Basically Bull

Alan Feinberg


Alan Feinberg explores the uncharted territory of the 16th-century keyboard.

Feinberg unearths the strange genius of Renaissance renegade John Bull for the first time, on the modern steinway Grand

Alan Feinberg performs some of the most avant-garde works for the “virginal” — a prototype of sorts of the piano—from John Bull, William Byrd, and Orlando Gibbons, among others. These works are recorded for the first time on a modern piano.

Full of complex contrapuntal lines that tie fingers in knots, this experimental and dynamic pianism of early England balked in the face of conventional music at the time. Bull’s works were not born of genteel or pithy dance tunes, nor were they meant to express the flowering charms of the gentlewoman of society. Described as a “vexatious” human being, Bull fled England in 1613 in fear of being persecuted for “his incontinence, fornication, adultery and other grievous crimes” (according to Bull himself.)

He was a compositional renegade who pushed the boundaries in every sense of the word. With a penchant for writing near-impossible melodic spiraling lines that demanded dexterity and diligence, Bull provided, with a cohort of compelling keyboard composers, a folio of incredible and unearthed works.

The works included on Feinberg’s disc feature music from Orlando Gibbons, John Bull, Thomas Tomkins, John Redford, William Byrd and John Blitheman. These short pieces all embody the bold counterpoint, odd harmonies and embellished melodies that cast them aside from traditional repertoire. Bull’s Pavan in the Second Tone embodies the strange harmonic progression Bull was known for and his tune Galliard defies the average speed of fingers. Gibbons’ Fantasia is a lovely, tune that builds in a slow, meandering fugue-like way. Feinberg understands these works and their inherent irreverence.

He has blown the dust off of the manuscripts and unearthed them to breathe new life into these works, originally composed for the virginal. According to Feinberg, “Fashioning a group of these works to function in concert and translating them to the different timbre of the modern piano has been an exciting venture into the 16th/17th century avant-garde.” None of these works have ever been recorded on a modern piano.     

“Feinberg translates the exquisite chromatic ruminations and intricate counterpoint of Bull's keyboard works, and some contemporaries, into the lush sound world of the modern piano.”  

New York Times


“In short, this album is Basically Excellent, not Basically Bull.”

Musical Toronto


“All of the works here reveal a remarkably mature, expressive musical language, one that you can appreciate afresh in Alan Feinberg’s vibrant interpretations.”


“Feinberg demonstrates the almost nonchalant virtuosity that Bull must have possessed himself, but never allows the fireworks to overwhelm the essentially lyrical conception of the music.”  

American Record Guide


“Alan Feinberg’s piano playing is smooth, mellow, dexterous, masterly, and although virtuosic at times, never ostentatious. You could say it’s comfortably cozy and inviting. He allows Bull’s ornamentation to speak for itself while maintaining a firm, flowing grasp of the music.”

Classical Candor


“Feinberg, transferring all this music from the virginal to the piano, gives it warmth and poetry as well as intellectual rigor.” 

The New Yorker

Album Credits

Basically Bull / Alan Feinberg • STNS 30019

Release Date: 06/25/2013 

Recorded January 15-17, 2013 at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia.
Producer: Dan Merceruio
Engineer: Daniel Shores

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Piano Technician: Dan Jessie
Piano: Steinway Model D #590904 (New York)

About the Artist

Alan Feinberg is an experienced performer of both classical and contemporary music and is well known for recitals that pair old and new music. Basically Bull showcases his fascination and foray into the classic to unearth the contemporary.

Mr. Feinberg has received four Grammy® nominations and has recorded a wide range of American repertoire: four solo discs for Decca that survey American music and piano concertos by Milton Babbitt, Mel Powell, Andrew Imbrie, Kamran Ince, Morton Feldman, Paul Bowles, Amy Beach, Charles Ives, Leo Ornstein, Samuel Adler, Don Gilles, and Robert Helps. He received his fourth Grammy nomination for his recording of the Amy Beach Piano Concerto with the Nashville Symphony.

Mr. Feinberg has performed as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonia, Montreal Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and many others.

Mr. Feinberg frequently performs in Europe. Appearances include The Proms, Wigmore Hall, festivals in Edinburgh, Brescia Bergamo, Geneva, Budapest, and others. In 2013 he programmed and performed in a series of concerts showcasing American music in Russia: in June, for the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg and in September, in Moscow.

About Steinway & Sons label

The STEINWAY & SONS music label produces exceptional albums of solo piano music across all genres. The label — a division of STEINWAY & SONS, maker of the world’s finest pianos — is a perfect vessel for producing the finest quality recordings by some of the most talented pianists in the world.

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