Carol lei Breckenridge specializes in eighteenth-century music on clavichord and fortepiano. With early study and degrees in modern piano, in the 1980’s she began to acquire historic keyboard copies in order to discover how they illuminate repertoire of their time. Presently, she owns: a double manual French harpsichord shop-built in 2006 at Zuckermann harpsichords; a copy of the 1789 Dulcken fortepiano at the Smithsonian, built in 1976 by Thomas and Barbara Wolf; a Paul Irvin 1995 five-octave unfretted clavichord based on the 1765 instrument in Leipzig; and a 1784 Hubert fretted clavichord copy built by her husband, Michael Herrick, and Edward Kottick.
Degrees in piano performance from The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (B.M. and M.M.) and University of Iowa (D.M.A.) have been augmented with a 1997-98 Fellowship at Cornell University, studying fortepiano and Classical style with Malcolm Bilson, as well as lessons and masterclasses on harpsichord with Edward Parmentier and Joan Benson on clavichord. Carol lei was awarded the Joan Kuyper Farver Chair in Music at Central College in Pella, Iowa (USA), where for over 30 years she taught piano, early keyboards, and music literature courses.
In 2022, Carol lei was honored to become the recipient of Early Music America’s Joan Benson Clavichord Award. The personal expression fostered by the clavichord sparked her special love for the instrument. Carol lei is especially eager to share the knowledge she has gained from playing and voicing this foundational instrument for 18th-century music. The subtleties of dynamics and expression on clavichord are enabled by a tactile approach that recognizes the player’s role in actually creating the tone quality, to a larger extent than on any other keyboard. In addition, a well-voiced clavichord is vital for both inspiration and the ability to create the nuance expected by 18th-century composers, nearly all of whom used the clavichord as their basic practice and compositional instrument.
Clavichord performances include: a C.P.E. Bach Symposium at Cornell University; the International Clavichord Symposium in Magnano, Italy; an inaugural recital of a Swedish clavichord at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota; a program for the Dutch Clavichord Society; and programs for the Historical Keyboard Society of North America and the Western Early Keyboard Association, as well as masterclasses for students.
After extensive voicing by Paul Irvin and herself, using Stephen Birkett’s historical wire, and repining with softer brass, Carol lei has recorded all her keyboard instruments, which can be heard at Soundcloud.com under her artist name. In 2021, the Western Early Keyboard Association sponsored a video of her program “Haydn and Keyboards of His Time,” performed on clavichord, harpsichord, and fortepiano, available on WEKA’s YouTube channel.
Carol lei feels a special affinity for dynamically-nuanced instruments, namely clavichord and fortepiano. The music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach particularly draws her, and she plans in the near future to record much of his keyboard works on both clavichord and also a soon-to-be-acquired copy of the 1749 Gottfried Silbermann fortepiano, built and to be completed by Kerstin Schwarz in 2022.
Since acquiring her Silbermann piano, in November, 2022, Carol lei is able to illustrate the importance of Cristofori and Silbermann’s fortepianos as vital to an understanding of nuanced keyboard music of the first half of the 18th century. Composers such as the entire Bach family, as well as Domenico Scarlatti, all had access to Cristofori and/or Silbermann pianos. Bartolomeo Cristofori, the Italian inventor of the piano around 1700, and the German Gottfried Silbermann used a stossmechanik action, with an underlever pushing the hammer up, unlike later “Viennese” pianos with prellmechanik, or a light bouncing action. Comparing the two actions of her fortepianos (Silbermann and Dulcken) – with resultant differences in touch and tone – provides a much clearer picture of 18th-century keyboard music,.
Carol lei now lives in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. She can be contacted on her Facebook page, or through the WEKA website: http://www.wekaweb.org/resources/
Soundcloud recordings: https://soundcloud.com/user-926936754
WEKA video “Haydn and Keyboards of His Time” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxG7Q7l0M9k&ab_channel=WesternEarlyKeyboardAssociation