Harpsichord - History of Harpsichord


The slight twang of a Harpsichord sounds slight off key to those familiar with the smooth notes of the piano. Acting as the base for the modern pianos design, the history of the harpsichord has endured the ages to provide unique insight into the design and creation of this unique class of stringed instruments.

The first mention of a harpsichord occurred in 1397 when it was written that a man named Hermann Poll had created a 'cavicembalum' instrument. However, the first known harpsichord instrument that was built was constructed in the 14th century.

Based off the organ, which was first invented in 3rd century BCE, the Harpsichord was also created to form sounds through the plucking of strings. However the first harpsichords resembled a guitar much more than either the organ or piano. Containing metal strings straightened over a soundboard, this first form created sound through manually plucking the strings. It was also quite small, and could be held with one hand, while the strings were plucked with the other

Gradually over the next century, advances in the harpsichord increased its size and added additional mechanisms, like the jack action, which provided the instrument with more complexity. By the 16th century, the Harpsichord has evolved to contain keys, attached to strings that were pressed to create sounds. This was a large improvement over the use of strings that were directly plucked.

The more modern, freestanding harpsichord form familiar today was due to adaptations made by the Italians in the 1500s. For the first time, the harpsichord had been built so large that it could no longer be held and instead, musicians sat or stood in front of the keys to play them, much like the pianos of today. However, the pitches of this instrument were quire limited and only contained 1-2 octaves of playable notes.

Throughout the next two hundred years, the octave range, size, and durability, increased dramatically. By 1785, the Spanish harpsichord had its range increased to 5 octaves. However, during the 1800s, the use of the harpsichord declined sharply as early forms of the piano were being created and shared worldwide. Although primitive compared to the modern pianos of today, the harpsichord was extremely influential in their development and design.

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