Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Harpsichord has arrived!

Its here, its here! I'm so excited- my harpsichord has arrived and I'm having so much fun experimenting with different literature. Wow, what a difference between the harpsichord and piano. Besides, the obvious ones, of course, the harpsichord is quite limiting. One of the first is that when playing, all the energy comes from my hands and fingers --no arm weight. Second, the keys are physically smaller so when I reach for an octave I get a 9th. Phrasing and "graces" (ornamentation) are really all you have to get your point across. Trills, mordents, and other graces and far easier to execute on the harpsichord. An extended trill is a breeze!

This week my students were able to play a harpsichord for the first time. My classical students all had Renaissance and Baroque pieces ready! This is such a unique opportunity for my students to really understand why Renaissance and Baroque keyboard music is what it is. And just how important the invention of the pianoforte was to music. Playing Bach on the piano and trying to explain why we use such a limited dynamic range -- and then playing Bach on the harpsichord -- are really too different matters entirely. Sit at the harpsichord for an hour, and it becomes suddenly clear.

My instrument is tuned to A=440, but the temperment is Kirnberger III. This is almost like tuning a house of cards....get one thing wrong, and the rest of the notes quickly follow. It begins with and A at 440, then a "perfect" 3rd (I know, I know, but that's what they call it). Everything is then tuned by ear in consecutive 5ths. Once two octaves of fifths are complete, the rest is tuned in octaves. Needless to say, this is going to be hard to do. I am NO expert in tuning, that's for sure!

Each key has 2 strings tuned at the octave. (4' and 8'). There is a knee lever for operating just the 8' and a hand stop for the 4'. My students had fun operating the knee lever and hand stops to see what kinds of combinations of timbre they could produce.

This is a fantastic student-level instrument and its theoretically portable to take to an event (if you are prepared to tune it). I am looking forward to my first specifically Baroque concert next March. 

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