The history of the harpsichord
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The History of the Harpsichord. The 15 th Century :. What we know today as a harpsichord seems to have evolved in the early 1400s in Flanders The earliest surviving representation is an altar carving from Germany ca.1425.

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The 15 th century
The 15th Century:

  • What we know today as a harpsichord seems to have evolved in the early 1400s in Flanders

  • The earliest surviving representation is an altar carving from Germany ca.1425.

  • The second is from England: a beautiful stained glass window attributed to John Prudd c1440 in the Beauchamp chapel of St.Mary's Church, Warwick England … it clearly shows its Flemish influence in the case decoration.


By the 16 th century
By the 16th century:

  • Italian makers dominated the harpsichord development.

  • The Italian case is light and the stress of the strings supported by internal knees.

  • The keyboard range has doubled from the earlier northern instruments. And, the harpsichord has taken the musical world by storm.


Here is an italian harpsichord
Here is an Italian Harpsichord:

  • This model is from the 16th century



The 17 th century
The 17th Century:


The 17 th century1
The 17th Century:

  • During this century, the harpsichord range was increased.

  • Most early instruments cover less than 4 octaves, this was gradually expanded to 5 octaves.

  • Often this was done by retuning the bass octave to omit sharp notes, thus reaching deeper notes with no change to the instrument.

  • Instrumental range (1677) has been extended by splitting the lowest two sharp keys and squeezing two new sets of strings into an existing design.


18 th century
18th Century:


18 th century1
18th Century:

  • The number of strings increased, large instruments often having three choirs per note.

  • The choirs were now designed to be easily selected by the player in various combinations for different sound effects.

  • The essential mechanical layout and sound of the Flemish instruments of the mid-1500s were retained in northern instruments during the 1700s.

  • This was the instrument for which the Couperins, J.S.Bach, Handel, Haydn, and the other great northern composers wrote.


19 th century
19th Century:


19 th century1
19th Century:

  • Essentially, use of the harpsichord ceased by 1800. The precision and clarity of the baroque had been replaced by mush and bombast.


19 th 20 th century
19th-20th Century:

  • Several German firms experimented with plucked pianos late in the 1800's.

  • By 1900, a young Polish pianist, Wanda Landowska, had figured out how to make good music with them

  • 1912, the French firm of Pleyel brought out a model designed for her.

  • Ralph Kirkpatrick and others used similar instruments to join her in developing a wholly new sound that blended piano and organ techniques of the time.


19 th 20 th century1
19th-20th Century:

  • A French violinist, Arnold Dolmetsch, made a number of instruments at several workshops based on English harpsichords of the late 1700s, but without their sonority - they attracted few admirers.

  • Some of the surviving large harpsichords were modified by replacing a set of strings by strings an octave below normal pitch - at least one such modified instrument was attributed to J.S.Bach.


Harpsichord facts
Harpsichord Facts:

  • They have been made in varying shapes, sizes and sounds over the years dating back to the 14th century.

  • Some of the strings were plucked with a quill

  • Some with metal plectra

  • At least one harpsichord was designed to strike the strings with a metal staple in the manner of the dulcimer.


Here are some songs played on the harpsichord
Here are some songs played on the Harpsichord:

  • This is a simple sound clip in a major key signature and played with a midi harpsichord  



Three major harpsichord composers
Three major Harpsichord Composers:

  • J.S. Bach

  • Domenico Scarlatti

  • Francois Couperin






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