In 1960, Joan Benson returned from European studies to introduce the clavichord to the United States. She joined the faculty at Stanford University at a time when its early music program was one of the foremost in the country. For students, her energy and intuitive brilliance would be inspiring.
Her first recording was selected by Saturday Review as one of the finest classical records of 1962. The article, emphasizing Benson’s “amazing dynamic shadings and nuances of touch,” effectively launched her international concert career as a clavichordist and fortepianist. Her meditative approach to unknown preludes from the Buxheimer Orgelbuch took them far beyond the textbook. Above all, her ground-breaking performance of the profoundly dramatic C.P.E.Bach’s Fantasia in F sharp minor for clavichord, (written shortly before his death in 1788) opened up new ways of conceiving his keyboard works. With her sensitive attunement to dynamics, Benson awakened musicians and music lovers to the amazingly emotional, free fantasias of late eighteenth century Germany.
Benson was the first to revive, in clavichord concerts, music ranging from fifteenth-century tablatures to unfamiliar keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sons. Benson was also among the first to revive the fortepiano. She traveled, often by air, with her both her clavichords and her 1795 Broadwood grand.
In time, she would champion equally the music of contemporary clavichord composers. Joan Benson’s advocacy of modern Western music led her to Olivier Messiaen in Paris, to the University of Utrecht Institute of Sonology, and to Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. She has performed works for both clavichord and piano by such composers as Lou Harrison and John Cage. Music has been written for her by David Loeb and Chris Chafe.
Benson performed on historical clavichords and fortepianos in all the great museum collections of the world- including the ones of Copenhagen, Brussels, Geneva, London, Stockholm, Paris and Berlin. In America, she performed at The Smithsonian Institution, The Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, the Schubert Club of Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where she recorded her third album.
Throughout the years, Benson shared her expertise with numerous instrument makers, helping them to understand the rich subtleties and delicate beauties of the great historic keyboards and to bring them to life in modern realizations. However, the finest of these museum antiques remained her favorite keyboards.
Joan Benson has appeared as solo artist in such festivals as the International William Kapell Piano Competition and Festival in Maryland, the Pepsico International Festival in New York, the Arts Festival in Findhorn, Scotland, Josef Haydn’s 250th Birthday Celebration in Vienna, Austria, the International Clavichord Symposiums in Magnano, Italy and the Carmel Bach and Cabrillo Festivals in California. National Public Radio has presented Joan Benson in numerous programs across the country. In addition, she has been featured on CBC’s Mostly Music, Luncheon at Kennedy Center, and on television on East and West Coasts and Asia.
As a teacher, Joan Benson stimulated great interest in the palette of soft sounds possible on clavichords and early pianos. She served on the faculty of Stanford University, the University of Oregon and the Aston Magna Academy and Festivals in Massachusetts. She taught and gave master classes in more than a hundred universities, colleges and conservatories across the United States and around the world. According to former pupil, concert artist Carole Terry, ” She imparts a knowledge of grace and line that truly helps the student understand the style and nuance of a piece. As a teacher of fortepiano and clavichord, she is unparalleled.”
Music by C. P. E. Bach and Kuhnau, clavichord, FOCUS, University of Indiana Press, 1988. Reissued as a CD, 1995.
Haydn and Pasquini on Boston Museum of Fine Arts clavichords, TITANIC RECORDS,1982.
C.P .E.Bach on the Clavichord and Fortepiano, ORION, 1972
Joan Benson-Clavichord, REPERTOIRE RECORDS, 1962; reissued by EDUCO AND BRIDGE RECORDS, 1972. Selected as one of the year’s best recordings by Saturday Review.
Publications About Joan Benson
Grove’s Dictionary of American Music and Musicians, “Joan Benson”
Clavier Magazine, article by Melinda Bargreen
Boston Clavichord Society Magazine, interview by Richard Troeger
Continuo Magazine, interview by Penny Mathiesen
Publications By Joan Benson
IN 2014, Clavichord for Beginners (with CD and DVD), released by Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2014.
This book offers, for the first time, important beginning exercises and lessons for the potential clavichordist. It also provides a vibrant portrait of a clavichord pioneer who takes us from sixteenth-century keyboard masters to the frontiers of electronic music research. The book includes a CD of Benson’s acclaimed performances from 1962 to 2000, engineered by Grammy award winner, Barry Phillips. An additional DVD shows Benson as an inspiring teacher.
According Paul Badura-Skoda, “Clavichord for Beginners is the product of lifelong dedication and research by the world’s leading expert on clavichord playing and teaching. This amazing book offers a wealth of information not only for beginners, but also for experienced music lovers.”
Note: Most of the following are reprinted in the Articles section of this website.
“The Interplay of Clavichord and Piano”, De Clavicordio XI, Musica Antica a Magnano, Italy, 2014. (To be published).
“Studying with Macario Kastner a Half Century Ago”, De Clavicordio VIII, Musica Antica a Magnano, Italy, 2008.
“Piano to Clavichord (1925-1962)”, Clavichord International, Nov. 2006.
“Clavichord Perspectives from Goethe to Pound”, De Clavicordio VI, Musica Antica a Magnano, Italy, 2004.
“Qigong for Pianists”, Piano and Keyboard Magazine, September, 1998.
“Clavichord Technique in the Mid-20th Century”, De Clavicordio I, Regione Piemonte, Italy, 1994.
“The Clavichord in 20th-Century America”, Livro de Homenagem a Macario Santiago Kastner, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, 1992.
“Three Poems”, Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, Spring/Summer, 1991.
“Bach and the Clavier”, Clavier Magazine, February, 1990.
“Recollections of Edwin Fischer,” Journal of the American Liszt Society, January/June, 1987.
“Haydn and the Clavichord,” International Joseph Haydn Congress, Vienna, 1982, G.Henle Verlag, Munich, Germany, 1986.