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stringed musical instrument played from a keyboard. Its strings, two or more to a note, are plucked by quills or jacks. The harpsichord originated in the 14th cent. and by the 16th cent. Venice was the center of its manufacture. At that time its prevailing shape was winglike, similar to that of a grand piano. The square harpsichord, often called spinetspinet,
musical instrument of the harpsichord family. Although the terms virginal and spinet, interchangeable until the end of the 17th cent., were sometimes used indiscriminately to designate any harpsichord, they usually referred to small instruments having one
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, became more common in the late 16th cent., when harpsichord making in the northern countries surpassed that of Italy. Perhaps the greatest craftsmen were the Ruckers family of Antwerp (late 16th–17th cent). Varying the touch in harpsichord playing does not alter the quality or volume of tone; to provide dynamic variety, octave couplers and various stops that change the tone were introduced. Contrast in volume and in tone color is made easier by the addition of a second keyboard, or manual, found on German harpsichords from the late 16th cent. and on Italian ones from c.1665. The instrument provided the basic support of virtually all the various combinations of instruments as chamber music and orchestral forms developed. In the 19th cent. the harpsichord, which required frequent tuning and replacement of quills, was superseded in general use by the piano. Since the mid-20th cent. however, the older instrument has had a revival in popularity.


See F. T. Hubbard, Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making (1965); W. I. Zuckermann, The Modern Harpsichord (1969); L. Palmer, Harpsichord in America (1989).



a plucked keyboard instrument, forerunner of the grand piano. The harpsichord, which has been known since the 16th century, evolved from the psaltery (a type of gusli). Changes were made in the construction of the psaltery, and a keyboard mechanism was added. The strings are plucked by a jack with a plectrum of quills (later, a leather plectrum), which catches the strings when the key is depressed. The harpsichord has brilliant tone but slight sustaining power; it is not suited for variations in loudness. The instrument originally was quadrangular in shape. In the 17th century it acquired a winged triangular form, and metal strings replaced gut strings. The harpsichord has a compass of four or five octaves. The case was usually elegantly decorated with drawings or inlaid work. There are various types of harpsichords, including the clavicytherium, which is an upright instrument.

J. C. de Chambonnières was the founder of the French school of harpsichordists. D. Scarlatti created a virtuoso harpsichord style. Outstanding French harpsichordists of the late 17th and 18th century included F. Couperin, J.-P. Rameau, and L. C. Daquin. Although interest in French harpsichord music declined in the late 18th century, it has enjoyed a revival in the 20th century.


Alekseev, A. D. Klavirnoe iskusstvo. Moscow-Leningrad, 1952.
Druskin, M. S. Klavirnaia muzyka. Leningrad, 1960.


a horizontally strung stringed keyboard instrument, triangular in shape, consisting usually of two manuals controlling various sets of strings plucked by pivoted plectrums mounted on jacks. Some harpsichords have a pedal keyboard and stops by which the tone colour may be varied
References in periodicals archive ?
More than two decades ago, she first bound her great musical talent to the harpsichord, thus joining the generation who in the Czech Republic have to a large extent paved the way to historically informed performance.
Thanks to Ecole Notre Dame de Sion's (NDS) music-loving director, Yann de Lansalut, the historic school in Harbiye has not only a regular seasonal concert series, but a resident harpsichord.
The power of that combination of instruments seemed occasionally to overwhelm and bury Watson's nimble playing, so that the harpsichord sounded more continuo than concerto.
Aspects of harpsichord making in the British Isles.
Kottick briefly sets the historical and social scene in which music was made and this adds considerably to an understanding of why harpsichords were built.
Then came a lot of investment in the rehabilitation of the harpsichord as the only instrument upon which such works could possibly be played, and, some independent-minded executants apart, the poor old joanna was banished from these Elysian Fields.
The organist and harpsichord player Katerina Chrobokova has performed at many prestigious music festivals abroad, and works with important ensembles and conductors.
The vast majority of harpsichords built during the first fifty years of the twentieth century bore little resemblance to the historical instrument of Johann Sebastian Bach, Couperin, or Domenico Scarlatti.
I also have two harpsichords, both from the German builder Michael Scheer.
He notes, for example, that Blow would have been accustomed to using a variety of harpsichords (no one instrument would thus be a true "Blow" harpsichord), and modern performers are free to use this variety as a guideline for their own choices.
French and English - and to a lesser extent, German - harpsichords were completely transformed.
To support their case, Herlin and Moroney survey contemporaneous concerted harpsichord pieces by Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Charles-Francois Clement, Jean-Baptiste Dupuits, and Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, inspired by Couperin's earlier concerts - works he himself suggested could also be performed on two harpsichords.