G R A N T O ’ B R I E N
EARLY KEYBOARD INSTRUMENTS
Harpsichords, Virginals, Spinets and Clavichords.
Historical Keyboard Instruments of all Periods and National Schools.
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Listen to this splendid instrument here
We strongly recommend that you use good quality earphones to listen to the instrument in order to get the full resonance of the sound!
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 of construction is known, the original maker of the instrument is not. It was originally a normal double-manual Flemish harpsichord with two keyboards at pitches a fourth apart, and with the usual Flemish disposition of 1x8', 1x4' and 4 registers - two for each keyboard. Although it now has a genuine early Ioannes Ruckers 'HR' soundboard rosette and many similarities to genuine Ruckers double-manual harpsichords, analysis of the structure and design of the instrument shows that, although it was made in Antwerp, 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. During this period the bass compass was extended down to F1 and the treble compass was increased by one whole tone up to d3 in the treble. The decoration seems almost all to date from the period around 1750 when it was given its lavish gilt vernis-martin decoration with figure-paintings and elaborate rococo decorations. The figure paintings can mostly be attributed to François Boucher (1703 - 1770) who was the Court Painter to Louis XV. The rococo ornaments surrounding these (and the ornaments without figure paintings on the spine) are confidently attributed to Christophe II Huet (1700 - 1759), who carried out numerous commissions for Mme de Pompadour, Louis XV's grand maitresse.
We know with certainty, because his signature and workmanship are in clear evidence, that it was altered in 1750 by Francois Etienne Blanchet who was later made Louis XV's Court Harpsichord Maker. Blanchet made new jacks and may have made a new set of keyboards for the instrument. After Blanchet's work in 1750, it was then given a further treble ravalement by extending the treble compass further up to f3 in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann. Although direct traces of these two Parisian harpsichord builders have almost all disappeared as a result of careless modern over-restorations, good evidence points to their interventions. For example the signature of Nicolas Hoffmann and the date 1786 still remain on the front surface of the lower belly rail behind the keyboards. It is likely Barberini and Hoffmann also added a unique genouillère, with a peau de buffle register. Traces of the former existence of the genouillère still exist inside the keywell, and the lack of any coupler levers passing through the spine indicate that this genouillère was of a type not found in any extant harpsichord. It is a great tragedy that this genouillère has not survived as it may have provided essential information about late-eighteen-century performance practice. More information about the genouillère can be found here. The present keyboards also date from this 1786 alteration.
This seems to be the only French harpsichord in the world with a decorated spine. Normally the spine was left plain and undecorated since the instrument would be pushed up towards a wall where the spine wouldn't be seen. But the exquisite decorate on the spine of this instrument is consistent with it having been decorated as a centre-piece for a room in Versailles at the French Court of Louis XV. This is the only known eighteenth-century French harpsichord in world with a decorated spine:
The spine decorated by Christophe Huet, and the rococo stand are just a few of the stunning features of the instruments' splendid decoration!
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' plus a peau de buffle set of jacks. The whole of the stunningly-beautiful decoration has now been carefully restored and gives the instrument an extremely ornate, luxurious and brilliant appearance. The sound is pure, full, rich and evenly-balanced across the entire compass of the instrument. The sound creates an impression of immense power and opulence, matching that of the Court of Louis XV for whom it was probably commissioned. 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, all from the same tree - for the whole of the soundboard.
Also available is a small amount of knot-free Italian cypress from Tuscany (cipresso netto) and some 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.
lease follow the 'Contact link' in the column on the left.
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Web design by Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh, 2021. Web pages last up-dated: Saturday November 11, 2023
©Grant O'Brien, Edinburgh, 2021