‘Bad Boy’ Harpsichordist

Scott Ross moved to France when he was 12 years old. He studied harpsichord and organ at the Paris and Nice Conservatories, and in 1971 won the Bruges International Competition, in Belgium.

Five years before dying of AIDS in 1982 at age 38, Ross committed himself to recording the complete keyboard works of Scarlatti — 555 sonatas.

The full set had never before been recorded, let alone by a single artist, let alone on an instrument like that which its composer would have known. Vast swaths were hardly played at all.

“I have a quality — a vice, perhaps,” he says. “It’s called perseverance, which isn’t the same thing as patience. Patience I don’t possess, but perseverance? You’re talking to someone who recorded 555 Scarlatti sonatas. Well, that didn’t require any patience. I have no patience for anything whatsoever.”

In the video cited in this article, Ross quietly tutors a student, speaking French, at the keyboard. The toll his affliction has taken is etched in his gaunt face, yet with eyes and voice he conveys a masterful authority, serenity, empathy, teacherly tenderness — and yes, patience — that are indescribably moving.

Ross’s brief admonishment to his pupil, as the young man plays, crystallizes the experience: “Don’t look at me, look at the keyboard.”

(“He Was a ‘Bad Boy’ Harpsichordist, and the Best of HIs Age,” Zachary Woolfe, NYTimes, 2-26-21)

(c) 2021 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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