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West Greenville, Home to Superb Baroque Music: The Music House

By Thomas Herron

Venture a few yards west of S. Pitt St. in Greenville and you’ll find a cultural treasure: The 408 W. 5th St. Music House at 408 W. 5th St, home of ECU professor of music John Bibby O’Brien. Prof. O’Brien has restored the giant old Victorian house, built by Jesse Moye in 1901-04, into a period showpiece. Walk inside and the dark, grand staircase, heavy curtains and polished oak floors ground you in a world of cool southern gentility, a world of competing drawing rooms and high ceilings.  Simultaneously, the floor-to-ceiling (and on the ceiling!) heavily patterned wallpaper and fascinating range of elegant furniture, paintings, table sculptures, curios, knick-knacks, doo-dads and antique treasures—many with a musical motif—transport you to the rich aesthetic pleasure domes of the Boston Brahmins.  Both Henry James and  Oscar Wilde—and perhaps Gustav Mahler and certainly Rhett Butler—would feel quite at home here.

For the last four years, Prof. O’Brien, a keyboard specialist, has generously opened his doors to the community on a regular basis as host to a series of classical music concerts by visiting soloists and chamber ensembles. The concerts are of superb quality and range widely in style and period, with a particular emphasis on the baroque (17th-18th century). Featured recently at the Music House have been such well-known and varied performers as the early music trio, Chatham Baroque, and Patrick Ball, a Celtic harpist.

Many of the musicians travel nationally and internationally to perform here. Last Sunday (June 23) was no exception. The young award-winning Frenchwoman Nadja Lesaulnier entranced a capacity crowd of over a hundred listeners of all ages with a finely played repertoire of harpsichord pieces by G.F. Handel, J.S. Bach, and the lesser-known Austrians Gottlieb Theophil Muffat and Johann Joseph Fux.

Harpsichord lacks the fuller keyboard and tonal range of its successor, the piano, and to a musical ignoramus like me can sound monotonously metallic (it has, unkindly, been compared to a hailstorm on a tin roof). Nonetheless, like so much baroque music, pieces written for it have lovely melodies and intricate harmonies.  In the hands of a virtuoso like Lesaulnier it is daringly fast-paced and vivacious, complex, and sensitive music: It is the champagne of the music world, a delightful prelude to greater things.

Muffat is especially elegant. Ms Lesaulnier plays him on YouTube:

Bright, lively and elegantly dressed, Ms. Lesaulnier had arrived the day before from Boston, where she had performed at an early music festival. She was soon to return to her home in Basel, Switzerland, where (she says) every day is filled with early music concerts. How lucky we were to have her here briefly in Greenville.

The next performance at The Music House is Sunday, August 4 at 5 p.m., by the early music consort L’Académie du Roi Soleil, an international ensemble specializing in French baroque music. On the program are works by Clerembault, Courbois, Lambert and Couperin. It is not to be missed.

Performances at the Music House take place in the domestic intimacy of a salon. Refreshments are served freely before, during and after the performance, both outside on the porch and inside the house. This turns all concerts into terrific social events. Tickets are not for sale but a donation of $20 ($15 for seniors and $5 for students), which covers the cost of refreshments, is suggested, as is reserving a place in advance. For reservations and more information, contact Prof. O’Brien at or (252) 367-1892.

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