The Renaissance Harpsichord Outline | String Instruments | Harpsichord

The Italian Renaissance Harpsichord 1. Mechanism a. Brass strings, plucked by plectrum b.

Plectrum (like guitar pick, attached to jack), sit in piece of wood (jack) i. Jack internally on far end of key – 5mm. thick, pear-like wood – heavy ii. separate plectrum for each string, make of sturdy feather quills (crows) 1. approx. 1 cm. long, narrow at plucking end 2. top surface flat/horizontal, held in tongue of jack 3. downward key -- > raises plectrum, plucks string, pivot so doesn’t make contact with string on the way down 4. Cannot control volume, plucking was one dynamic iii. Plucking of the Strings, brass strung in 15th century 1. Point at pluck determines the character of the sound a. Near nut (close plucking), nasal sound b. Near the middle of the string, rounder c. Italian plucking is sweeter 2. described as having a bold sound, more pronounced attack a. every harpsichord was different 3. 16th century – meant for iron-stringing, more brilliant, long decay sound than brass-strung 4. Jerome of Bologna – oldest surviving harpsichord, single 8’ register c. No pedals, but 1,2, or 3 (rare) keyboards called manuals i. four-five octaves (smaller than today’s piano) ii. keys made of various wood and inlaid – Middle C right of center iii. length of keys back-to-front is short, especially in front of raised sharps d. Bridge – string set in motion to vibrate, vibrations carried through bridge to the soundboard (flat surface below the strings i. Soundboard amplifies the vibrations into a note using the resonance of the air inside the cavity belowe. Damper – small piece of felt – comes up when key is depressed – stays up as long as key is depressed f. When release key, back of key falls, jack drops back with it – plectrum doesn’t strike on way down -enabled by its hinged tongue to pivot – key comes to rest, damper drops onto key, sound stops g. Each row of jacks controls a complete set of strings (called a choir) with one string for each note – two-row haripsichord has two sets of strings History a. Cembalo (gravicembalo) b. Longer and narrower than the piano – Italian strings are brass (even upper strings) c. making harpsichords by 1452 at the latest d. 45 Italian harpsichords known to survive from before 1590, mostly Venice e. pitches – generally 8’- so equal temperament, pitches could be consistent f. Not much change from 16th century to 18th century harpsichords Strings a. b. Shape a. b. Usually throughout in brass (even upper strings) Longer bass strings, doubled string length


3. 4.


sharply curved behind the cheek because of short scaling, long, thin tail, slender case Outer case has legs and lid -- inner case (plain) is the actual instrument with keyboard/strings c. Decorated outer case, elegant moldings, rarely painted d. Wood – thin wood, quartered beech, cypress or spruce Music Written

a. b. c.


Not much keyboard music because Italy was the birthplace for so many musical styles, vocal and instrumental Tone dry and incisive good for continuo playing No particularly extensive literature for the solo instrument in Italy i. Girolamo Frescobaldi – late Renaissance, early Baroque 1. Partite sopra Passacaglia a. noble, elevated tone, full of hemiola 2x3 grouping ii. Ercole Pascini 1. Canzona Frazese per Cembalo iii. Giovanni Maria Trabaci 1. capriccios, galliards, toccatas, etc. Renaissance composers transcribed vocal canzonas and transoforme dthem into keyboard music by adding runs and trills. i. Turned into Toccatas – improvsed more than written down -virtuosity 1. Dry sound is good for toccata playing – rapid, tingling rustle from the strings in toccata, spontaneous

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