The Harpsichord

How is a harpsichord different to a piano?

A harpsichord is a stringed keyboard instrument in which the strings are plucked with a small plectra (quills or plastic) when the keys are pressed. This is different to the piano which uses hammers to strike the strings. 

As the strings are plucked, the harpsichord produces a distinctive tone that is different from the piano. It also lacks dynamic variation because the volume of the sound cannot be controlled by the player's touch. However, the harpsichord allows for different timbres and articulations by using different sets of strings, known as stops or registers. These stops can be activated or deactivated to change the overall sound of the instrument. 

A brief history of the harpsichord?

The earliest known reference to an instrument resembling a harpsichord dates back to around 1400. These early versions were relatively simple and had a limited range. Over time, the instrument underwent significant improvements and refinements.

By the 16th century, the harpsichord had gained popularity throughout Europe, particularly in Italy, Flanders, and France. Makers experimented with different designs and techniques, resulting in various regional styles. Notable advancements during this period included the addition of extra sets of strings called choirs or registers, which expanded the instrument's tonal possibilities.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Baroque era, the harpsichord reached its peak in terms of design, craftsmanship, and musical importance. Makers like the Ruckers family in the Netherlands and the Blanchet family in France produced highly regarded instruments. The harpsichord's popularity was closely tied to the flourishing Baroque music composed by masters such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, and François Couperin.