Harpsichord

Harpsichord

Overview
A harpsichord is a musical instrument
Musical instrument
A musical instrument is a device created or adapted for the purpose of making musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can serve as a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates back to the...

 played by means of a keyboard
Musical keyboard
A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument, particularly the piano. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the...

. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key
Key (instrument)
A key is a specific part of a musical instrument. The purpose and function of the part in question depends on the instrument.On instruments equipped with tuning machines, violins and guitars, for example, a key is part of a tuning machine. It is a worm gear with a key shaped end used to turn a cog,...

 is pressed.

In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard. In a broader sense, "harpsichord" designates the whole family of similar plucked keyboard instruments, including the smaller virginals
Virginals
The virginals or virginal is a keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family...

, muselar, and spinet
Spinet
A spinet is a smaller type of harpsichord or other keyboard instrument, such as a piano or organ.-Spinets as harpsichords:While the term spinet is used to designate a harpsichord, typically what is meant is the bentside spinet, described in this section...

.

The harpsichord was widely used in Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 and Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 music.
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Encyclopedia
A harpsichord is a musical instrument
Musical instrument
A musical instrument is a device created or adapted for the purpose of making musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can serve as a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates back to the...

 played by means of a keyboard
Musical keyboard
A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument, particularly the piano. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the...

. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key
Key (instrument)
A key is a specific part of a musical instrument. The purpose and function of the part in question depends on the instrument.On instruments equipped with tuning machines, violins and guitars, for example, a key is part of a tuning machine. It is a worm gear with a key shaped end used to turn a cog,...

 is pressed.

In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard. In a broader sense, "harpsichord" designates the whole family of similar plucked keyboard instruments, including the smaller virginals
Virginals
The virginals or virginal is a keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family...

, muselar, and spinet
Spinet
A spinet is a smaller type of harpsichord or other keyboard instrument, such as a piano or organ.-Spinets as harpsichords:While the term spinet is used to designate a harpsichord, typically what is meant is the bentside spinet, described in this section...

.

The harpsichord was widely used in Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 and Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 music. During the late 18th century it gradually disappeared from the musical scene with the rise of the piano
Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

. But in the 20th century it made a resurgence, used in historically informed performance
Historically informed performance
Historically informed performance is an approach in the performance of music and theater. Within this approach, the performance adheres to state-of-the-art knowledge of the aesthetic criteria of the period in which the music or theatre work was conceived...

 of older music, in new (contemporary) compositions, and in popular culture.

Mechanism


Harpsichords vary in size and shape but all have the same basic functional arrangement. The player depresses a key pivoted in the middle of its length, which causes the far end of the key to rise. This lifts a jack, a long strip of wood, to which is attached a small plectrum
Plectrum
A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick, and is a separate tool held in the player's hand...

 (a wedge-shaped piece of quill
Quill
A quill pen is a writing implement made from a flight feather of a large bird. Quills were used for writing with ink before the invention of the dip pen, metal-nibbed pens, the fountain pen, and, eventually, the ballpoint pen...

 or, nowadays plastic), which plucks the string. When the key is released by the player, the far end returns to its rest position and the jack falls back. The plectrum, mounted on a tongue that can swivel backwards away from the string, passes the string without plucking it again. As the key reaches its rest position, the string's vibrations are halted by the damper, a piece of felt attached to the top of the jack.

These basic principles are explained in more detail below.


  • The keylever is a simple pivot, which rocks on a balance pin passing through a hole drilled through it.
  • The jack is a thin, rectangular piece of wood which sits upright on the end of the keylever, held in place by the registers (the upper movable, the lower fixed) which are two long strips of wood running in the gap from spine to cheek with rectangular mortises through which the jacks can move up and down.
  • In the jack, a plectrum
    Plectrum
    A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick, and is a separate tool held in the player's hand...

    juts out almost horizontally (normally the plectrum is angled upwards a tiny amount) and passes just under the string. Historically, plectra were normally made of crow
    Crow
    Crows form the genus Corvus in the family Corvidae. Ranging in size from the relatively small pigeon-size jackdaws to the Common Raven of the Holarctic region and Thick-billed Raven of the highlands of Ethiopia, the 40 or so members of this genus occur on all temperate continents and several...

     quill or leather; most modern harpsichords based on historic instruments have plastic (delrin or celcon) plectra.
  • When the front of the key is pressed, the back of the key rises, the jack is lifted, and the plectrum plucks the string.
  • When the key is released, the jack falls back down under its own weight, and the plectrum pivots backwards to allow it to pass the string. This is made possible by having the plectrum held in a tongue which is attached with a pivot and a spring to the body of the jack.
  • At the top of the jack, the felt damper keeps the string from vibrating when the key is not depressed.
  • The vertical rise of the jacks is stopped by the jackrail, which is covered with soft felt to muffle the impact of the jack.

Strings, tuning, and soundboard


Each string is wound around a tuning pin, normally at the end of the string which is closer to the player. When rotated with a wrench or tuning hammer, the tuning pin adjusts the tension so that the string will sound the correct pitch. Tuning pins are held tightly in holes drilled in the pinblock or wrestplank, an oblong hardwood plank.

Proceeding from the tuning pin, a string next passes over the nut, a sharp edge that is made of hardwood and is normally attached to the wrestplank. The section of the string beyond the nut forms its vibrating length, which is plucked and creates sound.

At the other end of its vibrating length, the string passes over the bridge
Bridge (instrument)
A bridge is a device for supporting the strings on a stringed instrument and transmitting the vibration of those strings to some other structural component of the instrument in order to transfer the sound to the surrounding air.- Explanation :...

, another sharp edge made of hardwood. As with the nut, the horizontal position of the string along the bridge is determined by a vertical metal pin inserted into the bridge, against which the string rests.

The bridge itself rests on a soundboard, a thin panel of wood usually made of spruce
Spruce
A spruce is a tree of the genus Picea , a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the Family Pinaceae, found in the northern temperate and boreal regions of the earth. Spruces are large trees, from tall when mature, and can be distinguished by their whorled branches and conical...

, fir
Fir
Firs are a genus of 48–55 species of evergreen conifers in the family Pinaceae. They are found through much of North and Central America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, occurring in mountains over most of the range...

 or—in some Italian harpsichords—cypress
Cupressus sempervirens
Cupressus sempervirens, the Mediterranean Cypress is a species of cypress native to the eastern Mediterranean region, in northeast Libya, southeast Greece , southern Turkey, Cyprus, Northern Egypt, western Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Malta, Italy, western Jordan, and also a disjunct population in...

. The soundboard efficiently transduces the vibrations of the strings into vibrations in the air; without a soundboard, the strings would produce only a very feeble sound.

A string is attached at its far end by a loop to a hitchpin which secures it to the case.

Multiple choirs of strings


Many harpsichords have exactly one string per note. There are several reasons why it is sometimes an advantage to have more. When there are two choirs of strings at the same length, it is possible to arrange for them to give different tonal qualities, and thus to increase the variety of sound produced by the instrument. This is done by having one set of strings plucked closer to the nut, which emphasizes the higher harmonic
Harmonic
A harmonic of a wave is a component frequency of the signal that is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency, i.e. if the fundamental frequency is f, the harmonics have frequencies 2f, 3f, 4f, . . . etc. The harmonics have the property that they are all periodic at the fundamental...

s, and produces a "nasal" sound quality. When two strings tuned to be the same pitch, or to an octave
Octave
In music, an octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems"...

 apart, are plucked simultaneously by a single keystroke, the note is louder and richer than one produced by a single string. The qualitative distinction is particularly noticeable when the strings are tuned an octave apart.

When describing a harpsichord it is customary to specify its choirs of strings, often called its disposition
Disposition (harpsichord)
The disposition of a harpsichord is the set of choirs of strings it contains. This article describes various dispositions and gives the standard notation for describing them....

. Strings at eight foot pitch
Eight foot pitch
Eight-foot pitch is a term common to the organ and the harpsichord. An organ pipe, or a harpsichord string, designated as eight-foot pitch is sounded at standard, ordinary pitch...

 sound at the normal expected pitch, strings at four foot pitch sound an octave higher, and sometimes harpsichords have the rare 16-foot pitch (one octave lower than eight-foot) or two-foot pitch (two octaves higher).

When there are multiple choirs of strings, the player is often able to control which choirs sound. This is usually done by having a set of jacks for each choir, and a mechanism for "turning off" each set, often by moving the upper register (through which the jacks slide) sideways a short distance, so that their plectra miss the strings. In simpler instruments this is done by manually moving the registers, but as the harpsichord evolved, builders invented levers, knee levers and pedal mechanisms to make it easier to change registration.

More flexibility in selecting which strings play is available in harpsichords having more than one keyboard or manual, since each manual can control the plucking of a different set of strings. In addition, such harpsichords often have a mechanism to couple manuals together, so that two can be used while actually playing on only one. The most flexible system is the French shove coupler, in which the lower manual can slide forward and backward, so that in the backward position "dogs" attached to the upper surface of the lower manual engage the lower surface of the upper manual's keys. Depending on choice of keyboard and coupler position, the player can select any of the sets of jacks labeled in figure 4 as A, or B and C, or all three.

The English dogleg jack system (also practised in Baroque Flanders) does not require a coupler. The jacks labeled A in Figure 5 have a "dogleg" shape that permits A to be played by either keyboard. If the player wishes to play the upper 8' from the upper manual only and not from the lower manual, a stop handle disengages the jacks labeled A and engages instead an alternative row of jacks called "lute stop" (not shown in the Figure). Find full details in Hubbard 1967, p.133 ff., Russell 1973, p.65 ff. and Kottick 2003.
The use of multiple manuals in a harpsichord was not originally provided for the flexibility in choosing which strings would sound, but rather for transposition
Transposition (music)
In music transposition refers to the process, or operation, of moving a collection of notes up or down in pitch by a constant interval.For example, one might transpose an entire piece of music into another key...

; for discussion see History of the harpsichord
History of the harpsichord
The harpsichord was an important keyboard instrument in Europe from the 15th through the 18th centuries, and as revived in the 20th, is widely played today...

.

The case


The case holds in position all of the important structural members: pinblock, soundboard, hitchpins, keyboard, and the jack action. It usually includes a solid bottom, and also internal bracing to maintain its form without warping under the tension of the strings. Cases vary greatly in weight and sturdiness: Italian harpsichords are often of light construction; heavier construction is found in the later Flemish instruments and those derived from them (see History of the harpsichord
History of the harpsichord
The harpsichord was an important keyboard instrument in Europe from the 15th through the 18th centuries, and as revived in the 20th, is widely played today...

).

The case also gives the harpsichord its external appearance and protects the instrument. A large harpsichord is, in a sense, a piece of furniture, as it stands alone on legs and may be styled in the manner of other furniture of its place and period. Early Italian instruments, on the other hand, were so light in construction that they were treated rather like a violin: kept for storage in a protective outer case, and played after taking it out of its case and placing it on a table. Such tables were often quite high – until the late 18th century people usually played standing up. Eventually, harpsichords came to be built with just a single case, though an intermediate stage also existed: the "false inner–outer", which for purely aesthetic reasons was built to look as if the outer case contained an inner one, in the old style. Even after harpsichords became self-encased objects, they often were supported by separate stands, and some modern harpsichords have separate legs for improved portability.

Many harpsichords have a lid that can be raised, a cover for the keyboard, and a stand for music.

Harpsichords have been decorated in a great many different ways: with plain buff paint (e.g. some Flemish instruments), with paper printed with patterns, with leather or velvet coverings, with chinoiserie
Chinoiserie
Chinoiserie, a French term, signifying "Chinese-esque", and pronounced ) refers to a recurring theme in European artistic styles since the seventeenth century, which reflect Chinese artistic influences...

, or occasionally with highly elaborate painted artwork.

Variants


The terms used to denote the various members of the harpsichord family are now standardized. This was not so in the harpsichord's heyday.

Harpsichord


In modern usage, "harpsichord" can mean any member of the family of instruments. More often, though, it specifically denotes a grand-piano-shaped instrument with a roughly triangular case accommodating long bass strings at the left and short treble
Clef
A clef is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes. Placed on one of the lines at the beginning of the staff, it indicates the name and pitch of the notes on that line. This line serves as a reference point by which the names of the notes on any other line or space of the staff...

 strings at the right. The characteristic profile of such a harpsichord is more elongated than a modern piano, with a sharper curve to the bentside.

Virginals


The virginal is a smaller and simpler rectangular form of the harpsichord having only one string per note; the strings run parallel to the keyboard, which is on the long side of the case.

Spinet


A spinet is a harpsichord with the strings set at an angle (usually about 30 degrees) to the keyboard. The strings are too close together for the jacks to fit between them. Instead, the strings are arranged in pairs, and the jacks are in the larger gaps between the pairs. The two jacks in each gap face in opposite directions, and each plucks a string adjacent to a gap.

Clavicytherium


A clavicytherium is a harpsichord with the soundboard and strings mounted vertically facing the player, the same space-saving principle as an upright piano. In a clavicytherium, the jacks move horizontally without the assistance of gravity, so that clavicytherium actions are more complex than those of other harpsichords.

Some of the earliest harpsichords for which we have evidence are clavicytheria. One surviving example from the late 15th century is kept at the Royal College of Music
Royal College of Music
The Royal College of Music is a conservatoire founded by Royal Charter in 1882, located in South Kensington, London, England.-Background:The first director was Sir George Grove and he was followed by Sir Hubert Parry...

 in London. For most of the history of the harpsichord, however, the clavicytherium was far less common than the horizontal instrument, probably because of its greater complexity and lesser reliability. In the 18th century fine clavicytheria were made by Albertus Delin, a Flemish builder.

Ottavino


Ottavini are small spinets or virginals at four foot pitch
Eight foot pitch
Eight-foot pitch is a term common to the organ and the harpsichord. An organ pipe, or a harpsichord string, designated as eight-foot pitch is sounded at standard, ordinary pitch...

. It is thought that harpsichords at octave pitch were more common in the late Mediæval times and the early Renaissance, but lessened in popularity later on. However, ottavini remained very popular as domestic instruments in Italy. In England, Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys FRS, MP, JP, was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament who is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man...

 makes many mentions of his "tryangle" in his diary, which references the usual shape of these instruments. In the Low Countries, ottavini were commonly paired with an 8'
Eight foot pitch
Eight-foot pitch is a term common to the organ and the harpsichord. An organ pipe, or a harpsichord string, designated as eight-foot pitch is sounded at standard, ordinary pitch...

 virginals, encased in a small cubb under the soundboard. The ottavino could be removed and placed on top of the larger virginal, making an effect like unto a double manual instrument. These are sometimes called 'mother-and-child' or 'double' virginals.

Other


The archicembalo
Archicembalo
The Archicembalo was a musical instrument constructed by Nicola Vicentino in 1555. This was a harpsichord built with many extra keys and strings, enabling experimentation in microtonality and just intonation.- Construction :...

, built in the 16th century, had an unusual keyboard layout, designed to accommodate variant tuning systems
Musical tuning
In music, there are two common meanings for tuning:* Tuning practice, the act of tuning an instrument or voice.* Tuning systems, the various systems of pitches used to tune an instrument, and their theoretical bases.-Tuning practice:...

 demanded by compositional practice and theoretical experimentation. More common were instruments with split sharp
Split sharp
A split sharp is a kind of key found in some early keyboard instruments, such as the harpsichord, clavichord, or organ. It is a musical key divided in two, with separately depressible front and back sections, each sounding its own pitch. The particular keys that were split were those that play on...

s, also designed to accommodate the tuning systems of the time.

The folding harpsichord
Folding harpsichord
The folding harpsichord was a kind of harpsichord meant for travel. Since it could be folded up into a fairly compact space, it was more easily transported than a conventional harpsichord. The folding took place on hinges and was in the longitudinal dimension, preserving the tension on the strings...

 was an instrument that could be folded up for travel.


Occasionally, in late 18th c., harpsichords were built with a pedal keyboard. While these were mostly intended as practice instruments for organists, a few pieces are believed to have been written specifically for the pedal harpsichord.

Compass and pitch range


On the whole, earlier harpsichords have smaller ranges
Range (music)
In music, the range of a musical instrument is the distance from the lowest to the highest pitch it can play. For a singing voice, the equivalent is vocal range...

 and later ones larger, though there are many exceptions. The largest harpsichords have a range of just over five octave
Octave
In music, an octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems"...

s and the smallest have under four. Usually, the shortest keyboards were given extended range in the bass with a "short octave
Short octave
The short octave was a method of assigning notes to keys in early keyboard instruments , for the purpose of giving the instrument an extended range in the bass...

".

Tuning pitch is often taken to be a=415 Hz, roughly a semitone lower than the modern standard concert pitch of a=440 Hz. An accepted exception is for French baroque repertoire which is often performed with a=392 Hz, approximately a semitone lower again. Tuning an instrument nowadays usually starts with setting an A; historically it would commence from a C or an F.

Some modern instruments are built with keyboards which can be shifted sideways, allowing the player to align the mechanism with strings at either a=415 Hz or a=440 Hz. If a tuning other than equal temperament is used, the instrument requires retuning once the keyboard is shifted.

History



The harpsichord was most probably invented in the late Middle Ages. By the 16th century, harpsichord makers in Italy were making lightweight instruments with low string tension. A different approach was taken in Flanders starting in the late 16th century, notably by the Ruckers
Ruckers
The Ruckers family were Flemish harpsichord and virginal makers based in Antwerp in the 16th and 17th century whose influence stretched well into the 18th and to the harpsichord revival of the 20th.The Ruckers family contributed immeasurably to the harpsichord's technical development,...

 family. Their harpsichords used a heavier construction and produced a more powerful and distinctive tone. They included the first harpsichords with two keyboards, used for transposition
Transposition (music)
In music transposition refers to the process, or operation, of moving a collection of notes up or down in pitch by a constant interval.For example, one might transpose an entire piece of music into another key...

.

The Flemish instruments served as the model for 18th century harpsichord construction in other nations. In France, the double keyboards were adapted to control different choirs of strings, making a more musically flexible instrument. Instruments from the peak of the French tradition, by makers such as the Blanchet
Blanchet
-Persons:*Abbé François Blanchet , French littérateur*Augustin-Magloire Blanchet , first Bishop of Walla Walla and Nesqually ; brother of François Norbert*Claude Blanchet , Canadian financial tycoon...

 family and Pascal Taskin
Pascal Taskin
----Pascal Joseph Taskin was a French harpsichord and piano maker. Born in Theux, near Liège, he lived most of his life in Paris.- Biography :...

, are among the most widely admired of all harpsichords, and are frequently used as models for the construction of modern instruments. In England, the Kirkman
Kirkman (harpsichord makers)
The Kirkman family were English harpsichord and later piano makers of Alsatian origin.-Members of the Kirkman family:...

 and Shudi
Burkat Shudi
Burkat Shudi was an English harpsichord maker of Swiss origin.-Biography:...

 firms produced sophisticated harpsichords of great power and sonority. German builders extended the sound repertoire of the instrument by adding sixteen foot
Eight foot pitch
Eight-foot pitch is a term common to the organ and the harpsichord. An organ pipe, or a harpsichord string, designated as eight-foot pitch is sounded at standard, ordinary pitch...

 and two foot
Eight foot pitch
Eight-foot pitch is a term common to the organ and the harpsichord. An organ pipe, or a harpsichord string, designated as eight-foot pitch is sounded at standard, ordinary pitch...

 choirs; these instruments have recently served as models for modern builders.

In the late 18th century the harpsichord was supplanted by the piano
Piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 and almost disappeared from view for most of the 19th century: an exception was its continued use in opera for accompanying recitative
Recitative
Recitative , also known by its Italian name "recitativo" , is a style of delivery in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech...

, but the piano sometimes displaced it even there. 20th century efforts to revive the harpsichord began with instruments that used piano technology, with heavy strings and metal frames. Starting in the middle of the 20th century, ideas about harpsichord making underwent a major change, when builders such as Frank Hubbard
Frank Hubbard
Frank Twombly Hubbard was an American harpsichord maker, a pioneer in the revival of historical methods of harpsichord building.-Student days:...

, William Dowd
William Dowd
William Richmond Dowd was an American harpsichord maker and one of the most important pioneers of the historical harpsichord movement....

, and Martin Skowroneck sought to re-establish the building traditions of the Baroque period. Harpsichords of this type of historically informed building practice dominate the current scene.

Historical period


The great bulk of the standard repertoire for the harpsichord was written during its first historical flowering, the Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 and Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 eras.

The first music written specifically for solo harpsichord was published around the early 16th century. Composers who wrote solo harpsichord music were numerous during the whole Baroque era in European countries including Italy, Germany, England and France. Solo harpsichord compositions included dance suite
Suite
In music, a suite is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral pieces normally performed in a concert setting rather than as accompaniment; they may be extracts from an opera, ballet , or incidental music to a play or film , or they may be entirely original movements .In the...

s, fantasias
Fantasia (music)
The fantasia is a musical composition with its roots in the art of improvisation. Because of this, it seldom approximates the textbook rules of any strict musical form ....

, and fugue
Fugue
In music, a fugue is a compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and recurs frequently in the course of the composition....

s. Among the most famous composers who wrote for the harpsichord were the members of English virginal school
Virginalist
Virginalist denotes a composer of the so-called virginalist school, and usually refers to the English keyboard composers of the late Tudor and early Jacobean periods. The term does not appear to have been applied earlier than the 19th century...

 of the late Renaissance, notably William Byrd
William Byrd
William Byrd was an English composer of the Renaissance. He wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphony, keyboard and consort music.-Provenance:Knowledge of Byrd's biography expanded in the late 20th century, thanks largely...

 (ca. 1540 – 1623). In France, a great number of highly characteristic solo works were created and compiled into four books of ordres by François Couperin
François Couperin
François Couperin was a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was known as Couperin le Grand to distinguish him from other members of the musically talented Couperin family.-Life:Couperin was born in Paris...

 (1668–1733). Domenico Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti
Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style...

 (1685–1757) began his career in Italy but wrote most of his solo harpsichord works in Spain; his most famous work is his series of 555 harpsichord sonatas. Perhaps the most celebrated composer who wrote for the harpsichord was J. S. Bach (1685–1750), whose solo works (for instance, the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations
Goldberg Variations
The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a work for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. First published in 1741, the work is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form...

), continue to be performed very widely, often on the piano. Bach was also a pioneer of the harpsichord concerto, both in works
Harpsichord concertos (J. S. Bach)
The harpsichord concertos, BWV 1052-1065, are concertos for harpsichord, strings and continuo by Johann Sebastian Bach. There are seven complete concertos for a single harpsichord, , three concertos for 2 harpsichords , two concertos for 3 harpsichords , and one concerto for 4 harpsichords,...

 designated as such, and in the harpsichord part of his Fifth Brandenburg Concerto
Brandenburg concertos
The Brandenburg concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 . They are widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era...

.

Two of the most prominent composers of the Classical period (music), Joseph Haydn
Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn , known as Joseph Haydn , was an Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these forms...

 (1732–1809) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

 (1756–1791), wrote harpsichord music. For both, the instrument featured in the earlier period of their careers and was abandoned once they had shifted their efforts to the piano.

Besides solo works, the historical harpsichord was widely used for accompaniment in the basso continuo style (a function it maintained in opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

tic recitative
Recitative
Recitative , also known by its Italian name "recitativo" , is a style of delivery in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech...

 even into the 19th century).

Music written for the revived harpsichord


Through the 19th century, the harpsichord was almost completely supplanted by the piano. In the 20th century, composers returned to the instrument, as they sought out variation in the sounds available to them. Under the influence of Arnold Dolmetsch
Arnold Dolmetsch
Arnold Dolmetsch , was a French-born musician and instrument maker who spent much of his working life in England and established an instrument-making workshop in Haslemere, Surrey...

, the harpsichordists Violet Gordon-Woodhouse
Violet Gordon-Woodhouse
Violet Gordon-Woodhouse was an acclaimed British harpsichordist and clavichordist, highly influential in bringing both instruments back into fashion.-Family:...

 (1872–1951) and in France, Wanda Landowska
Wanda Landowska
Wanda Landowska was a Polish harpsichordist whose performances, teaching, recordings and writings played a large role in reviving the popularity of the harpsichord in the early 20th century...

 (1879–1959), were at the forefront of the instrument's renaissance.

Concertos
Harpsichord concerto
A harpsichord concerto is a piece of music for an orchestra with the harpsichord in a solo role Sometimes these works are played on the modern piano; see piano concerto...

 for the instrument were written by Francis Poulenc
Francis Poulenc
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les six. He composed solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music...

 (the Concert champêtre
Concert champêtre
Concert champêtre is a harpsichord concerto by Francis Poulenc, which also exists in a version for piano solo with very slight changes in the solo part....

, 1927–28), Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla y Matheu was a Spanish Andalusian composer of classical music. With Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Joaquín Turina he is one of Spain's most important musicians of the first half of the 20th century....

, Bertold Hummel
Bertold Hummel
Bertold Hummel was a German composer of modern classical music.- Life :Bertold Hummel was born November 27, 1925 in Hüfingen . He studied at the Academy of Music in Freiburg from 1947 to 1954, taking composition with Harald Genzmer, and cello with Atis Teichmanis...

, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Michael Nyman
Michael Nyman
Michael Laurence Nyman, CBE is an English composer of minimalist music, pianist, librettist and musicologist, known for the many film scores he wrote during his lengthy collaboration with the filmmaker Peter Greenaway, and his multi-platinum soundtrack album to Jane Campion's The Piano...

, Philip Glass
Philip Glass
Philip Glass is an American composer. He is considered to be one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century and is widely acknowledged as a composer who has brought art music to the public .His music is often described as minimalist, along with...

, and Roberto Carnevale
Roberto Carnevale
Roberto Carnevale is an Italian composer, pianist and conductor.- Biography and career :Born in Catania, he started studying piano at the age of seven. He took a degree in Arts at the University of Catania and he attended the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena...

. Bohuslav Martinů
Bohuslav Martinu
Bohuslav Martinů was a prolific Czech composer of modern classical music. He was of Czech and Rumanian ancestry. Martinů wrote six symphonies, 15 operas, 14 ballet scores and a large body of orchestral, chamber, vocal and instrumental works. Martinů became a violinist in the Czech Philharmonic...

 wrote both a concerto
Concerto
A concerto is a musical work usually composed in three parts or movements, in which one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.The etymology is uncertain, but the word seems to have originated from the conjunction of the two Latin words...

 and a sonata for the instrument, and Elliott Carter
Elliott Carter
Elliott Cook Carter, Jr. is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer born and living in New York City. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930s, and then returned to the United States. After a neoclassical phase, he went on to write atonal, rhythmically complex music...

's Double Concerto is scored for harpsichord, piano and two chamber orchestra
Orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

s.

In chamber music, György Ligeti
György Ligeti
György Sándor Ligeti was a composer of contemporary classical music. Born in a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania, he briefly lived in Hungary before becoming an Austrian citizen.-Early life:...

 wrote a small number of solo works for the instrument (including Continuum
Continuum (Ligeti)
Continuum for harpsichord is a musical composition by György Ligeti composed in 1968, and dedicated to the contemporary harpsichordist, Antoinette Vischer...

), and Henri Dutilleux
Henri Dutilleux
Henri Dutilleux is one of the most important French composers of the second half of the 20th century, producing work in the tradition of Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Albert Roussel, but in a style distinctly his own...

's Les Citations (1991) is scored for harpsichord, oboe, double bass and percussions. Elliott Carter
Elliott Carter
Elliott Cook Carter, Jr. is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer born and living in New York City. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930s, and then returned to the United States. After a neoclassical phase, he went on to write atonal, rhythmically complex music...

's Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord (1952) explores the timbre possibilities of the modern harpsichord.
Josef Tal wrote Concerto for harpsichord & electronic music (1964) and Chamber Music (1982) for s-recorder, marimba & harpsichord. Both Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century....

 (Hamlet, 1964) and Alfred Schnittke
Alfred Schnittke
Alfred Schnittke ; November 24, 1934 – August 3, 1998) was a Russian and Soviet composer. Schnittke's early music shows the strong influence of Dmitri Shostakovich. He developed a polystylistic technique in works such as the epic First Symphony and First Concerto Grosso...

 (Symphony No.8, 1998) wrote works that use the harpsichord as part of the orchestral texture. John Cage
John Cage
John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde...

 and Lejaren Hiller
Lejaren Hiller
Lejaren Arthur Hiller was an American composer. In 1957 he collaborated on the first significant computer music composition, Illiac Suite, with Leonard Issacson. It was his fourth string quartet. In 1958 he founded the Experimental Music Studio at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign...

 wrote HPSCHD
HPSCHD
HPSCHD is a composition for harpsichord and computer-generated sounds by American avant-garde composers John Cage and Lejaren Hiller...

(1969) for harpsichord and computer-generated tape.

In the Preface to his piano collection Mikrokosmos, Bela Bartok
Béla Bartók
Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and is regarded, along with Liszt, as Hungary's greatest composer...

 suggests some ten pieces as being suitable for the harpsichord.

Harpsichordist Hendrik Bouman
Hendrik Bouman
Hendrik "Henk" Bouman is a Dutch harpsichordist, fortepianist, conductor and composer of music written in the baroque and classical idioms of the 17th & 18th Century.- Biography :...

 has composed pieces in the 17th and 18th century style, including works for solo harpsichord, harpsichord concerti, and other works that call for harpsichord continuo. Other contemporary composers writing new harpsichord music in period styles include Grant Colburn
Grant Colburn
Grant Colburn is an American harpsichordist, pianist and composer.He studied harpsichord with Igor Kipnis.He is the author of five published collections of baroque and renaissance harpsichord music as well as music for recorder/flute with continuo and unaccompanied cello or viola da gamba, of...

, Miguel Robaina, Fernando De Luca
Fernando De Luca
Fernando De Luca is an Italian harpsichordist, teacher and composer.He studied harpsichord with Paola Bernardi.He is the most famous harpsichordist over the Internet, very popular especially in the United Kingdom and United States of America, due to his acclaimed efforts to perform and record, for...

 and Gianluca Bersanetti. Notable performers include Oscar Milani
Oscar Milani
Oscar Milani was born in Rosario, Argentina, November 24, 1946 where he studied medicine and music. A Bariloche Foundation scholarship holder, he went to Buenos Aires to specialize; harpsichord, chamber music, and interpretation on early keyboard instruments...

 and Mario Raskin
Mario Raskin
Mario Raskin is an Argentine harpsichordist. He was born in Buenos Aires and lives in Paris, France.-Background:Raskin was born in Buenos Aires, and studied music at the National Conservatory of Buenos Aires. He developed an interest in the harpsichord and chose it early in his studies as his...

.

During the second half of the 20th century, the sound of the harpsichord (or perhaps rather more often, its electronically created equivalent) became very familiar in popular culture, appearing frequently in popular music
Popular music
Popular music belongs to any of a number of musical genres "having wide appeal" and is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional music, which are typically disseminated academically or orally to smaller, local...

, television, films, computer games, and so on.

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  • Procembalo free catalog of contemporary harpsichord music