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tool : Harpsichord

CLAVESIN [French clavecin, from late late. clavicymbalum, from lat. clavis - key (hence the key) and cymbalum - cymbals] - plucked keyboard musical instrument. Known since the 16th century. (began to be constructed as early as the 14th century), the first information about the harpsichord dates back to 1511; the oldest surviving instrument of Italian work dates back to 1521.

Harpsichord descended from the Psalterium (as a result of the reconstruction and accession of the keyboard mechanism).

Initially, the harpsichord was quadrangular in shape and resembled a “free” clavichord, in contrast to which it had strings of different lengths (each key corresponded to a special string tuned in a certain tone) and a more complex keyboard mechanism. Harpsichord strings were driven into a pinch with the help of a bird feather mounted on a pusher rod. When the key was pressed, the pusher located at its rear end rose and the feather caught on the string (later, a leather plectrum was used instead of a bird feather).

The content of the article

  • Device and sound
  • Evolution
  • Appearance
  • Harpsichord in different countries

Device and sound

The device of the upper part of the pusher: 1 - string, 2 - axis of the release mechanism, 3 - langetta (from French languette), 4 - plectrum (tongue), 5 - damper.

The sound of the harpsichord is brilliant, but slightly singing (jerky) - which means it is not amenable to dynamic changes (it is louder, but less expressive than the clavichord), the change in the strength and timbre of the sound does not depend on the nature of the key strike. In order to enhance the sound of the harpsichord, double, triple and even quadruple strings (for each tone) were used, which were tuned in unison, octave, and sometimes other intervals.


From the beginning of the 17th century, metal strings increasing in length (from treble to bass) were used instead of vein ones. The instrument acquired a triangular pterygoid shape with a longitudinal (parallel to the keys) arrangement of strings.

In the 17-18 centuries. To give the harpsichord a dynamically more diverse sound, instruments were made with 2 (sometimes 3) hand-held keyboards (manuals), which were arranged terrace-like one above the other (usually the upper manual was tuned an octave higher), as well as with register switches for expanding treble, octave doubling bass and timbre color changes (lute register, bassoon register, etc.).

The registers were actuated by levers located on the sides of the keyboard, or buttons located below the keyboard, or pedals. On some harpsichords, for greater tonal diversity, a third keyboard was arranged with some characteristic timbre coloring, more often resembling a lute (the so-called lute keyboard).


Outwardly, the harpsichords were usually trimmed very elegantly (the body was decorated with drawings, inlays, carvings). The decoration of the instrument corresponded to the stylish furniture of the Louis XV era. In the 16-17 centuries. The harpsichords of the Antwerp Rukkers masters stood out in terms of sound quality and their artistic design.

Harpsichord in different countries

The name “harpsichord” (in France; arpsichord in England, kilflugel in Germany, clavichambalo or abbreviated champ in Italy) has been preserved for large wing-shaped instruments with a range of up to 5 octaves. There were also smaller instruments, usually rectangular in shape, with single strings and a range of up to 4 octaves, called: epinet (in France), spinet (in Italy), and virginel (in England).

Harpsichord with a vertically located body - clavichterium. Harpsichord was used as a solo, chamber-ensemble and orchestral instrument.

The creator of the virtuoso harpsichord style was the Italian composer and harpsichord player D. Scarlatti (he owns numerous works for harpsichord); the founder of the French school of harpsichordists - J. Chambonier (his "Harpsichord Pieces", 2 books, 1670 were popular).

Among the French harpsichordists of the late 17-18 centuries. - F. Couperin, J. F. Rameau, L. Daken, F. Daidrio. French harpsichord music is an art of refined taste, refined manners, rationalistically clear, subordinate to aristocratic etiquette. The delicate and chilly sound of the harpsichord was in harmony with the "good tone" of the chosen society.

The French harpsichordists found their vivid embodiment gallant style (Rococo). Favorite themes of harpsichord miniatures (miniature is a characteristic form of Rococo art) were female images (“Captivating”, “Coquettish”, “Shadowy”, “Shy”, “Sister Monica”, “Florentinka” Couperin), gallant dances occupied a large place (minuet, gavotte, etc.), idyllic pictures of peasant life (“Reapers”, “Gathers of grapes” by Cuperin), onomatopoeic miniatures (“Chicken”, “Clock”, “Twittering” of Cuperin, “Cuckoo” of Daken, etc.). A typical feature of harpsichord music is the abundance of melodic decorations.

By the end of the 18th century. works of French harpsichordists began to disappear from the repertoire of performers. As a result, an instrument with such a long history and such a rich artistic heritage was supplanted from musical practice and replaced by a piano. And not just crowded out, but completely forgotten in the XIX century.

This happened as a result of a radical change in aesthetic preferences. Baroque aesthetics, which is based either on a clearly formulated or distinctly felt concept of the theory of affect (briefly the essence: one mood, affect - one sound paint), for which harpsichord was an ideal means of expression, gave way first to the sentiment of sentimentalism, then to a stronger direction - classicism and, finally, romanticism. In all these styles, on the contrary, the idea of ​​changeability - feelings, images, moods - became the most attractive and cultivated. And the piano could express it. All this harpsichord could not do in principle - due to the peculiarities of its design.

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