GERMAN SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY CLAVICHORD

[For picture (67K), click here].

This clavichord was conceived specifically to play German keyboard music from the period before J.S. Bach: Buxtehude, Scheidt, Weckmann, Böhm, Fischer and above all Johann Jacob Froberger. The design is derived from published details of an instrument in the Leipzig museum (no. 10). Fascinatingly, I found many signs of the use of simple proportional relationships throughout the design of this instrument. For example, the gap between the keylevers of b1 and c2 is a straight line at right angles to the front of the instrument, positioned exactly half way along its length, thus dividing the clavichord into two symmetrical halves. There are many other such intriguing discoveries in this apparently straightforward design.

The use of diatonic fretting practically throughout means that tuning is done almost entirely on the natural notes: the only accidental that has to be directly tuned is B♭ (B flat a ninth below middle C). This system also, by reducing the number of heavy bass strings, avoids overloading the bridge, with the result that the sound is very bold and direct.

This is not, however, a general-purpose clavichord, and I could not recommend it as the only clavichord of an amateur owner. The quarter-comma mean-tone temperament limits the amount of later music that one can play.

Outline specification:

Compass C/E-c3, with a short-and-broken bass octave. Pitch: a1=458 Hz, a little above standard modern pitch: this is thought to be roughly the level of mid-seventeenth-century Chorthon. The instrument also works well at modern standard pitch.

Fretted in pairs, with all D’s and A’s unfretted (also notes B and B♭). This clavichord can also be made with split accidental keys for D#/E♭ in the upper three octaves.

Temperament: quarter-comma mean-tone, with the accidental notes arranged to give C#, E♭, F#, G# and B♭.

Size: 1130 × 325 × 100 mm (3 ft 8½ in × 12¾ in × 4 in).

Stringing: From middle C up the strings are of iron; from bass F up to note b they are of brass. The three notes of the short octave (C, D and E) and note F have specially made twined strings.

Keyboard: Octave span 165 mm (6½ in). Naturals of box, sharps of pearwood, capped with ebony slips; keyfronts carved in a trefoil pattern. The keylevers themselves are made of lime with traditional roof-carving.

Case: English oak with oil finish. Some inside parts, including the over-rail, are made of walnut. Mouldings round base and on top edge of case, also round front and ends of lid. The two parts of the lid are joined with a traditional vellum hinge: an effective way of keeping out dust.

The instrument has a tool-box at the left-hand end of the keyboard, and is supplied with tuning key, stringing tool and wedge.

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