It has often struck me as intriguing that The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (a collection of keyboard music spanning the period c.1562-1612) occupies a virtually non-existent place in the literature considered viable by pianists.
Needless to say, harpsichordists continue to hold the music in the highest esteem, while a number of transcriptions for instruments and ensembles have been made available in more recent times. How can it be that this ancient heritage - which in keyboard music terms might be regarded as the equivalent to the Dead Sea Scrolls - has hitherto seemed a no-go area for pianists? It is as if the first 'proper'
keyboard music tumbled miraculously out of some parallel universe around Bach's time, i.e. the first half of the 18th century. While our modern piano is perhaps as different from a virginal as a washing machine is from a mangle, there are in fact a good many facets of virginal music which read across perfectly well to today's instruments. For this to be possible we need to take the time to look
beyond peculiarities in translation, which to a significant extent comes down to issues resulting from burgeoning notational practices. It also becomes necessary to re-imagine the music in light of what is possible, as well as what is desirable. Problems with accessing the sound-world of pre-Baroque keyboard music can be overcome quite easily, just as it is possible to become better in resonance with
avant garde musical styles, given appropriate immersion. Since the writing of the performance notes to The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book more than a century ago (by J.A. Fuller Maitland and W. Barclay Squire), the momentum generated by the Early Music Revival has brought about immeasurable insights into the intentions of Renaissance and Baroque composers. Performances on period
instruments continue to reacquaint us with a bygone age and stimulate a healthy fascination for the practices that were once fundamental to the craft. On balance however, the potential for a major, rejuvenated interest in the earliest keyboard music perhaps lies in its absorption into the broader piano repertory, and to this end there is an outstanding need to put pianists in touch with the highly
nuanced spirit of the pre-Baroque masters.