for solo harpsichord (student level)

2013/14; open duration, ca. 5-10 minutes

Faythe Vollrath performs Retouchage (professional version) and other works on her solo recital. Skip ahead to 56:30 for Retouchage.

on the music

Retouchage is faux-French for, basically, "alteration," like taking in the waist of a pair of pants. (The real word is retouches, so "retouchage" is more like the state of altering something.) Tami Morse asked me to write her a piece based in some way on Frescobaldi's seventh toccata from his second book of toccatas, and to be played beside it. (The word "Retouchage" derives from the same Latin root as toccata.) I decided to deconstruct Frescobaldi's piece and reconstruct it in some sort of a 21st century way. The score combines direct quotations from Frescobaldi with passages derived either from Frescobaldi's harmonic and melodic material, and other "Baroque-like" phrases, all altered and sewn back together to construct a new garment that is, nevertheless, in some deep way, still fundamentally the same.

Baroque musicians are used to making stuff up on the fly. My piece requires similar skills, but to an extreme: The harpsichordist puts the altered passages in order according to a couple of loose rules and her or his mood.

Retouchage was commissioned by Tami Morse with support from the Minnesota State Arts Board, and is dedicated to Tami.

on the student version

The present, 'B' version requires all of the musicality and the Baroque mindset discussed above, but without some of the technical difficulties that the original Retouchage (2013) poses. There are a few things to emphasize regarding the pedagogical nature of Retouchage-B.

First, this is a piece that can grow with a studentŐs abilities, from stringing together simple chordal passages and one-handed melodies as an advanced beginner to working with complicated rhythms and ornamental improvisations as an advanced (full-stop) student. Once this version is down pat, the student may even move on to the "professional version," complete with its five-against-three rhythms.

Second, the structure of the Retouchage requires the student to master two of the most important skills for good continuo playing: a comprehensive knowledge of the musical possibilities available at any given moment, and the flexibility and spontaneity to use them effectively.

As a result, Retouchage offers a modular, incremental, integrated, and fun opportunity to study simultaneously a technically-challenging solo piece and the continuo skills so essential for any harpsichordist. (Not to mention the mild introduction to post-tonal harmonic language that the work provides.

Retouchage also exists in a version appropriate for professional harpsichordists, called Retouchage.


If you are interested in a score to Retouchage-B, please contact Nissim.

Performances of Retouchage

  • West Coast premiere of the acoustic version by Faythe Vollrath on November 15, 2014 as part of Sacramento State University's Festival of New American Music.
  • World premiered by Tami Morse of the acoustic version on May 17, 18, & 19, 2013 at The Baroque Room in St. Paul, MN.
  • "Pre-premiered" in the electronic version by Alissa Duryee on January 29, 2013 at La Courneuve Conservatory.
Contact Nissim Schaul