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clavichord(klăv`ĭkôrd), keyboard musical instrument invented in the Middle Ages. It consists of a small rectangular wooden box, placed upon a table or on legs, containing a sounding board and a set of strings. Keys cause the strings to be struck with small wedges of metal called tangents, which not only set the string into vibration but determine its vibrating length by means of a sort of fretting. Thus one string suffices for about four keys. Early in the 18th cent., clavichords were built with a string for each key; such instruments were more expensive and harder to tune, but gradually supplanted the older ones. The clavichord was musically important from the 16th until the end of the 18th cent. when the pianoforte replaced it. The most notable composer to write expressly for it was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
See P. James, Early Keyboard Instruments (1930); D. Matthews, ed., Keyboard Music (1972).
a keyboard stringed percussion instrument. The earliest recorded mention of the clavichord was in the 15th century, and the oldest pictures date from the 16th century. The clavichord was used throughout Europe. The case is usually a four-cornered oblong box; the keyboard takes up one of the long sides, and the strings, all of equal length, are stretched horizontally. Tangents, fastened to small blades of brass, are fixed to the ends of the keys and strike the strings from below. Depending on where the string is struck, it produces tones of varying pitch.
The old clavichord was diatonic, with a compass of three to 3½ octaves. Clavichords with a chromatic structure appeared in the 16th century. In the 18th century the instrument’s range reached five octaves. Its lack of volume made the clavichord more a domestic than a concert instrument. In the early 19th century it was supplanted by the pianoforte.