Fulfilling a Visionary Dream

Introduction text written by violinist and musical producer Betina Maag Santos for the SanCtuS album entitled “Johann Sebastian Bach – Six Partitas from the Clavier-Übung I” (SCS 027-029) with recordings of Rafael Puyana playing the celebrated three-manual harpsichord by Hieronymus Albrecht Hass of 1740.

The present album is the culmination of a remarkable story representing the combination of visionary dreams with inherent qualities of greatness. Rafael Puyana embodied many such qualities, and this album testifies to his superb artistry as well as his notable strength, courage and persistence in his quest to restore and play the 1740 three-manual harpsichord built by Hieronymus Albrecht Hass in Hamburg, which Puyana owned for nearly half a century. His long-term partnership with this instrument marked his artistic path and led to his life-long project to further the acceptance of German harpsichords.

In a larger context, the present recordings represent the fulfillment of a dream born 113 years ago, passed like a torch through various hands and generations and now finally materialized in the present, first-ever recording of J. S. Bach, played on the unique Hass instrument.

The dream started in Paris at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, where Wanda Landowska first saw the three-manual harpsichord used in this recording. As Puyana says in the text he wrote for this release, Landowska understood the importance of the impressive German instrument at the French fair regarding her lifelong quest of authentic interpretation of Bach’s music on the harpsichord. Furthermore, the unique sonorous and technical features of this instrument, built by a contemporary compatriot of her adored German composer, gave birth to her dream of playing J. S. Bach on this extraordinary harpsichord and bring to life the sound the composer might have had in mind when writing for the instrument she was determined to revive. 

However, fate had two world wars in store, causing the loss of uncountable treasures and placing a fermata on Landowska’s vision. Only towards the end of her life did she discover with great excitement, in the presence of Rafael Puyana (one of her foremost pupils), that the instrument she had seen half a century ago had re-surfaced.

If Landowska did not live long enough to fulfill her dream of finding and playing this instrument, fate seemed to again intervene, when the three-manual instrument became the property of Rafael Puyana. This was the beginning of a long, courageous and often lonely pilgrimage in the pursuit of restoring it to its original playing condition and to have the unusual German instrument accepted on equal terms with instruments of other nationalities and schools, more widely known.

 As early as 1839, Montalembert had stated that antiquities had two enemies: vandals and restorers. Although Puyana protected the instrument from the former, he was not able to avoid the latter. Thus began a twenty-year interval until, finally, after failed attempts, a  talented restorer successfully completed his work on the 1740 Hass and the torch was passed to the musician, for the instrument’s artistic destiny to be fulfilled. Puyana did so, both in concerts and recitals, as well as in recordings made at his Paris apartment.

Some of these recordings remained unedited and unpublished, waiting to be revived. Almost thirty years later, I had the privilege of helping him accomplish this revival. Thus stands the torch, after a secular quest that was visionary and heroic in its development and magnificent in its achievement. 

However, to my most painful regret, Rafael, having carried the torch for nearly fifty years, is no longer with us to celebrate the fulfillment of the visionary dream he pursued after Landowska, and to be present in the handing over of the torch as the first-ever recordings released of J. S. Bach played on the 1740 Hass three-manual German harpsichord.

Thus, in his absence, it is with fondest memories and immense admiration that I pass forward the torch which landed in my hands, in the form of the present masterly performance of the Six Partitas from the Clavierübung by J. S Bach, to you and future generations. I am confident that these recordings are an important addition to Rafael Puyana’s legacy and that the fulfilled dream of bringing to life Bach’s music with the powerful, rich, varied and noble sounds of the 1740 three-manual harpsichord by Hieronymus Albrecht Hass is yet another important contribution bequeathed by him to the endless quest of how J.S. Bach’s music should be played and how it should sound.

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