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UC Berkeley's Davitt Moroney shares abiding love of music through teaching and performing
25 October 2001

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - Davitt Moroney recently returned to the University of California, Berkeley to teach music where he learned much of it, and on Sunday (10/28) he takes to the Hertz Hall stage for a public performance on a harpsichord that he inaugurated.

Moroney is a professor of music at UC Berkeley, where he earned his PhD in1980. While a graduate student, Moroney was a founding member of the San Francisco Baroque Ensemble and regularly invited to play harpsichord with the San Francisco Symphony for special baroque events. A long time freelance recital organist and harpsichordist based in France, he retained strong ties to the Bay Area, giving numerous concerts in the region over the years.

Moroney's concert choices, and his return this fall to teach at UC Berkeley, reflect an abiding love of teaching and his continuing fascination with musicological research.

For the past 21 years, Moroney has lived in Paris and made dozens of recordings, mostly of harpsichord and historic 17th and 18th century organ music. Moroney also is the new university organist, although he won't perform in that capacity at the Sunday afternoon concert.

The instrument he has chosen to play Sunday is a copy of a late 18th-century French, two-keyboard harpsichord built by Pascal Taskin, whose 1780 original is kept in the musical instruments museum in Paris. The replica is the product of the craftsmanship of John Phillips of Berkeley; a Cal alumnus who is considered one of the finest harpsichord builders of present times.

Moroney said he is delighted to play this particular harpsichord again in concert, and particularly to have Phillips in the audience. "It's always a privilege to be able to play an instrument for the person who built it," Moroney said.

The Hertz Hall concert will feature music by Louis Couperin, the founder of a family dynasty in the French court of Louis XIV, in the 1650s. "His music is extraordinarily passionate and powerful, with rich dissonance and unusual melodic phrases," Moroney said. "Although he died young, he left over 200 works for harpsichord and organ." Moroney has recorded all of them.

As a tribute to the UC Berkeley music library, he will open his concert with a selection of pieces from the famous "Parville manuscript," one of the two most important sources for French 17th century harpsichord music. It is one of the treasures of the collection of rare books and music in the UC Berkeley music library.

He also will perform the music of Louis Couperin's nephew, Marc-Roger Normand Couperin, an organist and harpsichordist at the Court of Savoy in Turin, Italy. Moroney "discovered" the music a few years ago while examining a private collection in Italy. Until then, music by this particular Couperin had been thought long lost. Moroney found Marc-Roger Normand Couperin's autograph harpsichord manuscript, containing 60 pieces.

Moroney also has chosen music of another of Louis's nephews, Francois Couperin, royal organist at the Chapel in Versailles at the time of Louis XIV and Louis XV.

To close the program, he will play music of Armand-Louis Couperin, an eminent harpsichordist and an organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris before he died just before the French Revolution.

In discussing his concert choices, Moroney noted that the university's music department library has a "fascinating" volume of Francois Couperin's music that contains a handwritten copy, circa 1730, of Couperin's famous second book of harpsichord pieces. "Such copies are very rare," Moroney said. "I'm looking forward to studying the manuscript since I think it has never been examined in detail."

He is anxious as well to promote the music department's extensive collection of original manuscripts and musical instruments. The collection includes three antique organs from the 18th century, and pianos, organs and harpsichords that are exact modern copies of 17th and 18th century instruments.

"The pianos used by Mozart, Beethoven or Chopin were radically different from the large, loud black instruments found in all modern concert halls," Moroney said. "The same is true for violins. Modern instruments can sometimes sound like 'violins on steroids' because the historical trend of the last 200 years has been to pump up their volume to fill ever larger halls."

The department's instruments help bring the notes on the page back into sounds that are somewhat closer to those the composer might have heard, he said, adding that the original instruments preserve the traditions and refine our intellectual understanding of the music.
But, he said, they also are a wonderful teaching tool "because hearing original old instruments play music from the same period when they were built can teach us as much as many classes. And performances on these instruments can enrich the cultural life of the campus and the Bay Area, and bring pleasure to many people."

Lighter moments lie ahead, such as on Nov. 4 when he and the Stanford University organist team up at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco for a "musical collaboration, a friendly and non-combative musical event around the time of the Big Game."

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