The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: House Music concerts revive the conviviality and fun of making music in the past | May 25, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

On Sunday afternoon, I attended a concert that seems unusual by today’s standards because it took place in a private home—not in a concert hall or some other commercial venue.

Yet that unusual place was a reminder that most music concerts took place at one time in private homes. The tradition was called, in German, Hausmusik or “house music.”

And long before there was television to watch or movies to go to in order to pass an evening, musicians used these private residences – often those of aristocrats or rich patrons – as a place to perform their music. They were a reminder of salons and courts.

And as the middle class rose to prominence in Europe, families made music as a primary source of entertainment and bonding.

Imagine that: Once upon a time, classical music was fun, not just a duty, and was popular, not elitist. It was for the people. not the professionals.

In its current reincarnation in Madison, house music is the brainchild of keyboard artist/builder and early music expert Trevor Stephenson, who also directs the Madison Bach Musicians. He opened up his own renovated home to a concert that he says will become a tradition.

He says he hopes to present up to seven or eight similar concerts each year.

The next one is on Friday, June 18, at 7:30 p.m. and will feature trio sonatas with baroque violin, baroque cello and harpsichord in music by Haydn, Corelli, Handel and Leclair.

The venue, at Stephenson’s home on Madison’s west aside, seems a perfect setting. The extensively remodeled home has a “music room” that is flooded with natural light from plentiful skylights and windows, highlighted by light wood floor and trim and by light walls (below).

The chairs are simple ones, and one can’t help but remark on the mix of high technology (electronic recording equipment) and old or low technology – such as harpsichord, fortepianos and 19th century pianos with mostly wooden guts.

Then at intermission, you get tasty treats – punch, champagne and bubbly water as well as sweets and fruit, sausage and cheese — along with conversation and socializing.

If you’re lucky, you’ll also to hear the charming and witty, articulate and accessible Stephenson – the local Leonard Bernstein of early music, if you will — explain some aspect of the music and the instrument. (Below he is seen explaining the action of a key on a fortepiano.)

The music room sits up to about 40, with a small balcony, which the performers do not  ignore. It is intimate and convivial, sparking conversations and friendships.

As for the music, it was great music greatly performed. One felt close to it, as one should when it is a chamber music, not a symphony or choral event. And such intimacy even leads to a suspension of critical judgment, which gives way to sheer enjoyment, appreciation and involvement. That is a wonderful feelings – no doubt the original intent of live music by composers who wrote their music for what Virginia Woolf might call “the common listener” and not for critics.

So one got to hear Madison piano teacher Tim Mueller perform duets by Mozart (Variations in G Major, below) and Schubert (“Hungarian Divertissement,” a work admired and played by Chopin) with Stephenson.

You also heard soprano Amy Conn, who teaches in Evanston, Ill., sing several rarely heard English songs by Haydn (including one that prefigures the humorous patter songs of Gilbert and Sullivan) and five songs by Schubert, including “Di bist die Ruh” and “Auf dem Wasser zu singen.” You couldn’t help but feel close to the singer and close to the song.

It was exemplary music-making that took place on a shared and human level. And that added to the event. It didn’t take a big leap of imagination to time-travel back to one of those gathering of friends (Schubertiads) where Schubert played and premiered so many of his works.

The concerts – gatherings, really — event are $30. That’s a terrific deal given the quality of the music, the entertaining and illuminating commentary, and the refreshments. It’s a wonderful experience.

Stephenson’s house music series deserves a strong success, because it adds so much to the Madison music scene, which is so rich you doubted anything new could be added.

Reservations are required.

For more information, go to or call 608 238-6092.

You can be sure you will see The Ear there again.

Will he see you?

If you attended the concert, what was your impression?

What part did you like best?

What could be done differently or better?

Will you go again?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Wonderful to stumble upon this after I realised that the folk singer songwriters are copying our model from the 18th and 19th centuries — not that we are copying them.

    Comment by concertblog — December 6, 2010 @ 4:11 am

  2. I agree, these concerts are ideal for the intimacy between artist and listeners. It would be so nice to go back to the era of the salon again.

    These encounters are very popular in the summer months in my area. It’s good to get away from the “boxed in” concert hall, once again.

    Everyone looks forward to the intermission so one can stretch out and enjoy the buffet; however, in my locale it is served at the end of the concert.

    I enoy your artilces greatly; such a large variety of subjects. I look forward to reading them, when they arrive at my mail box.

    Best regards,

    Comment by Raymond Ferland — May 25, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

    • Dear Ray,
      Many thanks for reading my blog and for commenting and offering your kinds words about the variety of subjects I treat.
      You say “my area.” Where is your area, if I may ask? I am interested to know.
      You are quite right about the feeling of freedom from not being boxed in — and also of connecting to other audience members as well as to the musicians.
      Food during intermission or a “reception” afterwards — either is fine for me. But food, drink and talk seem like natural complements to the music, no?
      Please keep reading and documenting. And I hope the enjoyment you take from my blog continues.
      All my best,

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 25, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

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