One maker’s approach to harpsichord-making

Many harpsichord-makers began by making accurate copies of original instruments, and then in later years felt freer to inject their personal creativity into the design. This is a very sensible approach but, looking back, I find I have done the reverse. I always based my instruments on originals (and was told quite early on that I was someone who could produce something of the elusive quality of an original), but I find myself working today more closely with the original designs than ever before.

Today compromise is less important, since we have finally thrown off the idea of an all-purpose harpsichord. Even customers who will need to use their instrument flexibly, to play music from the English virginalists through to Bach, recognise that it is going to be better for one of these than for the other. They will take particular pleasure in the response the instrument can provide, when the most suitable music is being played on it.

There are a lot of instruments claiming to be copies, which an experienced eye could discover to be something rather different. Makers know the points at which they have not strictly copied an original, and should be willing to reveal these to a client, if that client has “a copy” in mind. Fortunately, it is generally recognised now that a copy can really mean no more than a conscious imitation of an original. Moreover, today’s players have had decades to learn how different kinds of harpsichord - and different makers - behave. It has been shown that two makers conscientiously building accurate copies of the same original, will produce instruments which sound remarkably different. In any case, building a musical instrument is rather like performing a piece of music: the creator will inevitably reveal him or herself in the finished article.

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Click here to explore recordings of solo harpsichord music on the Soundboard label.

Click here for “Did Bach Really Mean That? - deceptive notation in Baroque keyboard music”.

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