in New York, Kenneth asked me to use “tu” and not “vous”. And it was rather difficult for me at first… At this time, Kenneth and I shot a movie which is still available online. And it’s quite a hit on Youtube! (the reader can find the link to this at the end of this edition: Ed.) It is a lesson about Bach and mostly François Couperin. I began at this moment the recording of the François Couperin's complete harpsichord works. And after that, over the next few years, Kenneth was extremely generous and took time to hear me before each CD, from 1991 to 1995. I will never forget that…

In 2001, Kenneth was on the jury when I applied for the vacant harpsichord professorship at the Paris Conservatoire. It’s still an honour to have succeeded him in this institution. Year after year, Kenneth was extremely attentive to my class and he helped me a lot in the ways I’d like to teach. Kenneth was also very generous with his historical instruments and he gave a lot of young harpsichordists the chance to record several of the most beautiful keyboards in the world. When he was in Paris until 2014, I had regular dinners with him every week. I will never forget these amazing meetings, his extraordinary intellect (probably the most impressive I’ve ever known in my life) and his precious friendship! And… a final memory… I saw Kenneth for the last time in February of this year. I saw him with his partner Maurice Decker. I had played a recital in Quebec on a Sunday afternoon, the 9th of February, after which I went to his retirement home. It’s no secret, we all know that Kenneth had Alzheimer’s disease, and I wasn’t sure he recognized me at the beginning of our meeting. But - and I will finish with this - at the end of the afternoon, we came in his room where he had an electronic keyboard. We placed on the desk for him the score of the Bach Partitas, opened at the Fantasia of the Third Partita. And… Kenneth, who was so lost mentally, played it perfectly, turning the pages himself. He knew exactly where he was in the score. And of course, we applauded a lot at the end, and he was so happy with his success… That’s the last and extremely touching memory which I will keep preciously in my mind and my heart. Thank you.

Olivier Baumont: Paris, France Harpsichordist, Professor of Harpsichord, Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse, Paris

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