Dr David Ponsford MA PhD FRCO ARCM

Dr David Ponsford MA PhD FRCO ARCM

Associate Lecturer

Room 0.17, 37 Corbett Road

I have developed a successful career by combining scholarship with the highest level of performance. My research has focused on keyboard music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and I regularly perform on harpsichord and organ as a soloist, with chamber ensembles, and many orchestras. For ten years I conducted the Chamber Orchestra at Cardiff University, where I lecture in notation and editing, performance practice, and supervise MA and PhD students. I also teach organ and harpsichord at Bristol University and regularly deliver weekend courses at Madingley Hall, University of Cambridge.

Following the publication of my book in 2011 by Cambridge University Press ‘French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV’, I am currently engaged by Nimbus Records to record a series of CDs of the essential French Baroque organ repertoire on historic French organs, of which the first four CDs have been released and have met with critical acclaim. In 2016 I will be both recording the complete organ works of Nicolas de Grigny at Sarlat Cathedral and producing a new edition of his Livre d'orgue for Ut Orpheus, Bologna. 

I was fortunate to be able to study organ with Peter Hurford, Lionel Rogg and Piet Kee, and harpsichord with Kenneth Gilbert and Gustav Leonhardt. On graduating from Cambridge, I was appointed Assistant Organist at Wells Cathedral. Later, I studied for a PhD on performance practice in French Baroque organ music with Professor Peter Williams. 

In addition to the French organ series, recordings include Bach's complete violin sonatas with Jacqueline Ross, ‘Parthenia’ (1612), J. S. Bach's Clavierübung Part 3, the complete Handel recorder sonatas with Alan Davis, and a recital of early seventeenth-century English songs and keyboard music with my son, Simon Ponsford (countertenor). 

In recent years, I have given concerts in Singapore, Poland, Germany, France, New York and Montreal, in addition to those in the UK such as organ recitals at King's College, Cambridge, Westminster Cathedral and the London Oratory, and harpsichord recitals in the Purcell Room, London, as well as various festivals. As a continuo player, I have played with many of the major UK chamber orchestras, and I now play regularly with Orchestra of the Swan and Armonico Consort. With Ex Cathedra I have appeared in festivals in Belgium, France, Finland, the BBC Proms, and made recordings on the ASV and Hyperion labels. 

For five years I was Publications Officer for the British Institute of Organ Studies, and together with Anne Page founded the Cambridge Academy of Organ Studies. My edition of Biber's Mystery Sonatas was published in 2007 by Ut Orpheus, Bologna, after a BBC broadcast of these pieces with Baroque violinist Micaela Comberti. Future plans include recording and performing the complete Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, an pan-European project involving seven other harpsichordists from France, Germany and Switzerland. 

I am committed to continuing to perform, research and teach in order to bring a greater understanding of the music to as wide an audience as possible. For full details of my publications and recordings, please see my website.

Speaking engagements

  • Madingley Hall Cambridge University 
  • McGill University Montreal 
  • Oxford University 
  • Bristol University

I have had a wide range of experience teaching organ and harpsichord at specialist music schools, conservatoires and universities, namely Wells Cathedral School, Bath Spa University, Birmingham Conservatoire and Bristol University. At Cardiff University my teaching has focused on lectures on Performance Practice, Notation and Editing, and on Handel's Messiah as the focus in the Full Works module.

My aim in teaching is to encourage students to develop the skills necessary to become independent thinkers, who are able to articulate their thoughts grammatically and effectively in their writing. Teaching should not be focused purely on passing the required examinations, but should prepare students for professional life, which for musicians can entail performing, teaching and administrative work as well as a host of other skills. Therefore students need to develop their individual instrumental and vocal skills, their intellectual grasp of musical grammar, performance techniques and practices, and the historical contexts of their chosen repertories. In particular, a knowledge of historical performance practices, and of the history of notation and the techniques of editing, are two important disciplines relating to these purposes. Students should also experience the highest standards of musical performance, and be inspired by music at the highest level in order to inspire others in post-university life.

As an organist and harpsichordist, my research has focused on historical performance practice. For my PhD, I researched the question of notes inegales in French Baroque organ music, during which time I realised that the standard narratives about French organ music in the reign of Louis XIV were misguided. Hence my book 'French Organ music in the reign of Louis XIV' (C.U.P., 2011), and articles on similar topics, is an attempt to write about the repertoire in a generic manner, rather than adopting the traditional composer-chronology format. My current project with Nimbus Records to record the essential repertoire on French historic organs is intended as a justification of ideas expressed in my book.

In progress is my new edition of the Livre d'orgue by Nicolas de Grigny for Ut Orpheus, Bologna. This most important organ book of the French Baroque period (which was copied out by J. S. Bach in its entirety) has never had the benefit of a reliable modern edition.

Future research projects are also based around performances. My recent acquisition of the 1766 Jacob Kirckman harpsichord will be the catalyst for a book on eighteenth-century English harpsichord music, accompanied by recordings. The pan-European recording project of early seventeenth-century Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, together with seven other harpsichordists from France, Germany and Switzerland, will be accompanied by a project to digitalise the manuscript to make it accessible on the internet.