History of the Lute Harpsichord
In the XVIII century, the search, which began much earlier, continued for new designs of keyboard instruments. Masters experimented by combining different tones in one case. Connoisseurs are well aware of the tendency of the Baroque era to various hybrid forms - this is the harpsichord harpsichord, and the claviordan, and the geinhwerk (bow clavier), as well as the harpsichord lute and its kind of theorba-harpsichord, etc.
It is impossible to say with certainty when the idea of a lute in a harpsichord appeared. Neither drawings nor a genuine copy of this tool have been preserved. Only his image on an old engraving is known, and mention of it in several documents and books of that time.
The principal difference between a lute clavier and a regular harpsichord is that the harpsichord has metal strings and the lute harpsichord has veins.
The lute harpsichord is directly connected with the name of Johann Sebastian Bach, who, as you know, was keenly interested in experiments on the improvement and development of musical instruments. Here is a fragment of a posthumous inventory of Bach’s property, where his instruments are indicated: veneered harpsichord, harpsichord, smaller harpsichord, lute clavier, another lute clavier, lute, spinet.
It is currently difficult to imagine the construction of a lute harpsichord, as various sources contain information that is so different among themselves (this applies to the general outline of the instrument, its range, and the material of the strings used) that any reconstruction attempts remain very hypothetical.
But it can be assumed that the harpsichord lute could be closer in shape to the harpsichord, with a shortened wing-shaped body, with oval outlines or any other shape. According to one of the descriptions, the case of the lute harpsichord was rounded at the back and convex, oval in shape, so that it quite accurately resembled an amphitheater, and on the keyboard side the case was rectangular. The sound of the lute on it was achieved using vein strings, which in length exactly correspond to the actual length of the lute strings from the stand to the point where the finger usually extracts sound. Such an instrument was made with one, two or three keyboards, the strings were plucked by means of jacks with plectrons, as on a harpsichord.
Similarly to a lute with double bass strings on a lute harpsichord, this register also had to have two strings for each key. Typically, the harpsichord had one jack for each string. But the lute often had two or three jacks serving independently the same string in different places. The difference in sound was achieved by pinching the string in different parts of its sounding range. For dynamic and timbre diversity, reeds of different stiffness and length were used. Such an improvement on the lute-harpsichord was possible on instruments with two or more keyboards.
History has preserved the names of about a dozen baroque masters who worked on the creation of lute harpsichords, but most of the information relates to three music masters of the 18th century from Germany - I. Fletcher, I.N. Bahu and Z. Hildebrandt. Some data on the range and tuning of the Fletcher tools dating back to 1718 were described in books. Two of his models had a range of three octaves. The first model is an 83-foot lute harpsichord with two registers of vein strings, plus a “small octave” of copper strings in the bass part of the range. Another model - theorba-harpsichord - was a 163-foot instrument. He had three registers, two of them were equipped with vein strings, and the third - metal, stretched over the entire range. In both instruments, the two lower octaves had double strings, the lower third of the range was tuned into an octave, the next in unison, the upper one had single strings.
On the lute harpsichord of Johann Nikolaus Bach (later instrument), only vein strings were pulled. It had two or three keyboards for dynamic diversity, but only one row of strings (8-foot) with a range of 4 octaves, later it was expanded to the range of the theorba, i.e., up to five octaves.
Hildebrandt’s instrument was already described in the second half of the 19th century. It says that organ master Zakharias Hildebrand made a lute clavier in accordance with I.S. Bach. A longer duration was achieved by two rows of vein strings, to which another row of 43-foot copper strings was added. When the bright sounds of copper strings were drowned out by a cloth damper, the instrument sounded very similar to a real lute, while without dampers it had a darker and darker sound, like that of a theorba. In size, the lute claviers were shorter in length than a regular harpsichord. The range of the Hildebrand instrument is unknown; but it can be assumed that he had four or four and a half octaves - the usual limit for the harpsichord of Bach times in Leipzig. Plectrons on jacks were made from the skeleton of a raven feather. Unlike the harpsichord, the pegs were wooden, and the strings were pulled by hand, like on a lute.
The sound on the lute harpsichord, having the shape of a lute, is pleasant, has great tenderness, and the echo is stronger, because the deck is large. When the deck is thin and the strings are tensioned correctly, the pinch of the jack sounds as if fingers were doing it. Vibrations are transmitted to free strings, they also begin to sound, in harmony with those that are being plucked at that moment. Thanks to this, I.S. Bach once misled one of the best lute players of his time, when he played him on his lute clavier, keeping the nature of the instrument secret, so that he was absolutely sure that he hears a real lute.
Together with the revival of early music and a growing interest in the works of I.S. In the 20th century, Bach made several attempts to recreate the harpsichord lute. The earliest reconstruction of this instrument was done in Eisenberg (Thuringia) by German craftsmen brothers Alois and Michael Ammera. Both of them were employees of the well-known piano factory at that time, and in 1931-1932, based on descriptions from Adlung's book, they managed to build a harpsichord lute. The Ammer instrument was not assembled from semicircular segments, like a lute case, but had the form of a usual wing-shaped clavier with individual stands on the deck, arranged like frets on a lute. It was a two-manual specimen with two rows of jacks, which were equipped with leather and feather tongues and worked at different points of the pinch.
The idea of Ammer was to simulate the sound of a lute pinch near the outlet and next to the stand. The sound range was four and a half octaves. All strings were vein, with the exception of the lowest octave where steel stood. The instrument had five pedals - two for each manual and one in the center (for muting the sound). In 1941, the Ammer brothers gave their lute clavier to the Musical Instrument Museum of Berlin, which was destroyed by fire in 1944.
Another attempt to reconstruct the lute clavier was made by Rudolf Richter from Ludwigsburg. He sought to recreate the lost instrument of Fletcher's work of 1718. Unlike earlier reconstructions, about which Richter did not know anything until the end of his work, his instrument provided for a lute expanded case in the form of a half of a pear, assembled from maple plates (a total of 21 plates, each about 2 mm thick). The socket is made according to old drawings, two separate strips on the sides held the rounded body. The strings were pulled using 87 boxwood pegs, the same number of white beech jacks was made. Later, Richter first used throughout four and a half octaves modern material - nylon strings, in braided bass.
Currently, Pennsylvania master Wilard Martin is experimenting with tool design, trying out new options every time.
The harpsichord lute family is a unique example of the creative search for musicians and baroque masters. One can definitely say that this tool was rare, which means it was more expensive, less accessible, and the possibility of its use was rather rare.
I would like to hope that enthusiastic musicians will appear in Russia, ready to order a lute clavier and use it in their concert practice. And thus, we will have a rare opportunity to enjoy the sound of one of the finest instruments in the clavier family, once again making sure how rich the creative imagination the masters and musicians were three centuries ago.