G R A N T O ’ B R I E N
EARLY KEYBOARD INSTRUMENTS
Harpsichords, Virginals, Spinets and Clavichords
Restorations and Consultations
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The stunningly-beautiful Franco-Flemish antique harpsichord harpsichord pictured above is for sale.
This harpsichord was originally built in Antwerp in 1617 but, although the date is known, the original maker is unknown. It was originally a normal double-manual Flemish harpsichord with two keyboard at pitches a fourth apart, and with the usual disposition of 1x8', 1x4' and 4 registers - two for each keyboard. Although it has a genuine early Ioannes Ruckers soundboard rosette, analysis of the structure and design of the instrument shows that it was not made by any of the members of the Ruckers family.
The instrument was mis a ravalement in Paris at some time between 1742/43 and 1750 when the bass compass was extended down to F1 in the bass, but left without extending it beyond c3 in the treble. It was also given its lavish figure-painting decoration by François Boucher (1703 - 1770), and the ornaments surrounding these (and the ornaments on the spine) by Christophe II Huet (1700 - 1759). In 1750 (the date on three of the rows of jacks) it was given a further ravalement by François Étienne Blanchet who extended the compass up to d3. It was then later given a further treble ravalement by extending the treble compass further up to f3 in 1786.
It is now a classic French double-manual harpsichord with a full 5-octave compass and a disposition with 2 x 8', 1 x 4' and a peau de buffle set of jacks. The whole of the stunningly-beautiful decoration has now been carefully restored. The sound is pure, full, rich and evenly-balanced across the entire compass of the instrument. It creates an impression of immense power and opulence. The sound has made a lasting impression on everyone who has heard or played the instrument. It is, without a doubt, one of the finest and most beautiful examples of 18th-century French harpsichord decoration and building in existence.
by Grant O'Brien.
Re-published as a digital reprint by Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Harpsichord-making woods for sale
A small amount of the important woods normally used by harpsichord makers is available for sale. This is all very well-seasoned and of the highest quality available.
The types of wood include accurately-quartered Italian spruce soundboard wood. This soundboard wood is sold only in flitches of about 6 to 15 planks. Each flitch is a succession of slices from the same tree, and these can be used (as most Flemish and French makers did) to make a soundboard that is perfectly uniform in colour and texture because it is all of exactly the same wood for the whole of the soundboard.
Also available is knot-free Italian cypress from Tuscany (cipresso netto) and genuine African ebony (Diospyros crassiflora).
All of this wood was bought as air-dried, and is now more than 40 years old.
For further details of quantities and prices please see the woods section of this site.
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©Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh, 2020