Harpsichord: description of the instrument, composition, history, sound, varieties

Harpsichord: description of the instrument, composition, history, sound, varieties

In the XNUMXth century, playing the harpsichord was considered a sign of refined manners, refined taste, and aristocratic gallantry. When distinguished guests gathered in the living rooms of the rich bourgeois, music was sure to sound. Today, a keyboard stringed musical instrument is only a representative of the culture of the distant past. But the scores written for him by famous harpsichord composers are used by contemporary musicians as part of chamber concerts.

Harpsichord device

The body of the instrument looks like a grand piano. For its manufacture, precious woods were used. The surface was decorated with ornaments, pictures, paintings, corresponding to fashion trends. The body was mounted on legs. Early harpsichords were rectangular, mounted on a table or stand.

The device and principle of operation are similar to the clavichord. The difference is in different string lengths and a more complex mechanism. The strings were made from the veins of animals, later they became metal. The keyboard consists of white and black keys. When pressed, a crow’s feather attached to a plucked device with a pusher strikes the string. The harpsichord may have one or two keyboards placed one above the other.

Harpsichord: description of the instrument, composition, history, sound, varieties

What does a harpsichord sound like?

The first copies had a small sound range – only 3 octaves. Special switches were responsible for changing the volume and tone. In the 18th century, the range expanded to 5 octaves, there were two keyboard manuals. The sound of an old harpsichord is jerky. Pieces of felt glued to the tongues helped to diversify it, make it quieter or louder.

Trying to improve the mechanism, the masters supplied the instrument with sets of strings of two, four, eight for each tone, like an organ. The levers that switch the registers were installed on the sides next to the keyboard. Later, they became foot pedals, like piano pedals. Despite the dynamism, the sound was monotonous.

Harpsichord: description of the instrument, composition, history, sound, varieties

The history of the creation of the harpsichord

It is known that already in the 15th century in Italy they played an instrument with a short, heavy body. Who exactly invented it is unknown. It could have been invented in Germany, England, France. The oldest surviving one was created in 1515 in Ligivimeno.

There is written evidence from 1397, according to which Herman Poll spoke about the clavicembalum instrument he invented. Most references date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Then the dawn of harpsichords began, which could differ in size, type of mechanism. The names were also different:

  • clavicembalo – in Italy;
  • spinet – in France;
  • archichord – in England.

The name harpsichord comes from the word clavis – key, key. In the 16th century, the craftsmen of Italian Venice were engaged in the creation of the instrument. At the same time, they were supplied to Northern Europe by Flemish craftsmen named Ruckers from Antwerp.

Harpsichord: description of the instrument, composition, history, sound, varieties

For several centuries, the forerunner of the piano was the main solo instrument. He necessarily sounded in theaters at opera performances. Aristocrats considered it obligatory to purchase a harpsichord for their living rooms, paid for expensive training to play it for family members. Refined music has become an integral part of court balls.

The end of the XNUMXth century was marked by the popularization of the piano, which sounded more diverse, allowing you to play by changing the strength of the sound. The harpsichord instrument went out of production, its history ended.


The group of keyboard chordophones includes several varieties of instruments. United by one name, they had fundamental differences. Case size may vary. The classical harpsichord had a sounding range of 5 octaves. But no less popular were other varieties, differing from each other in the shape of the body, the arrangement of the strings.

In virginel, it was rectangular, the manual was located on the right. The strings were stretched perpendicular to the keys. The same structure and shape of the hull had a muselar. Another variety is the spinet. In the XNUMXth century, it became very popular in England. The instrument had one manual, the strings were stretched diagonally. One of the oldest species is the clavicitherium with a vertically located body.

Harpsichord: description of the instrument, composition, history, sound, varieties

Notable composers and harpsichords

Musicians’ interest in the instrument lasted for several centuries. During this time, musical literature has replenished with many works written by wonderful famous composers. They often complained that when writing scores they found themselves in a constrained position, because they could not indicate the level of fortissimo or pianissimo. But they did not refuse the opportunity to create music for a wonderful harpsichord with a brilliant sound.

In France, even a national school of playing the instrument was formed. Its founder was the Baroque composer J. Chambonière. He was court harpsichordist to Kings Louis XIII and Louis XIV. In Italy, D. Scarlatti was rightfully considered a virtuoso of the harpsichord style. The history of world music includes solo scores by such famous composers as A. Vivaldi, V.A. Mozart, Henry Purcell, D. Zipoli, G. Handel.

At the turn of the 1896th-XNUMXth centuries, the instrument seemed irretrievably a thing of the past. Arnold Dolmech was the first to make an attempt to give him a new life. In XNUMX, the music master completed work on his harpsichord in London, opened new workshops in America and France.

Harpsichord: description of the instrument, composition, history, sound, varieties
Arnold Dolmech

The pianist Wanda Landowska became a key figure in the instrument’s revival. She ordered a concert model from a Parisian workshop, paid much attention to harpsichord aesthetics, and studied old scores. In the Netherlands, Gustav Leonhardt was actively involved in the return of interest in authentic music. For most of his life, he worked on the recording of Bach’s church music, the works of baroque and Viennese classics composers.

In the second half of the XNUMXth century, interest in ancient instruments increased. Few people know that the son of the famous opera singer, Prince A.M. Volkonsky devoted a lot of time to recreating the music of the past and even founded an authentic performing ensemble. Today you can learn how to play the harpsichord in the conservatories of Moscow, Kazan, St. Petersburg.

Клавесин – музыкальный инструмент прошлого, настоящего или будущего?
Мария Успенская - клавесин (1)

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