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The Landowska Approach

In response to:

Wanda Landowska from the January 28, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

I was astonished to read in Virgil Thomson’s review of Landowska on Music that he did not once mention Arnold Dolmetsch, the man who was everything that people believe Landowska to have been.

Twenty years her senior, he was the most uncompromising researcher into historical instruments and technique at the time when she was inventing modern harpsichords for her pseudo-historic adventures.

Because Dolmetsch did not possess her virtuosity he did not attain her success—which would have been greatly diminished had she attempted to solve the basic problems of style. She always played the music “as written” with the result that a series of fast notes did not sound like “bundles of them” (North 1700) but like a sewing machine. Thanks to her wide influence this blight can be heard in her pupils to this day.

Dolmetsch, who in 1916 was the first to realize that not one note in baroque music was played “as written,” made recordings in the mid-Thirties, which despite technical shortcomings have some of the free “conversation” quality which Forkel said characterized Bach’s playing. Since these recordings, matters, thanks to the Landowska approach, have gotten less and not more authentic.

The cause of authenticity will be best served if we do not over-praise Landowska but ap-praise her good and bad points at their true worth.

Sol Babitz

Hollywood

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