GERMAN HARPSICHORDS AND CLAVICHORD

German unfretted clavichord after Schiedmayer.
German Unfretted Clavichord after Schiedmayer

This large German clavichord is of the later, unfretted type. With each key controlling only one unison pair of strings, the greatest possible variety of articulation is possible, making this ideal for music in the empfindsamer stil (“sensitive”) style of the mid- and later eighteenth century. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, as well as the eminent English music historian Dr. Charles Burney were lavish in their praise of the clavichord’s great utility in developing fine touch and articulation, not only on the clavichord itself but on the harpsichord as well.

My clavichord is based on an example by the Neustadt an der Aisch instrument maker Johann Schiedmayer, dated 1796, now at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Its exceptional range (FF-g”’) make it an ideal vehicle for the music of C. P. E. Bach and early Haydn, as well as a telling and responsive practice instrument for the fortepiano music of Mozart and earlier Beethoven.
German Single-Manual Harpsichord after Fleischer

The modern revival of the harpsichord has tended to concentrate on double manual instruments. This was not the case in the classical period of harpsichord building, when single manual instruments were the norm. For basso continuo and other ensemble uses, and for almost all the solo literature, a single keyboard is more than adequate. I offer two models of North German harpsichords of this more modest type, both based on models from the earlier eighteenth century. These instruments both have distinctive German double-curved bentsides. Their single keyboard and light construction make them ideal where portability is important.

One of these is based on a 1716 instrument by the Hamburg maker Carl Conrad Fleischer. The disposition of 2x8’ and 1x4’, with the 4’ strings undamped (optional), give the instrument marvelous resonance. This harpsichord is available with a with a short bass octave range of GG/BB-c”’. Since transposing the keyboard complicates the short-octave tuning, the instrument can also be strung for its normal range, BB-c”’. An extension of the treble to d”’ is also available. This long-scaled instrument is strung in iron and brass.
German Double Manual Harpsichord after Fleischer

My German double manual harpsichord is realized from the Carl Conrad Fleischer instrument of 1716 that inspired one of my German singles. The chief difference in design between the smaller original and my enlargement is a minute increase in case depth to accommodate the second keyboard. The disposition is the same: (2x8’, 1x4’), again with undamped jacks (optional) and buff stop. This instrument is likewise strung in iron and brass. This harpsichord can be transposed from its normal pitch of a’=415 Hz to modern concert pitch (a’=440 Hz).

German single manual after Christian Vater, shown with standard painting and trestle stand. This instrument belongs to the Arizona State University Music Department.
German Single Manual Harpsichord after Vater

The other German single is based on an example dated 1738 by the Hanover maker Christian Vater. Vater is primarily known as an organ maker who worked with the renowned Arp Schnitger. However, like some of his organ building colleagues, he had a lively trade in making harpsichords of the modest type such as the 1738 instrument. This harpsichord is disposed with two unison 8' stops. The range is GG-d'" chromatic, and therefore is perfect for almost all the solo works of Vater's contemporary, J. S. Bach. The scale of this instrument is relatively short, like that of most Italian harpsichords, and therefore is strung throughout with brass. This lends the instrument remarkable tuning stability and pungent tonal quality so desired for orchestral and small ensemble performance. This harpsichord is pitched at a‘=415 Hz in the normal position and may be transposed upward a semitone to modern concert pitch (a’=440 Hz).

French Harpsichords
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