Alfred J. (Alfred James) Hipkins.

A description and history of the pianoforte and of the older keyboard stringed instruments online

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make five or six diverse changes of playing, and may be very near
as soft in touch as a small clavecin, wherein the greatest art
consists, which few masters know. Thus much I have to say
conceraing the large instruments, of ^vhich, up to the present time,
four only have been made. The last, the best, have been sold for
about 300 and afterwards 20 or 30 gulden less, so that one should
have them made expressly. Now in what concerns the short tailed
instruments with a unison or irith an octave, each having its value,
they are generally a note higher m pitch [Kammerton, Chamber
pitch, about a note higher than French] , and of my former invention
some years ago, serving in small rooms for playing Courauts,

* When 'the quill plectrum is shifted away from the string, the damper is also


Allemands, and Sarabandes. If you please in this or in other things

to command me I will show that I am always your humble servant,

" Antwerp, March 6, 1648."* '* G. F. Duabte.

Passing by Duarte's claims for invention or suggestion, we may
attribute to Jan Couchet the addition of the unison string and
limitation of the octave string — the little octave, as Van Blanken-
burg calls it — to the lower keyboard. Jean Euckers, however, made
an eight-foot harpsichord in 1632, and one of seven feet eleven
inches that is undated, and Andre Euckers one of the abnormal
length of eight feet ten and a half inches ; but the compass of this
instrument extended in the bass to the lowest C of the pianoforte.!

The higher tension of the Euckers scale, when thus altered, com-
bined with the sharp chamber pitch | of that time, rendered it very
difficult, even with the thin wire then used, to keep on the highest
treble note, c^; the vibrating lengths of the unison strings being
respectively 6f and 7 inches. He says the belly bridge had been put
back as far as possible ; no doubt to gain room for the octave string,
which was, as already said, hitched on to the souud-board itself, the
latter being strengthened for it by a rail of oak or other hard wood
underneath. Van Blankenburg mentions an expedient to relieve
the high tension which I myself found employed in the double
spinet or virginal by Hans Euckers the elder, now in Mr. Steinert's
collection in America, the scale of which a few years ago, before the
instrument was restored, was for both keyboards "si — si," B — b^,
the keyboards having been shifted a semitone downwards. But as
the lowest note of the harpsichords, B, then became B flat, an incon-
venient key to end upon in the bass, an A was added, thus extending
the full number to fifty-one keys, but doing away with the short octave.

* I am indebted to Mr. Victor Mahillon, of Brussels, and to Dr. J. P. N. Land,
of Leyden, for valuable assistance in the translation of this interesting old
Flemish letter.

t "Dictionary of Music and Musicians," Vol. III., p. 198, Art. " Euckers "
(A. J. H.), the instruments catalogued 19, 24, and 34.

I Dr. A. J. Ellis, "History of Musical Pitch," p. 332. I am sorry I cannot
accept Dr. Ellis's hypothesis concerning the Kammerton, or chamber pitch of
Prsetorius. I believe it was no more than a whole tone above the Diapason
Normal, or, at most, the pitch of the Halberstadt Organ, about an equal minor
third above. I agree, however, with Dr. Ellis's determination of Pratorius's
Chorton or Church pitch, as having been approximately Handel's pitch, nearly
a quarter of a tone below the Diapason Normal. The high pitch went when the
modern orchestra was established, and the viols gave way before the violins.


Van Blankenburg goes on to say that certain dealers deceived
the public by altering the shorter keyboard harpsichords into
double keyboard instruments, and putting them forth as genuine,
whereby the reputation of the makers suffered. It has bec^n already
remarked that, in making the lower keyboard the forte and the
upper the -piano, the nearest register (an octave one) had become
useless. It appears, in 1708, he owned a harpsichord, made in
1623 by Jean Ruckers (Hans the younger), which had four stops, of
which he gives the names, spinetta, unisonus, cymbalum, and octava,"
which, according to the organ he says, would be named trompette,
bourdon, prestant, octave. There is a little confusion here, as he
mentions an organ stop, the bourdon, usually an octave lower than
the harpsichord, although occasionally of eight-foot pitch. His
mistake is not, however, of importance. According to Adlung,t
Prestant and Principal are one and the same, and may apply to
a stop of any measure, so long as it is of prime importance and
excellence. But we must allow Van Blankenburg's claim to have
been the inventor of the Lute stop and perhaps of the Buff".
Taking the stops as he names them in their order, the spinetta, the
farthest away, was the octave on the lower keyboard ; unisonus and
cymbalum were the second and third, and when the separate
unisons were introduced, cymbalum, by a prolongation of tlio
wooden jack, remained available for either keyboard. But
the fourth, the octava stop, the nearest {de devant) had
become, as already said, of no use to the player. j This was
the register he adapted for the lute by shifting its row of jacks
forward until they plucked the strings in the lower and medium
divisions of the scale about two inches only from the bridge, and
much nearer in the treble. He gives no name to this new effect,
so charming in its delicate, reedy tone quality ; but the stop has
always borne the name of Lute in England, my authorities being
Carl Engel, to whom it came through a Kirkman tradition, § and a
harpsichord I have seen, by Culliford, a well-known maker

* Vander Straeten, Vol. I., p. 69.

■f- " Musica Mechanica Organoedi," I., p. 123.

+ It is possible that the complete installation of sympathetic strings m
the fine harpsichord by King, dated 1700, shown by Herr Klinkerfuss, of
Stuttgart, in the Loan Collection of the Inventions Exhibition, 1885, was only &
disused register.

§ Carl Engel, "A Descriptive Catalogue," 1874, p. 353.


near the end of the last century, who had this stop so labelled.*
Van Blankenburg further says there can still be added ' ' a lute and
a harp stop," by which I conclude he means the buff or muting
stop obtained by shifting a small pad of buff leather against one of
the unison strings ; frequently called " lute " on the Continent,!
but bearing no resemblance in the effect to the peculiarly attractive
tone of that lovely instrument.

Perhaps the nearest to an unrestored Ruckers, although with
renewed keyboards and added "unisonus," is the beautiful harpsi-
chord that belonged to the late Mr. Leyland, of Speke Hall and
South Kensington — a Jean Ruckers, dated 1642. Here the stops
are in the original position at the side of the case, four in number,
and not brought over the keyboard, another contrivance of Van
Blankenburg who introduced the brass knobs since customary.
Two stops act upon the octave string, the farthest and the nearest,
thus answering to the spinetta and octava. The difference in tone
quality from the difference of " striking place " is even here note-
worthy, the spinetta being richer and the octava keener.

Since writing about Van Blankenburg I have had the good
fortune to find a Jean Euckers harpsichord, date 1638, the key-
boards of which have remained unaltered. The highest note is
c^ in the upper and f^ in the lower, the latter being exactly under
the former, the jacks of both touching the same strings, so that
the lower keyboard is a fourth below the upper in pitch. There
is a wooden block at the bass end of the upper one precisely as
described by Van Blankenburg to fill up space that keys might
occupy. The only difference is that his upper keyboard goes down
to B natural and this to E, an unimportant variation. We learn
from Arnold Schhckl that organs were tuned a fourth apart to
effect the same purpose in accompanying the Plain Song, a
transposition to enable the Plagal modes to lie for the voice as
conveniently as the Authentic, and from this the high and low
chm'ch pitches arose, at first, as said, a fourth apart, although
later only a minor third or a whole tone, the tendency being to
a compromise. As applied to the harpsichord in the first half of

* " Dictionary of Music and Musicians " (A. J. H.), Vol. III., p. 718.
t Acllung, " Musical Mechanica Organoedi," II., p. 107.

I " Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten," Arnold Schlick (Mainz, 1511) ;
and " History of Musical Pitch," A. J. Ellis (London, 1880), p. 306.



the seventeenth century, this was a survival only, soon to be done
away with by Couchet and his contemporaries. Van Blankenburg's
objection to the short octave mentioned on page 82, which puzzled
Mr. Vander Straeten, is explained by a contrivance in this instru-
ment." Wooden prolongations upon the lowest E, F sharp, and G
sharp keys of the upper manual, diverge at an angle to the left so
as to hold and raise the jacks of the yet lower C, D, and E, thus
obtaining a short octave without upsetting the chromatic order
above the short octave of the lower keyboard. A restorer (one
has attached a sourdine to the instrument), before the beautiful
decoration which adorns it was added, has removed two of the rows
of jacks and plugged up the openings where their rails or slides
would project at the right hand side of the case, thus converting

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the instrument into a double spinet, with the lower keyboard an
eleventh higher in pitch than the upper ; a senseless proceeding
but not irremediable. This interesting and unique harpsichord
belongs to the Right Honourable Sir Bernhard Samuelson. It had
been for many years in the possession of Mr. Spence, of Florence.
It is possible it went to Italy when first made, which would account
for its having remained with the original keyboards. My meeting
with it is due to the courtesy of Mr. Kemp, of Messrs. Chappell
and Co., who had it to repau*.

* Mr. Vander Straeten admitted that he could not translate satisfactorily the
passage referring to this contrivance, and quoted, p. 66, the original Dutch text,
which I render : " and this with great trouble because the keys . . . must
reach crosswise over each other." This harpsichord removes all doubt as to the


While these radical changes took place in the construction of the
harpsichord, and in the ideas controlling its keyboard arrangement
and compass, it is remarkable that no change of any importance
happened in the somid exciter, the jack with its little plectrum and
cloth damper. In a communication from Mr. Charles Meerens, of
Brussels, published this year in La Federation Artistique, and
reprinted in VEcJio Musical of that city, Mr. Meerens says : " The
replacement of the jack by the hammer offers a curious spectacle of
the fecundity of human intelligence. As much as the jack
remained stationary during three centuries, so much has the
hammer inspired diiferent systems ever since its first appearance
in 1709. The number of diverse mechanical actions with their
modifications and subsequent improvements cannot be reckoned.
On the one hand, we observe among the makers an indolence without
parallel so far as the plectrum is concerned ; on the other, we see
for the hammer a feverish imagination displayed which never sleeps
or ceases to work, and never dries up. . . . Certainly the spirit of
imitation is inborn in man, which may explain this faithful constancy
to the harpsichord mechanism." That is to say, as first invented. It
served its purpose, and perhaps could not have been improved upon.

The next alteration, an eighteenth century one, was to entirely
abolish the short octave and make the keyboards " en ravalement "
(a lowering, from the French " ravaler ") by an extension of
compass that continued the bass in chromatic order to G or F, and
thereby, as Yan Blankenburg deplores, cramping the scale to the
detriment of the tone. The keyboard blocks were reduced or
removed, and treble notes were also added.

The originally limited compass of the Euckers' harpsichords is
supported by Sainsbury.=^ There was a correspondence in 1637-38
between the painter Balthazar Gerbier, at that time at Brussels, and
Sir F. Windebank relative to the purchase of a good virginal — that
is to say, a harpsichord, from Antwerp for King Charles the First.
Gerbier bought one by Jean Ruckerts {sic) with two keyboards and
f jur stops, and paintings inside the cover, one by Rubens, for £30,
and when sent over it was found to be wanting six or seven keys,
and was therefore insufficient for the music intended to be played
upon it. Harpsichord or virginal music had at that time assumed

* W. N. Sainsbury, " Orginal unpublished papers illustrative of the Life of
Sir Peter Paul Eubens " (London, 1859), p. 209.

5)0 THE llAUl'SR'HORD.

a greater development in England than on the Continent. Jean
Ruckers was asked to exchange this instrument for one of larger
compass, but declined with a curt message that he would not alter
the instrument and had not another to supply in lieu of it.

As with Stradivari and the violin, it might not have been so much
invention, as a perfect intuition of the means for producing beautiful
tone, that raised the Ruckers' family so far above their fellows.
The fact remains that hardly two of the Ruckers' instruments that
have come down to us are of exactly the same dimensions. Their
work must have been always artistic and experimental, not on fixed
mechanical lines. It was not uncommon to adorn them with
painting and other expensive decoration, even when a hundred
3"ears old. From a well-repaired specimen here and there, notwith-
standing the alterations spoken of as detrimental to the maker's
scale, we may concur in the extraordinary merits of these once
much loved instruments.

The greatest harpsichord makers cf the eighteenth century were,
in London, Burkat Shudi (Burkhardt Tschudi) and Jacob Kirckman
(Kirchmann). The former began business, in 1732, in the house
still occupied as the seat of the business of his descendants, the
Broadwoods, 33, Great Pulteney Street, Golden Square, London.
Kirckman has been represented by his family in a London pianoforte
manufactory of repute. In Paris, Taskin had a great name, but
later in the century. With these makers the cases were no longer
of resonant cypress, cedar, or pine ; the prevailing style of domestic
furniture had led to more rigid cases of w^alnut and Spanish
mahogany. The tone was of greater power and majesty than had
previously been attained, and step by step with the orchestra and
organ registration, a greater variety of tone by freer use of the stops
was sought for. Lastly, perhaps incited by the pianoforte, crescendo
and diminuendo became desiderata, and a swell was introduced for
the harpsichord, as seen in Kirckman's harpsichords, by gradually
raising the cover with a pedal (an invention of Roger Plenius), and
improved upon by Shudi's "Venetian swell,'"'' the frame of louvres

* Patent No. 947, 1769. A Salzburger Zeitung, however, dated August,
1765, describes Shudi's Venetian swell, together with his use of the machine stop,
which, from a London report concerning the child Mozart's last concert there, it
also attributes to him. See Pohl's " Mozart in London " (Vienna, 1867), pp. 126-7.
The patent for the Venetian swell was therefoie taken out some years after the
invention. Mr. H. Vivian Hamilton owns a Shudi harpsichord with a Venetian
swell, dated 1766.


or shutters that was soon afterwards transferred, with so much
advantage, to the organ.

Cut even with the large English harpsichords of Shudi and
Kirckman, the wire used was very thin. In a Shudi one, dated
1770, the wire is marked on the bridge with the gauge numbers
from four in the treble to fifteen in the bass, down to G. In a
contemporary Kirkman it is from four down to thirteen, the lowest
note being F. The octave registers begin at four, but are carried
down with a somewhat less diameter. The lowest fourteen to
seventeen notes are brass, the rest steel.

Some large German harpsichords had not only the two unison
registers and an octave one equivalent to eight and four feet stops,
but also a Bourdon, answering to sixteen feet pitch. John Sebastian
Bach had one of this calibre ; it formed one of the interesting
objects in Herr Paul de Wit's collection in Leipzig and has been
transferred to the Museum attached to the Hochschule fiir Musik in
Berlin.* There is also such an instrument at Brussels.! Bach's
use of the two keyboards is shown in his celebrated Goldberg
Variations ; but in those variations requiring both keyboards eight
foot stops only can be used.;]: I have found with a Shudi or
Kirckman harpsichord a weU-balanced registration, enhanced by a
not too prominent contrast of quality, to be with two unisons (eight-
foot) on the lower keyboard, against a single eight-foot and lute on
the upper. The lute stop, as already said, has the striking place
for its plectra very near the wrestplank bridge, causing a " luthee,"
or we may say, mandoline quality of tone. The other rows, the
eight-foot unisons and four-foot octave are contiguous and lower
down the string ; in all the spinet jack is used, with quill or
leather. Shudi and Kirckman followed the later Euckers or Jean
Couchet's example in the arrangement of keyboards and stops,
which came to pass through Tabel, to whom Shudi and afterwards
Kirckman were foremen, and who, being a Fleming, brought Antwerp

* " Zeitschrift fiir Instrumentenbau," 10 Jahrg, No. 36 (Leipzig, 1890), pp.
429-32. " Der Fliigel Joh. Seb. Bach's." Konigliche Hochschule fiir Musik zu
Berlin. " Fiihrer durch die Sammlung alter Musik-Instrumente," von Dr.
Oskar Fleischer (Berlin, 1892), p. 111.

t Victor Mahillon, " Catalogue Descriptif et Analytique du Mus6e Instru-
mental du Conservatoire Eoyal de Bruxelles," Tome II., l^e livraison, p. 39.

+ Musical Times, No. 574, December, 1890, pp. 719-22. Mr. Hipkins's
Lecture on " The Old Claviers," given at the Oxford University Musical Club


traditions with him. A pedal of the nature of a composition
pedal in the organ, but not really one, inasmuch as it reduced
each keyboard to a single register, was introduced about the year
1750 in England, and used in combination with a stop to the
left hand of the player. It is this I have referred to in the footnote
concerning Mozart and Shudi, page 90. From the harpsichord
made by Gulhford I am enabled to distinguish it as the
"Machine" stop. When the machine or pedal stop is put
back and the foot presses down the left pedal, the octave is
withdrawn from the lower keyboard and the cymbal (Engel's
first unison) from both keyboards, while the lute is put on to
the upper. The harpsichord is thus reduced to the lute upon
the upper, and the unison (Engel's second miison) upon the lower.
Releasing the pedal withdraws the lute, and restores the registers of
cymbal on the upper keyboard, with the full power, cymbal, unison,
and octave on the lower. When the machine is set forward this
combination is fixed and the pedal will not act. The ironwork for
this stop is outside the case. A pedal to the right is for the swell.
All the simple effects in an Antwerp or English harpsichord are
possible with a single keyboard ; but the two keyboards permit
contrast. All the best English harpsichords were furnished with
both lute and buff stops. Shudi placed his left hand stops thus :
lute, octave, buff; Kirkman, buff\ lute, octave. The right hand stops
controlled the unisons. With Shudi the buff stop modified the
second unison string : Kirkman appears to have preferred the
cymbal or first unison. The former was better because it allowed
the lute on the upper keyboard to be contrasted with the buff' on
the lower. German and French harpsichords are to be met with
in which there is a harp stop with its own row of jacks furnished
with very broad leather plectra, besides the usual buff" stop. But
this is a mere shading of the pizzicato.

A harpsichord was made by Clementi — the gre^.t pianist and
predecessor of the firm of CoUard — as late as 1802, which was the
last year in which Beethoven's Sonatas were published " for the
Harpsichord or Pianoforte."

Since 1888 harpsichords have been made in Paris by tbc
pianoforte makers, Pleyel, Wolff & Cie., and S. & P. Erard.
Messrs. Pleyel have introduced original features, one being a


substitution of pedals for hand-stops, the gradual depression of which
produces a crescendo, Messrs. Erard have been content to reproduce
a ''Clavecin" by Taskin, said to have been made for Marie
Antoinette. These instruments, in common with other French
and Grerman harpsichords I have met with, differ from the Antwerp
(rind English) model in having independent strings for the two key-
boards. The Sieur de la Barre'^'' (Espinette et Organiste du Eoy et
de la Keyne) wrote to Con^tantin Huygens, on the 15th October,
1648, in reply to an inquiry respecting the price of harpsichords in
Paris : " For the truth is this gentleman, who is still young, early
discovered the invention of makmg * Clavesins a deux claviers,' not
in the fashion of Flanders, where only the same strings are played,
but different, inasmuch as they sound different strings on each
keyboard, and properly speaking two ' clavesins ' are joined in one
and consequently the work is doubled." In Pleyel's harpsichord or
clavecin, which was kindly lent for my lectures at Cambridge
and London,-|- 1892-3, there are two registers, one of eight-foot and
one of four-foot (octave) pitch on the lower keyboard, and a
separate eight-foot one in the upper, all with leather plectra ; the
pedals acting thus : (lower keyboard from the left) first, leaves the
eight-foot sounding ; second, the four-foot (upper keyboard) ; third,
a muting or 'pizzicato ; fourth, coupling the three registers for the
ensemble or " grand jeu " ; fifth, adding the lute or near plucking
register gradually, making a crescendo ; sixth, taking off the lute,
making a diminuendo. The fifth and sixth put down together
produce the lute only. The Erard harpsichord has also two
keyboards of five octaves' compass and three rows of jacks, two of
leather and one of quill. It has two genouilleres, or knee levers,
instead of hand stops, and two pedals, a forte and sourdine. The
upper keyboard acts upon a leather row of jacks of eight-foot pitch,
which speak always when this keyboard is touched. The lower
keyboard is for the combinations. The right knee genouilUre
pushed to the right couples both keyboards, eight-foot leather and
eight-foot quill ; pushed to the left, the octave, or four-foot leather
and eight-foot quill. The left knee genouillere pushed to the right
brings on the eight-foot of the upper keyboard, to the left there is

* " Huygens," Ed. Jonkbloet and Land, p. 149.

^ Monthly Journal of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, Vol. V., No. 2,
February 1, 1893. Lecture by A. J. Hipkins, p. 32.


the eight-foot quill register alone. With the right knee lever
pushed to the left and the forte pedal put down, the three rows
of jacks make the ensemble or " r/rand jeu " on the lower keyboard,
the upper one being brought forward without disturbing the action
of the jacks.*



An early combination was made of the spinet or harpsichord with
flute stops of the organ. Mr. Edmond Vander Straeten has
discovered a very early Spanish record of an instrument witli
this name — a Chamberlain of Queen Isabella, named Sancho de
Paredes, owned, before 1480, " Dos Clabiorganos " — two claviorgaus
or organised clavecins, t Rabelais comes next in order of time ; his
book was published before 1552, and he compares the toes of
Careme-prenant to an " espinette organisee."

Spinets with such attachments are not now forthcoming ; the
exception being one seen by Herr Carl Krebs in the Vienna
Exhibition of Music and the Drama in 1892. | This instrument,
according to his description, closed like a draught-box, from which

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Online LibraryAlfred J. (Alfred James) HipkinsA description and history of the pianoforte and of the older keyboard stringed instruments → online text (page 9 of 13)