Davitt Moroney is one of today’s top specialists in older keyboard instruments, one who has delved deeply into the music and aesthetics of French and English harpsichord music. He has perhaps the most scholarly orientation among leading early music performers, but his performances are accessible to any listener. Born in Britain of Irish-Italian ancestry, he studied in England, France, and the United States, coming to early music through scholarly study. His PhD, granted at the University of California in 1980, dealt with the choral music of Tallis and Byrd. Through the 1970s, however, he studied organ (with the Austrian player Susi Jeans) and harpsichord (with the Canadian Kenneth Gilbert), and after finishing his degree he embarked on a career as a recitalist, with Paris as his home base.
Moroney has released over 50 compact discs of keyboard music of the 16th through 17th centuries, as a soloist, chamber player, and participant in concertos, winning several Gramophone Awards and France’s Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros. His most ambitions project, which took 15 years of planning, research, and rehearsal, is a complete survey of the keyboard music of the great Elizabethan-era English composer William Byrd. A seven-disc set (for the price of five), on the Hyperion label, it was the first album of its kind. Meticulously researched, it includes a 45,000-word program book written by Moroney himself. The recording uses the most appropriate instruments available, including two different harpsichords, clavichord, chamber organ, the Ahrend organ of the Church-Museum des Augustins, Toulouse, and a muselar virginal especially built for the recording. Many of the recordings were made in the actual locations where Byrd himself had played his music, including Lincoln Cathedral, Ingatestone Hall in Essex, and L’Abbaye Royale de Fontevraid, France.
Despite all the research and intellectual effort involved, and the strict authenticity for which he strives, Moroney’s performances are vivid and expressive, delighting contemporary audiences. One way he is known for putting his insights across to audiences is to address them directly. In the year 2000, Moroney’s biography Bach: An Extraordinary Life appeared, and his critical edition of Bach’s Art of the Fugue (one of over a dozen he has edited) included a new completion of that work’s massive, unfinished closing fugue. Since 2001 he has been professor of music and university organist at the University of California, Berkeley.