Lessons with Blandine Rannou



Abbaye de Royaumont

In 2002, I spent a month in France, a week at a time, at the 13th-century Royaumont Abbey (located about 40 kilometers north of Paris), the home of a rich and thriving arts foundation dedicated primarily to Early Music, New Music, and modern dance.

Along with a handful of singers, bowed bass players, and two other harpsichordists, I took part in a residency in which we worked with the French countertenor Gerard Lesne and members of his ensemble, Il Seminario Musicale. Our main project was to put together the Venetian opera Il Medoro, a 17th-century work by Francesco Luccio. A modern edition was specially prepared for the residency and had not yet received a modern performance or been recorded.

During that time I had a series of intense lessons with the ensemble’s harpsichordist, Blandine Rannou (pictured), who was a fine soloist and basso continuo player (she’s taught the latter for many years at the supérieur Paris Consevatory).

Blandine’s lessons made a great impression on me even though we didn’t get along as well as expected. The main problem was language—I didn’t speak French and she spoke no English. For the one language that we had some shared familiarity, German, neither of us was fluent enough to communicate properly. In the end, it wasn’t that a big a deal, we worked it out.

I would readily describe her as a teacher who really made me think about the harpsichord. Even though I play nothing like her, I’m still inspired by her approach.

I remember Blandine’s technique and playing style very clearly. She’s what I’d describe as a muscular player, quite physical with the instrument (plus, her body moves around a lot with the music). Hand movements from note to note are small and often sudden, rarely straying from the keys while keeping close contact.

Her sound is large and rich. Her interpretation is delivered with conviction and easily draws the listener in.

To show you what I mean, here’s Blandine performing an excerpt from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata in E minor BWV 914.

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