FRENCH HARPSICHORDS

French double manual after Donzelague, shown with a variation on traditional gilding, and standard trestle stand. This instrument belongs to the Boston College Music Department.
French Double Manual Harpsichord after Donzelague

The cultural life of France has for generations been that of Paris and environs. At no time was than more true than under the Bourbon monarchs, especially Louis XIV, who consciously aimed to concentrate in the capital all that was important to the cultural, economic, and social life of France. Nevertheless, there were key regional centers which had their own vigorous native traditions, however these might have been influenced by developments in Paris. The foremost of these was the great city of Lyons in the south. There was here an indigenous tradition of harpsichord making that had its own distinctive features. Pierre Donzelague (1668-1747) was perhaps the foremost of the Lyons harpsichord makers. From his atelier survive two large double instruments bearing his name; several others attributed to him. These two signed instruments are extraordinary in having the full five-octave range FF-f””.

French double manual after Donzelague, shown with optional gilding design and baluster stand. This instrument belongs to the Arizona State University Music Department.
They are the earliest surviving French instruments of this size, one which would not be required by the harpsichord literature for several decades.

I have chosen Donzelague’s 1711 instrument, the earlier of the two, as the basis for an instrument of my own. It is an instrument suitable for almost anything in the harpsichord literature. The disposition is typical of large French harpsichords, 2x8’ and 1x4’, with buff stop. The keyboards transpose from the common standard for Baroque music, a’=392 Hz, a’=415 Hz, to modern concert pitch, a’=440 Hz.
French Double Manual Harpsichord after Hemsch

One of the foremost makers of the eighteenth-century Parisian school of harpsichord builders was the immigrant Henri Hemsch. His several surviving instruments, dating from about 1736 to 1761, display consummate craftsmanship and thoughtful tonal design, rich in sonority yet articulate and incisive. I have chosen as the basis for my own instrument what is now apparently the earliest of these, the double manual in the Museum of Fine arts, Boston, now considered to date from around 1736. This harpsichord has a full five-octave range (FF-f”’) and is disposed 2x8’, 1x4’ with buff stop.

French double manual after Francois-Etienne Blanchet, shown with standard gilding and trestle stand.
French Double Manual Harpsichord after Francois-Etienne Blanchet II

The Blanchet-Taskin dynasty dominated Parisian harpsichord making from before the turn of the eighteenth century virtually until the Revolution. The superb cabinetmaking, sophistication of design, and tonal craftsmanship of these instruments has earned them a firm position of distinction however tastes in harpsichord styles may change. A 1765 double harpsichord survives as the last instrument from the Blanchet family made before their establishment was taken over by Pascal Taskin. It is typical of its breed - strong in projection, rich in overtones, yet not lacking in articulation. It is a particularly apt model for the modern harpsichord maker and player alike. The instrument I base on the 1765 Blanchet double has the typical late French disposition, 2x8’, 1x4’ with buff stop. As with all of my harpsichords, the keyboards may be transposed upwards a semitone from the normal pitch of a’=392 Hz, a’=415 Hz to modern concert pitch (a’=440 Hz).

French single manual on optional Louis XVI cabriole stand. This instrument belongs to the Arizona State University Music Department.
French Single Manual Harpsichord

Although the most famous surviving harpsichords from the past are French double manual instruments, single manual harpsichords were also common, as can be observed in the writings of Francois Couperin. The design of my French single is based on an instrument of 1737 by Francois-Etienne Blanchet I, founder of perhaps the most famous harpsichord-making dynasty in France. The range is GG-e”’, large enough to play almost all of the literature for harpsichord written before 1750. With a disposition of 2x8’ with buff stop, it is an ideal ensemble instrument, but has the bass depth and tonal variety to be used successfully in recital.



German Harpsichords and Clavichord
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