For those who can put up with Zoom, tomorrow and for three days there is an online conference The Harpsichord in the 16th century organised by the University of Vienna (MdW).
Details and free registration: https://www.mdw.ac.at/veranstaltung/?v=2588630
I have not yet seen a list of events; but there must be something of interest to many here…
Here is the full program.
Programm_Harpsichord_16th_century.pdf (437.0 KB)
[I have just turned on allowing PDF attachments.]
Thanks greatly for this! I hope I can fit in some time to attend!
Hang in there Andrew!
Historic Keyboard Specialist
Anne Acker Early Keyboards
That does it. I need to get back to learning German…
Historic Keyboard Specialist
Anne Acker Early Keyboards
I wrote to ask if it will be recorded; no response yet.
I wrote to register for it and also have gotten no response.
I think the responses were done in batches. They are done by human, not automatically by a computer. Also, it is 1030 pm here (i. e. 4:30 pm EST), so your batch may be waiting until early tomorrow morning, when you may be asleep!
The conference is being held in English- just in case some people haven’t looked into the conference for language reasons. There were some really good papers and demonstrations today. Thanks, David and Andrew, for sending this round!
I also enjoyed yesterday’s event: remarkably it was without serious technical problems…
The Italian harpsichord by Joel Katzman seems to be about a minor third below A415, at c.350Hz.
Where does this thinking come from, please? Can anyone provide a pointer to any research?
Thank you for mentioning the conference, I’m new here (subscribed jus a few day’s ago) so this is a great start .
Concerning your interesting question about the pitch of this harpsichord these two links can provide some answers (and more questions)
“Pitch in Viols and Harpsichords in the Renaissance”
by Nicholas Mitchell : Pitch in Viols and Harpsichords in the Renaissance on JSTOR
“Pitch in Italian string keyboard instruments” :
The article in the Galpin Society Journal is from 2001, so there must be more recent research but this is what I found when doing some reading about this subject a few weeks ago.
The Katzman copy of the 1531Trasuntino is at a’ 348 and it is strung in brass. The original (at the Royal College of Music) has been modified and now has two 8’ registers rather than an 8’ and a 4’. The compass has also been changed (the original had a compass of C/E to f3). The museum catalogue provides detailed information on the instrument as does there website:
There has been some serious disagreement about the original pitch of this instrument. Malcolm Rose has done a lot of research and built copies of the instrument as it is today and in its probable original state. He prefers a pitch of around a’ 405 and iron stringing (with brass in the bass). Denzil Wraight seems to concur with this practice for early Venetian instruments.
Timothy Roberts recorded two Malcolm Rose copies (one of each disposition) on his ‘Susanne un jour’ CD. Sharona Joshua recorded another Katzman copy at a’ 348 which can be heard in her excerpts from Harpsichord Renaissance recording:
The one at the MdW certainly gives me the impression that the music emerges too low. The lower octaves acquire an almost 16ft quality. I noticed this morning that the tone deepens considerably just below middle C.
Welcome, Wim! And many thanks for the references, which I will follow up.
Although I hate the Zoom interface and normally refuse to use it, being lucky to live in the same time zone (even, frustratingly, in the same city!) I managed to observe all this excellent conference. The best aspect of it for me was the contact with repertoire that I had not previously explored: Cabezon, for instance. It seems that many of the works of this master have been transmitted with problems – bars missing, etc – on account of his blindness, which precluded him from checking the accuracy of his ananuensis for himself. The other thing that became clear is how much of the 16C repertoire is based on intabulations and variations on vocal music, and that an intimate knowledge of the originals and their texts is crucial for a full understanding of the derived keyboard pieces. As access to the vocal sources is not always as easy as that to the keyboard pieces, it would seem appropriate for editions of the latter to reproduce the former, wherever possible. In the case of the Italian and Spanish repertoire, the connection between the two sources appears to be even more intimate than in the English school.
Additionally, the workshop/masterclasses were all full of valuable interpretive insight, and the organisers and participants of this landmark conference are to be thanked and congratulated on its overall excellence.
I believe that the intention is to put videos of the event on YouTube in the near future. I look forward to being able to review them and will place information here when the links are posted.
Coming from the world of the lute, I’ve always been surprised that there is not more interest amongst harpsichord players for the extraordinary keyboard repertoire of the Renaissance.
Adriano Banchieri, Antonio Cabezón, Marco Antonio Cavazzoni, Peeter Cornet, Andrea Gabrieli, Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Giovanni de Macque, Ascanio Mayone, Claudio Merulo, Ercole Pasquini, Giovanni Picchi, Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Antonio Valente; the list of composers worth their weight in gold is just endless. Then there are the beautiful intabulations of French chansons published by Attaingnant, the Italian frottole intabulated by Antico and a wealth of exceptional anonymous compositions.
This music obviously cries out for the appropriate keyboard, which is where the Italian polygonal virginals and lightly built harpsichords with their cypress (or sometimes even maple) soundboards come into their own. An early Ruckers with a single 8’ and 4’ register or a Flemish spinet virginal can also work well in my humble opinion.
There’s so much music out there, one would need several lives to do it justice.
I agree with Matthew, and I think the problem maybe the survival of the mindset that the best harpsichords are French doubles. Granted there is a lot of repertoire that can reasonably be played on one, but pre Bach music really needs a less sophisticated instrument. Maybe it is the need of a short octave, that puts people off.
Someone wrote elsewhere recently that the little ZHI Italian used to be the VW Beetle of harpsichords… It had a short octave with split keys. I understand that this model is no longer available to buy as a kit, which is a pity, as having one encourages exploration of repertoire that makes use of this convenience.
It was the single unreachable low D of Sweelink’s Mein junges Leben (a jewel of a piece that I could not live without!) that eventually led me to early keyboards.
I’m pretty sure that a lot of the repertoire can be played without a short octave. There is perhaps actually more often an issue when there is a C/E short octave, as not having a low F# can frequently be problematic. I don’t know how much evidence there is for early Italian instruments with split sharp short octaves but some modern makers do make them a standard feature.
I also suspect that partial (and quite simply made) pedal boards for holding bass notes were far more common than today’s very rare copies would suggest.
I still think that the mindset that only a French Double is a real harpsichord is the problem!
Lute players have a reputation for collecting instruments (despite there other reputation for being penniless!). In their defense, it is impossible to imagine playing the early Italian, Spanish or English renaissance repertoire on a baroque lute, just as it is unthinkable to play the 17th century French or 18th century German repertoire on a renaissance lute. Then there is a whole family of renaissance lutes, guitars and vihuelas and a major distinction between 11 and 13-course baroque lutes.
To my mind the idea of one-size-fits-all for the harpsichord doesn’t work any better but as they can be such expensive (and cumbersome beasts), it’s not easy to imagine collecting them in quite the same manner as lutes. Not having the appropriate instrument can certainly be a major stumbling block for appreciating the early repertoire. It’s unfortunate that not many music conservatories with a department specializing in early music (at least here in France) set an example by investing in a wider selection of historic copies of instruments.