For full bibliographical references, please see the list at the end
The aim of this document is to list all known surviving multiple-fretted clavichords made before 1900. For this purpose, a multiple-fretted clavichord is one in which, in any part of the compass, four or more tangents share a single course of strings. This excludes a group of some thirty-odd surviving instruments in which no more than three tangents share a single course. These are triple-fretted clavichords: for more about them see Maria Boxalls article in Galpin Society Journal LIV (listed in the Bibliography below).
Multiple fretting was a characteristic of the very earliest clavichords, which we know about through documentary and iconographical evidence only. These were simple rectangular boxes with the strings stretched across from end to end and the keyboard projecting from one of the long sides. One or more bridges were arranged at right angles to the axis of the case, without bridge pins, but usually with some kind of arrangement to keep the strings ﬁrmly in contact with the top of the bridge. This could take the form of a bend in the soundboard, placing the tuning pins low down in the case; or hold-downs might be attached to the case sides or to the soundboard. The bridges were not glued to the soundboard, but simply held in place by the downward pressure of the strings.
Most of the surviving multiple-fretted clavichords are of this ancient type. It is very striking that, with minor variations, the fretting follows a similar pattern in almost all the surviving instruments:
Edwin M. Ripin seems to have been the ﬁrst to identify the reason for this arrangement of the tangents in groups of three and four, in his 1967 article The Early Clavichord. The principle seems to be to move on to the next course only when it is essential to do so in order to produce one of the major or minor thirds regularly used in the harmonic practice of the time. So if we begin at e, after f# we must move to a fresh course for g in order to be able to sound the notes e–g together. Similarly, we need to move to a new course for b♭ so as to be able to sound the minor third g–b♭. However, we do not need a new course for c#¹, since the combination of this note with b♭ was not used as a concord in the music of the time. As Maria Boxall as pointed out, the pattern repeats every two octaves, in much the same way as the relationship of notes to the lines and spaces of the stave.
Bass notes usually have courses to themselves, since the extreme amount of cranking required to position the tangents correctly would not be practical. For the same reason, in the tenor, where the pattern might prescribe a group of four, these may be split into two groups of two: this is the case in the clavichord by Dominicus Pisaurensis (No. 1 below), where the ﬁrst two fretted groups are:
Other small anomalies may occur at the top of the compass.
It seems that this classic multiple fretting may not have been in the minds of those who made the very earliest clavichords, since the early sources do not always follow it precisely.
In addition to the nine or ten European multiple-fretted clavichords listed below, at least six such instruments made in Latin America have survived. It seems the type remained in use in the New World long after it had become obsolete in Europe: some examples may have been made as late as the early twentieth century. Although they are found in widely separated locations on either side of the isthmus of Panama, they are remarkably similar in basic design: this suggests that they may all be derived ultimately from a single prototype, perhaps an instrument brought from Europe by Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth century. All have open compartments on either side of the keyboard, keylever balance pins arranged in a straight line, multiple-fretting starting at the note e, two or three straight bridges at right angles to the axis of the case and held in place by string pressure, with hold-downs attached to the soundboard to hold the strings in ﬁrm contact with the bridges. The musical role of these instruments seems to have been primarily in the training of organists, who were required to play very largely by ear and from memory in the absence of much written or printed music apart from the plainsong in the service books.
For more about the clavichord in Latin America, see the articles by Pablo Padilla and Juan Luis García, Enrique Pilco, Ed Pepe and Peter Bavington in the Bibliography below, and the website http://latinamericanclavichords.info.
SURVIVING MULTIPLE-FRETTED CLAVICHORDS
Part I: made in Europe
1.Dominicus Pisaurensis, Venice 1543. Leipzig, Grassimuseum, No. 1 [picture]
Source: Henkel, Clavichorde
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e♭.
This is the earliest surviving signed and dated clavichord. The case is hexagonal, in eﬀect a rectangle with the rear left and right corners cut oﬀ at 45°, with the keyboard projecting at the front. There are three bridges arranged at right angles to the axis of the case, without bridge pins. There is a bend in the soundboard roughly midway along its length: the left half is horizontal, but the right half slopes downwards to place the tuning pins at a lower level. The purpose is evidently to hold the strings ﬁrmly against the tops of the bridges.
In view of the rather short sounding lengths (c² = 233 mm), this clavichord may have been intended for a higher than standard pitch.
2. Anonymous, probably Naples 1500s. Leipzig, Grassimuseum, No. 2 [picture]
Sources: Henkel, Clavichorde; Steiner, Clavichords No. 2 and 3 in the Leipzig Collection…
Compass: C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: c.
Rectangular, with projecting keyboard. Two straight bridges, arranged at right angles to the axis of the case, without bridge pins. In this case two hold-downs in the form of wooden bars ﬁxed to the front and back case sides are arranged so as to press down on the strings to the right of the bridges, holding them against the tops of the bridges.
3. Anonymous, origin uncertain. Leipzig, Grassimuseum, No. 3 [picture]
Sources: Henkel, Clavichorde; Steiner, Clavichords No. 2 and 3 in the Leipzig Collection…
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: c.
Original fretting pattern:
The tangents for f#² and a² have been moved further back in the keylevers, so that the present fretting in the treble is as follows:
According to Henkel, the original positions of the tangents are clearly visible in the keylevers.
The instrument, like No. 2, is rectangular with projecting keyboard. Three straight bridges at right angles to the axis of the case; two hold-downs ﬁxed to the case sides, similar to those on No. 2 above.
4. Anonymous, Italian, 1500s or early 1600s (inscribed Onesto Tosi). Boston, MFA No. 3 [picture]
Source: Koster, Keyboard Instruments in the MFA
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e♭.
Rectangular, with projecting keyboard. Three straight bridges at right angles to the axis of the case. The soundboard slopes down from a point roughly midway across, exactly as in No. 1 above.
5. Anonymous, Italian, 1500s or early 1600s. Bologna, Tagliavini collection, No. A1 [picture]
Sources: Tagliavini, An Anonymous Sixteenth-Century Clavichord… ; Van der Meer and Tagliavini, Collezione Tagliavini: Catalogo.
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e♭.
Rectangular, with projecting keyboard. There are four straight bridges, arranged at right angles to the axis of the case. The soundboard is sloped down from a point roughly midway along, as in Nos. 1 and 4 above.
According to the 2008 catalogue, the fretting pattern is as follows:
A slightly diﬀerent fretting is given in the De Clavicordio article. The explanation for the discrepancy is not known; it could perhaps relate to the fact that the earlier article was written before the 1995 restoration by Arnaldo Boldrini and Renato Carnevali of Bologna.
6. Anonymous, attr. Giovanni Celestini, c. 1587. Brussels, Musée dinstruments de Musique/Muziekinstrumentenmuseum, No. 1620. [picture]
Sources: Mahillon, vol. 3, pp. 188–9; Maria Boxall, The Origins and Evolution… , pp. 154–5; Online catalogue of the Royal Museums of Art and History (www.carmentis.be) (accessed 12 February 2021).
This instrument has been attributed to Giovanni Celestini by Denzil Wraight (thesis, p. 105) because the console moulding matches that of a signed virginal by Celestini dated 1587, including a slight ﬂaw in the cutter. Its hexagonal shape is similar to that of No. 1 above but larger. As in Nos. 1, 4 and 5 above, the soundboard slopes down from a point midway along its length. There are currently three straight bridges, but these are non-original.
This is clearly a multiple-fretted clavichord, but it has undergone many changes which have obscured the details of the original system. It is not even certain how many courses there were originally: Mahillons 1909 catalogue (vol. 3, pp. 188–9) reports 27, the number existing today; the museums online catalogue suggests that three of these are additions, so the correct number would be 24; Maria Boxalls study suggests 23 (11 unfretted and 12 fretted).
The present fretting includes groups of three and four, but it is illogical and cannot have been original. For example, the single note c#¹ is obtained from course 15; but the courses either side (14 and 16) produce g and g#–g#. The fretting as reported by Mahillon, beginning at note B♭, is as follows:
This seems unlikely to have been the original system because the levers for B♭ and B are too close to produce a plausible semitone. Maria Boxall has deduced the following fretting, starting at e♭, from an enlarged photograph of the rack:
Further examination of this interesting instrument would be worthwhile, and might enable the original fretting to be determined with certainty.
7. Anonymous, ?South German, perhaps mid-1600s. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, No. BK-NM-9487. At high (octave?) pitch. [picture]
Sources: Bavington, BCS Newsletter 73 and notes made during a visit to the museum on 16 August 2018; Maria Boxall, The Origins and Evolution… , pp. 164–5.
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: B♭.
Maria Boxall gives a diﬀerent fretting for the top three courses, but the fretting given here is based on a high-resolution photograph of the instrument kindly supplied by the museum, and is undoubtedly correct. Note the anomalous arrangement of the top two courses.
This instrument is one of the few multiple-fretted clavichords that do not have several straight bridges arranged at right angles to the case. Instead, it has on its tiny soundboard a continuous bridge in two straight sections, the rear part angled from front left to back right bearing ﬁve courses, the front part angled from back left to front right bearing the remaining fourteen courses. The use of wavy mouldings around the case top edge and soundboard suggests a South German origin. The keyboard is recessed into the case, and the strings run obliquely from back left to front right: in this it is conventional in layout, and clearly later in date than Nos 1 to 5 above. It perhaps represents a late survival of the multiple-fretted system.
8. Anonymous, ?South German, seventeenth century. Stuttgart, Württembergisches Landesmuseum, No. G 21.97
Sources: Josten, pp 6–8; Begleitbuch, p. 196; Lothar Bemmann, private communication.
Compass C.D–c³ without C# (wrongly given in the Begleitbuch as C/E–c³). Fretting starts at: c.
The following is the fretting according to Josten:
I am most grateful to Lothar Bemmann for supplying information about this instrument. It is quite small (length 945 mm/3 ft 1¼ in) and may have been intended for a higher than standard pitch. There is a single gently curving bridge on its small soundboard, with bridge-pins to guide the strings. The fretting system seems to be an adaptation of classic multiple fretting.
The instrument formerly bore a label inside the lid according to which it was, from 1687 on, the property of the Abbot Philipp Heinrich Weißensee (1673–1767): this can be seen from the photo, which is from Josten (1928). It has now been removed.
9. Anonymous, origin uncertain. In private ownership, Germany.
Source: Lothar Bemmann, private communication.
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e♭.
The age and place of origin of this instrument are unclear: it could even have been made in the twentieth century. It has a bridge made of two straight sections (like No. 7 above), the rear part angled from front left to back right and the front part angled from back left to front right. Although the length of the case (1180 mm/3 ft 10½ in) could accommodate strings of normal length sounding at standard pitch, the scaling (c²=189 mm) suggests a high pitch, perhaps octave pitch with iron strings. The case, which is remarkably shallow (67 mm/2½ in without lid), bears an elaborate painted decoration.
10. Anonymous, ?German or ?Swedish, perhaps late 1600s. Leipzig, Grassimuseum, No. 5. [picture]
Source: Henkel, Clavichorde.
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: B.
This qualiﬁes as multiple-fretted only because of the top two courses. The system is eccentric and unlike that on any other clavichord known to me; there does not seem to be any relationship with classic multiple fretting.
A former owner (Paul de Wit) stated that the instrument was of Swedish origin, and was said to have once belonged to the Swedish royal family. Henkel comments that the plain workmanship of the clavichord does not suggest an instrument made for royalty.
Part II: made in the New World
11. Anonymous, Peru, possibly 1600s. Quito, Ecuador, Pedro Traversari Collection, No. 4137 [picture]
Sources: Richard Rephann, Catalogue, also personal communication.
See also http://latinamericanclavichords.info [instrument E.1]
Compass: C/E–a². Fretting starts at: e.
e-f-f#|g-g#-a|b♭-b-c¹-c#¹|d¹-e♭¹-e¹|f¹-f#¹-g¹-g#¹|a¹-b♭¹-b¹| thence uncertain.
Two bridges arranged at right angles to the case and two hold-downs attached to the soundboard. Compartments with lids to left and right of the keyboard. The cranking of the keylevers is reminiscent of the Neapolitan clavichord in the Leipzig museum (No. 2 above).
12. Juan Felipe Deolea (or de Olea), New Spain (Mexico), 1700s. Mexico City, Museo Nacional de la Historia. [picture]
Sources: Guzmán, Early Music article; Beryl Kenyon de Pascual, unpublished talk delivered at the Shrine to Music museum, Vermillion, South Dakota, 1996; Ed. Pepe, De Clavicordio XI article; Padilla and García, Mexican Clavichords; see also http://latinamericanclavichords.info [instrument M.1]
Compass: C.D.E.F–c³ without C# and E♭; (originally C/E–c³). Fretting starts at: e.
Note the anomalous fretting of the top two courses.
13. Anonymous, New Spain, 1700s. Tepotzotlán, Museo del Virreinato. [picture]
Sources: Padilla and García, Mexican Clavichords; Esteban Mariño Garza, De Clavicordio XII; see also http://latinamericanclavichords.info [instrument M.2].
Compass: C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e.
14. Anonymous, Peru. Lima, Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana, No. 65/28 [picture]
Sources: Huber and de Graf, A Clavichord from Peru… ; Alejandro Rodríguez, personal communication; http://latinamericanclavichords.info [instrument P.1].
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e.
15. Anonymous, Peru. Belgium, Brussels, Musée des Instruments de Musique, MIM 3385 [picture]
Sources: Jean Tournay, unpublished catalogue of the keyboard instruments in the collection; Peter Bavington, private notes from examination of the instrument at the museum on 2 August 2004. See http://latinamericanclavichords.info [instrument P.2]
Compass C/E–f³. Fretting starts at: e.
Part III: incomplete examples
16. Anonymous, South America. Potosí, Bolivia, Convent of Santa Monica
Source: Enrique Godoy, photos and personal communication; see http://latinamericanclavichords.info [instrument B.2]
Compass C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e.
e-f-f#|g-g#-a|b♭-b-c¹-c#¹|d¹-e♭¹-e¹| thence uncertain.
This instrument is in very poor condition.
17. Anonymous, New Spain(?). Mexico, Santiago Lachiguiri, Oaxaca province, Parish Church.
Source: Padilla and García, Mexican Clavichords; http://latinamericanclavichords.info [instrument M.6]
All that remains of this instrument is the left-hand wall, with hitch-pin block and part of the bottom attached, left-hand compartment and cheekpiece, balance-rail with pins, and part of the front rail. However, this is enough to show that it must have been similar to Nos. 9 and 10 above, with half-height compartments to left and right of the keyboard and separate hinged board closing the front, and it was therefore probably multiple-fretted.
Appendix 1: A doubtful case
18. Anonymous, Italian, sixteenth or early seventeenth century. Paris, Musée de la Musique, No. E.1608 [pictures]
Sources: Boxall, p. 155, also pp. 186–192; Museum website (accessed January 2021); Peter Bavington, notes taken on visit to Paris, 2003; Denzil Wraight and Lewis Jones, personal communications.
This instrument bears an inscription marking it as the work of Dominicus Pisaurensis (see No. 1 above), but this is almost certainly a falsiﬁcation. It has a polygonal shape similar to that of Nos. 1 and 6 but larger than either, and its soundboard has a sloping section like those instruments. It has been greatly altered – for example, a non-original S-shaped bridge has been glued to the left part of the soundboard – and it has not yet been possible to establish either the original number of bridges or the original fretting. Maria Boxall suggests a multiple-fretted system with 26 courses (16 unfretted and 10 fretted): however, there are currently 36 courses and there is no indication that any of these have been added. I therefore think that this instrument is almost certainly an early example of so-called diatonic fretting, whereby each natural note has its own course and the accidental notes are paired with an adjacent natural.
Examination of the rack indicates that there were 15 unfretted notes C/E–f# in the bass. The remainder could have been arranged as follows:
This could even be the very instrument which Praetorius refers to on page 61 of De Organographia, which was brought to Meissen from Italy some thirty years ago and which had the notes D and A unfretted throughout the compass. The illustration in Plate XV of the Theatrum Instrumentorum presumably shows the same instrument, where it is described as Clavicordium, Italianischer mensur. The plate shows a clavichord very similar to Paris E.1608, with the same compass of 50 notes, C/E–f³.
Appendix 2: Iconographical and documentary examples
There are (as far as we know) no surviving clavichords made before about 1500, but several sources refer to the design and construction of clavichords in this early period: these are conveniently summarised in the 2002 article by John Koster. Only two, however, give reasonably clear details of the fretting system. I have included in this section the very precise description of a multiple-fretted clavichord from a much later period by Claas Douwes (1699).
1. The manuscript of Arnault of Zwolle, c.1440
Primary source: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale MS lat 7295.
Arnault’s MS gives diagrams and descriptions of several kinds of instrument, including organ, lute, harpsichord (clavisymbalum), clavichord and a form of keyed dulcimer which he calls dulce melos.
The clavichord has a compass of three octaves B–b². A separate diagram is included showing the fretting: in this, 34 tangents are shown acting on nine courses of strings, disposed in threes and fours except that the top course has as many as ﬁve tangents. However, since the compass of the clavichord requires 37 notes, this is three tangents too few and there must be some kind of error. Most commentators have accepted the solution proposed by Ripin, which is to provide ten courses, with the fretting disposed as follows:
Note that with the exception of the top and bottom courses, this is equivalent to classic multiple fretting.
2. Urbino intarsia, 1476
Source: the depiction in intarsia of a clavichord on the northern wall of the studiolo of Federico da Montefeltro in the Palazzo Ducale of Urbino.
Descriptions and commentary can be found in the articles by Angelo Mondino and Pierre Verbeek.
Compass F.G.A–f³ (without F# and G#). Fretting starts at: c.
The depiction is exceptionally precise and well executed. The ﬁrst ﬁve notes F–B are unfretted; from c upwards there is a form of multiple fretting. The tangents for notes b♭² and c#³, however, are missing (probably deliberately) from the intarsia so that it is not possible to be quite certain of the intended system in the top octave. Classic multiple fretting can, however, be ruled out, since note e♭², which ought to be in the ninth fretted group (e♭²-e²-f²-f#²) so as to provide a minor third with c² is actually shown in the eighth group (c²-c#²-d²-e♭²).
The most likely solution, according to Pierre Verbeek, is that there were alternating groups of three and four, thus:
3. Claas Douwes, 1699
Source: Grondig Ondersoek van de Toonen der Musijk
For an accessible discussion of this source, see the article by John Barnes.
Compass: C/E–c³. Fretting starts at: e♭
Douwes gives precise instructions for the construction of a clavichord with a form of multiple fretting, probably for amateur constructors. It is surprising to ﬁnd this ancient system recommended at such a late date; it must have been quite obsolete by the time the third edition was published in 1773.
Arnaut de Zwolle, MS Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale MS lat 7295. Facsimile with transcription, translation (French) and notes, G. Le Cerf and E. R. Labande, Paris 1932. A second facsimile edition, ed. François Lesure, Kassel, Bärenreiter, 1972.
John Barnes, Reconstruction of Douwes Clavichordin De Clavicordio (proceedings of the 1993 International Clavichord Symposium, Magnano, Italy), pp. 75–79.
Peter Bavington, Surviving Clavichords Made in Latin America,De Clavicordio VII (proceedings of the 2005 Magnano Symposium), pp. 99–118.
—— Clavichords Made in Latin America: Updates and New Discoveries, De Clavicordio IX (proceedings of the 2009 Magnano symposium), pp. 11–22.
—— The Clavichord in the Rijksmuseum, British Clavichord Newsletter No. 73 (Spring 2019), pp. 6–8.
—— website: latinamericanclavichords.info (accessed January 2021).
Maria Boxall, The Origins and Evolution of Diatonic Fretting in Clavichords,Galpin Society Journal LIV (May 2001), pp. 143–199.
Bernard Brauchli, The Clavichord, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Claas Douwes, Grondig Ondersoek van de Toonen der Musijk,Franeker, 1699; reprinted 1722 and 1773. Facsimile, ed. Peter Williams, Amsterdam, 1970, Frits Knuf.
José-Antonio Guzmán Bravo: Mexico, home of the ﬁrst musical instrument workshops in America,Early Music, vol. 6 No. 3 (July 1978).
Hubert Henkel, Clavichorde[catalogue of the clavichords in the Musical Instrument Museum of Leipzig University], Leipzig, 1981.
Alfons Huber & Ana Savarain de Graf: A Clavichord from Peru in the Period of the Imperial Vice-Royaltyin De Clavicordio IV (proceedings of the 1999 Magnano Symposium), pp. 105–117.
Hanns Josten,Würtembergisches Landesgewerbemuseum: Die Sammlung der Musikinstrumente, Stuttgart, 1928.
John Koster, Keyboard Musical Instruments in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,Boston, 1994, pp. 22–6.
—— New Sources for the Early History of the Clavichord, Early Keyboard Journal, Vol. 20 (2002), pp. 7–43.
Victor Charles Mahillon, Catalogue Descriptif et Analytique du Musée Instrumental du Conservatoire Royal de Musique de Bruxelles,Ghent, 1880–1922, four volumes.
Esteban Mariño Garza, String Length and Historical Units of Measurement:the Clavichord from the National Museum of the Viceregal period, Tepotzotlán, Mexico in De Clavicordio XII (proceedings of the 2015 Magnano Symposium), pp. 75–82.
Angelo Mondino, The Intarsia of Urbino,De Clavicordio (proceedings of the 1993 Magnano Symposium), pp. 49–55.
Pablo Padilla and Juan Luis García Orozco, Mexican Clavichords,De Clavicordio VII (proceedings of the 2005 Magnano Symposium), pp. 21–8.
Edward C. Pepe, The Museo Nacional de Historia–Chapultepec Castle Clavichordand the likely Identiﬁcation of its Builder, Juan Felipe de Olea, De Clavicordio XI (proceedings of the 2013 Magnano Symposium), pp. 153–9.
Enrique Pilco Paz: Maestros de capilla, mestizaje musical y catolicismo en los andes del surin Revista Andina 40 (2005).
Michael Praetorius, Syntagma Musicum, 1615–1620.The second volume, De Organographia appeared in Wolfenbüttel in 1619; the plates to this volume (Theatrum Instrumentorum) were published in 1620. Facsimile of De Organographia, Kassel, Bärenreiter, 1958; English translation by David Z. Crookes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1986.
Richard Rephann, Catalogue of the Pedro Traversari Collection of Musical Instruments,Quito and New Haven, Organization of American States & Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments,1978
Edwin M. Ripin, The Early Clavichord,Musical Quarterly LIII (1967), pp. 518–38.
Thomas Friedemann Steiner, Clavichords No. 2 and 3 in the Leipzig Collection:some Complementary Thoughts about their Origins, De Clavicordio (proceedings of the 1993 Magnano Symposium), pp. 41–7.
Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, An Anonymous, Sixteenth-Century Italian Clavichord in the L. F. Tagliavini Collection, Bologna,De Clavicordio (proceedings of the 1993 Magnano Symposium), pp. 29–40.
John Henry Van Der Meer and Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, Collezione Tagliavini: Catalogo degli Strumenti Musicali,Bologna 2008, Vol. 1, pp. 54–65.
Christian Väterlein & Josef Maria Wagner, Musikinstrumentensammlung im Frichtkasten: Begleitbuch, Stuttgart, 1993.
Pierre Verbeek, The Urbino Clavichord Revisited,De Clavicordio X (proceedings of the 2011 Magnano Symposium), pp. 205–24.
Denzil Wraight, The Stringing of Italian Keyboard Instruments, c. 1500–c. 1650,Doctoral Thesis, Queens University of Belfast, 1997, Part Two: Catalogue of Instruments, p. 105.
I should like to express my thanks here to the following who have shared with me their private notes, photos and unpublished reports: Lothar Bemmann; Enrique Godoy; Beryl Kenyon de Pascual; Lewis Jones; Alejandro Rodríguez; the late Jean Tournay; Denzil Wraight.
Peter Bavington, updated February 2021