Interpreting J.S. Bach on the Piano: Lessons from the Harpsichord

Adam Pearl, Aberfoyle Baroque, Master Class
Instructor's Name: 
Adam Pearl
Saturday, November 14, 2015 - 10:00am to 1:30pm
Aberfoyle Place, NW Washington DC 20015
About Master Class: 

This Master Class aims to deepen pianists’ technical and musical understanding of Bach’s keyboard compositions, thereby facilitating their interpretations of Bach on the piano.  Bach’s keyboard compositions were written for the musical and technical capacities of the harpsichord, clavichord and organ, not the piano (pianoforte) which was invented only late in Bach’s life.  The touch, tone, limited dynamic  range but prolonged sustain, and plucking mechanism of the harpsichord thus directly informed Bach’s compositions and performances of those works during his lifetime.  An ongoing question for devotees of Bach is the extent to which pianists should draw on harpsichord practices and techniques when interpreting and performing Bach on the piano.

Adam Pearl, who is both a harpsichordist and pianist, will explore this issue in depth during this Master Class.  He will open the Class by performing a piece by J.S. Bach on the harpsichord, then give a short talk, illustrating his points using both the harpsichord and the piano.  He will then mentor up to three Master Class Student Performers on interpretive and technical aspects of  their J.S. Bach pieces using both instruments.  Ample time will be provided following the Student Performer sessions  for all participants to ask questions and explore issues.  At the close of the Class Adam will perform another J.S. Bach piece.

About the Instructor: 

Award-winning early keyboard specialist and director Adam Pearl is in demand as a performer of both solo and ensemble music.  He has performed throughout the United States as well as in Europe, South America and Asia.  He has been principal harpsichordist for Philadelphia’s baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare since 2005, and also performs with ensembles such as Chatham Baroque, the Folger Consort, the Catacoustic Consort, the American Bach Soloists, the Bach Sinfonia, Modern Musick and various modern symphony orchestras.  He has recorded on the Chandos, Dorian and Plectra labels.  A lover of Baroque opera, Pearl has directed numerous productions with American Opera Theater and Peabody Chamber Opera.  From the keyboard, he has led performances of Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Cavballi’s La Calisto and La Didone, Montedverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Charpentier’s David et Jonathas and La descente d’Orphée aux enfers, and Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Giulio Cesare and fully staged productions of Messiah and Jephtha.  Adam is a member of the Early Music faculty at the Peabody Conservatory and has taught at various early music workshops, including the Amherst Early Music Festival, the Madison Early Music Festival and the Rocky Ridge Music Festival.  He holds the degrees of BM in piano performance and both MM and DMA in harpsichord performance, all from the Peabody Conservatory.  He is a laureate of the 2001 Jurow and 2004 Bruges international harpsichord competitions.


This Class is designed for intermediate to advanced level pianists.  Class participants may choose to be either Student Performers or Auditors. Because of time constraints, Student Performers will be limited to three. Kindly note that piano teachers are most welcome to Audit the class but may not participate as Student Performers. The maximum number of Class participants will be 26.

Participants wanting to join the Master Class as Student Performers should carefully read the attached form and then register for the Class using the "Sign Up as a Student Performer" button provided below. They should also print the form, complete it, and return it by email to no later than October 15. The selection of the Student Performers from the applications received will be made by Aberfoyle Baroque with input from the Instructor.  The objective in this selection process is to ensure that Performers reflect a mix of ability levels and compositions. Student Performers are expected to have their pieces prepared to a high level of proficiency for the Class. The J.S. Bach pieces played by each Student Performer should be 6 - 8 minutes in duration and may be an entire piece or a section of a longer piece. Student Performers will play their pieces on the piano, but should be prepared to try short excerpts on the harpsichord to facilitate the learning process.

To sign up as an Auditor please click the "Sign Up as an Auditor" button on this page and follow the instructions thereafter.  Auditors will not perform at the Class but  there will be ample opportunities for them to be active participants.  Prior to the Master Class, they will be informed as to which pieces the Student Performers will be playing.  Auditors will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions in the Class.


The Master Class will run from 10:00am until 1:30pm, including time for lunch. The schedule will be as follows:

  • Welcome & Introductions
  • Bach on the Harpsichord – Opening Performance by Adam Pearl
  • Talk by Adam Pearl supported by practical illustrations on the harpsichord & piano
  • Student Performer A
  • Tea/Coffee Break with Q&A and discussion period
  • Student Performer B
  • Student Performer C
  • Q&A and discussion period
  • Bach on the Harpsichord – Closing Performance by Adam Pearl.
  • Complementary Buffet Lunch

The fees for participating in the Master Class are as follows:  

  • Auditors (maximum of 23):  $50
  • Student Performers (maximum of 3): $65
Master Class
Aberfoyle Baroque's instruments include a Steinway Model “B”, a Steinway Model “L”, and two Harpsichords built by William Dowd in 1972 and 1976.
Master Class Form: 
Aberfoyle Baroque reserves the right to take photographs, videos and recordings of this event and post them on its social media. Aberfoyle Baroque does not share participants’ contact information with other entities.
Adam Pearl on harpsichord with Temesta di Mare - Pachelbel's Canon & Gigue in D