Like the violin,
also the harpsichord is a very individualistic instrument, yet in
a different way. If the violin can be named 'the instrument of the
soul', the harpsichord is in some way 'the instrument of seclusion'.
The language is generally regarded as being more or less archaic,
coming from a different age. And the nature of the instrument is determined
by practically unchangeable features - so it seems - which set the
framework for a different world in which the player can retract, can
isolate and thus can transport the audience or the individual listener
this frame does not really change when going from the German Johann
Sebastian Bach to the American Virgil Thomson, from the
Spanish idiom of Manuel de Falla to that of the Italian Domenico
Much of the sense of the music depends on the character and grandeur
of the instrument and its possibilities, but also on the personality
of the executioner. In this case Sylvia Marlowe.
personality is quite unique in the way she looks at the world, the
way she regards her profession and the place the instrument has in
this context. Hers is a powerful approach, with strength, decisiveness
and precision. Those are the attributes of her artistry. Her pursuit
in rendering the score in a faithful, yet individualistic manner is
what made her stand out in the world of harpsichordists with such
big names as Wanda Landowska, Rosalyn Tureck, Isolde Ahlgrimm,
Ruggero Gerlin, Isabelle Nef, Helmut Walcha, Robert Veyron-Lacroix,
Fritz Neumeyer, Ralph Kirkpatrick, Eduard Müller and Fernando
Valenti, to name those who were the outstanding players of the
nineteen fifties, the time when Marlowe made her recordings for Remington,
and also for American Decca, Haydn Society (6x LP with Haydn Piano
Sonatas) and Capitol (6 Bach Concertos, Falla Concerto, Sonatas of
Frescobaldi and Scarlatti).
Marlowe in the mid nineteen fifties.
Picture originally published on the back of Capitol P8361 with
Bach's Six Clavier Concerti after Vivaldi, enlarged (enhanced
The liner notes
on Remington R-199-136 say:
Sylvia Marlowe was born in New York City, began to study the
piano at the age of nine and at eighteen was offered both
a scholarship to the Juilliard School and the Ecole Normale
de Musique in Paris. Choosing the latter, she worked for four
years with Nadia Boulanger, and after hearing a recital played
by Wanda Landowska, her interest turned to the harpsichord.
Since that time Miss Marlowe has toured Europe, toured the
States; offered, for the first time on the air, the complete
Well Tempered Clavier; played modern works by de Falla,
Poulenc, Virgil Thomson, Arthur Berger, Vittorio Rieti, Alexei
Haieff, Alan Hovhaness, and John Lessard; given recitals in
Town Hall and Carnegie Hall; appeared with symphony orchestras
from coast to coast; discovered old works and commissioned
new ones; performed for ten years in her own "Coffee
Concert" over the National Broadcasting System. This
is confessedly, only a partial list. But it indicates one
thing: Miss Marlowe is a specialist. And clearly that specialty
is the music of all time.
And from the
cover of the 1960 English Brunswick release "Six Americans"
with works of modern composers (SXA 4537, originally American Decca
710021) I quote this addition:
Her solo recitals have been supplemented by concerts with her
own chamber ensemble, the Harpsichord Quartet.
With the consciousness of the true artist, Miss Marlowe has
taken pains to inform herself of the correct and complex performance
traditions of the music she plays. (...) Miss Marlowe is music
director of the Harpsichord Music Society, an organization whose
activities include the commissioning of new works for the harpsichord,
the establishment of scholarships for advanced study of the
harpsichord, and the bringing together of players and musicologists
for discussion of performance practice of older music.
She taught at the Mannes School (College) of Music were so
many outstanding performers and pedagogues shaped the generations
to come, and where also Laszlo Halasz was teaching. He obviously talked
several teachers into making one or two recordings for Don Gabor's
Miss Marlowe formed "The Harpsichord Quartet" together
with Claude Monteux (Flute), Harry Shulman (Oboe), Bernard
At forty she married painter
Berman (1896-1976) who was her elder by some twelve years.
Sylvia Marlowe's style of playing is already
apparent in her early recordings from the shellac era when she recorded
for Decca, Musicraft and The Gramophone Shop.
Vivaldi: Concerto Grosso (arr. Bach)
Les fastes de la grande et ancienne Menestrandise, Tic-toc-choc.
Rameau: Gavotte variée, La poule.
8 Suites for Harpsichord - complete recording.
Recorded exclusively for the Gramophone Shop
Album GSC-2 (5 x 12")
9 sonatas - L-23 (Cortege), 205, 232, 257 (Les adieux), 461, 433,
479, 413 (Pastorale), and 463.
3x 12" Musicraft MC-72
Not all her recordings
received high praise, but Irving Kolodin (in The New Guide to Recorded
Music; 1950) did specifically admire the quality of Sylvia Marlowe's
playing in the Gramophone Shop set with Henry Purcell's Eight Suites,
The two Remington
recordings of Sylvia Marlowe:
R-199-136 (released in July 1953; in France Concerteum CR 207)
Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas (Longo 206, 14, 257, 232, 433,
Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata
François Couperin: Les folies françaises - sometimes
written as "françoises" (also called Les Dominos),
which - as Jay Harrison writes in the liner notes - is a series of
miniatures each representing a different human passion clothed, as
it were, under a different and symbolically colored domino or mask.
And as Jay Harrison writes on the cover, the "theme proper, upon
which the entire composition is based, is titled La Virginite sous
le Domino couleur d'invisible. This is followed, in succession,
by a cast of characters."
Each and every Domino is announced on this record in French which
adds to the atmosphere of the short pieces which are performed very
(released in 1956)
Sylvia Marlowe plays François Couperin: 26ème
Les fastes de la grande et ancient Menestrandise
Sylvia Marlowe, New York, 26 Sept. 1908 - 11 December, 1981.
Rudolf A. Bruil.
Page first published November 10th, 2005 - This page will be updated.