A marvelous Franco-Flemish harpsichord

While searching about French harpsichords, I have found this:

It’s for sale, too! Who knows how much they are asking for it.

O’ Brien, who has restored it, says it has the most beautiful sound he has heard from a harpsichord. Well, it sure is among the most beautiful. There is a 18-minutes video, there is so much to hear and so much to see:

At minute 5:34 you can hear the peau de buffle. Oh, now I understand why the makers would take the trouble to make a fourth rank of jacks. But then I don’t understand why so few makers today take the same trouble.


However, look at minute 14:16 to minute 14:24. The bass end of the jackrail is moving up and down because of the jacks hitting under it? or am I wrong?
I see that in other spots of the video as well, but not at the beginning, where there is much playing in the bass.

What a wonderful instrument- maybe it is just one or two jacks that are causing the jackrail to waggle. The cheeky artwork gives the term ‘cheek painting’ which is used in the description additional (maybe unintended) relevance.

Dear Domenico

Yes, a wonderful instrument. I don’t know the asking price of the harpsichord. They actually produced a beautiful book about the restoration.

At the point you mention in the video, 14:16 to 14:24, it is clear that the bass jackrail hook had been incrementally working its way out of its eye, so by that point in the recording, there was only the mass of the jackrail holding everything together in the bass. As the keydip on a French Double is limited by the jackrail, this would have meant that the keydip in the bass was increased, but there would have also been the feeling of increased key pressure because the left hand fingers in particular would be lifting the weight of the jackrail itself.

(I can diagnoze this because I’ve sadly experienced it twice in live concerts: I now check to ensure that my jackrail hooks can’t disengage no matter how firm the touch of the player!)



Usual question, how can one obtain the book?

Dear Andrew

The book was kindly offered to me last June along with an invitation to the opening recital by Skip Sempé on the restored instrument in Edinburgh.

The digital version of the book about the restoration can be found here:
The Golden Franco-Flemish Harpsichord



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Thanks Carey, much appreciated. I was planning to download the relevant pages from claviantica.

Someone can easily miss the very tiny download button (I did miss it for several minutes), so I am putting here a screenshot with the button emphasized.

A fascinating document. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Carey.

I wonder what wire was used to string it. Unless I missed this detail, it was not mentioned.


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For some reason, the documentation carries neither the Boalch 3rd edition code nor the Boalch-Mould-Online (BMO) number. It is actually the BMO-1617 (this is a coincidence: BMO is a progressive numeration, and the 1617 is by sheer coincidence the year of the original making).
I just verified that the BMO entry has been thoroughly updated: it includes a relatively complete set of photos as well as the link to the digital version of the book.

Yes a very important instrument with an exotic history, I’m told that the asking price is extremely high, and it therefore remains unsold.

The claims about the case decoration are to be taken with a pinch of salt. An opposing opinion is that the case was redecorated in the 19th century, though the lid painting seems to be much older.

Whose opinion? Any references?

The likeness of Louse O’Murphy seems quite convincing. Would 19C decorators have known the Boucher painting I wonder? But that’s the lid, isn’t it.

It’s the opinion of several people I know who are familiar with 18th-century French painting styles, including myself. But most crucially, it is the opinion of the leading French expert on harpsichord decoration, who attended the concert which Carey was also invited to. I don’t remember her name. She absolutely did not agree with the description/attribution of the decoration which has been shared online by Grant O’Brien.

That’s very interesting Douglas. Thanks!

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I imagine a bit of synchrotron radiation pigment dating would answer the question with some definiteness. [We have one of the world’s brightest synchrotrons here in Melbourne and apart from protein folding studies they do also use it for artwork research.]

Here’s the BMO entry (thanks Claudio):

Of course with ivory keyboards this instrument will never make it out of Scotland overseas, so the market for a sale is presumably highly restricted to only Britain.

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Maybe not impossible but very difficult. I’ve found this document by an Italian State Agency: https://www.mase.gov.it/sites/default/files/archivio/allegati/cites/2022_02_08_comunicato_restrizioni_avorio.pdf

It says permission is “possible” for antiques sold to museums or for musical instruments before 1947 or, with a different set of requisites, between 1947 and 1975.
This is for importation in EU, I think the same could applicable to USA.

Let’s fork that off into a new topic.

Listening to the Duphly with ‘peau de buffle’, it is the most lute-like sound I have ever heard from a harpsichord … make of that what you will

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