Larry Palmer's The Harpsichord in America

This book, though dated, may be of interest to some members of this list. It’s nice to see that it is now online, in its entirety I think, and free to read. It covers the period from the arrival of Landowska in the US until the heyday of Fernando Valenti.

I liked this text in the Epilog, which gives a flavour of the rapid increase in interest in the harpsichord during the post-war period:

"The harpsichord boom is concentrated in college towns and big cities. Los Angeles had two 20 years ago (one of them was Sigmund Romberg’s), now there are more than 30. Jose Ferrer and Edie Adams each have one as the newest thing in Hollywood chic. Pamona’s retired English Professor Harlan Smedley, 53, who plays a harpsichord as “a countermeasure to all the tensions and noisiness of the day,” thinks that “you can’t be a pest on a harpsichord.” Most harpsichord buffs are piano players who discovered baroque music on LP’s; once accustomed to the sweet, incisive, brilliant tone of the harpsichord . . . they find its sound mystically satisfying. West Coast Psychologist Bob Johnson, 39, heard his first harpsichord on a recording by Yella Pessl, found, while living in Portland, that he felt “sad and in limbo because there was no harpsichord in 1,000 miles.” He bought two, now holds frequent meetings for fellow harpsichordists at evening sessions in his home.

Professional people are especially harpsichord-prone. Doctors, psychiatrists, teachers and ministers are among the most active amateurs in the New York area."


I’ve owned a copy of this book since its original publication. Larry has been a friend for fifty years. We met when he came to play a concert at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. I met Leonhardt through him, and arranged for the Houston Harpsichord Society to sponsor Leonhardt’s debut concert there, which was performed on my Dowd Blanchet. When I was younger and able to attend HKSNA (then SEHKS) meetings, I would see Larry fairly regularly. He always presented excellent and informative talks at these gatherings. I haven’t seen him in several years, and I hope he is doing well.

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I think Larry Palmer is still alive: the book is an indispensable tool
for anyone mresearching revival early-music history.

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I cant recall when I first met Larry Palmer, but it was probably at the first SEHKS conclave I attended (at Texas Christian Univ, Fort Worth), where I also met Jay for the first time. I cant recall which year that was, but I enjoyed meeting Larry at all subsequent meetings of SEHKS and MHKS up to 2013. These were (and still are) unmissable events in the US harpsichord world, with no equivalent in Europe. I also have a copy of Larry’s book, which he inscribed for me when we were both serving on the SEKHS Board in 2007. It is an excellent chronicle of the development of the instrument and its important players in America, the counterpart to Wolfgang Zuckermann’s book on the builders of the same period.

I wonder why the IU Press is now making the full text of this book available free on its website. I should have thought that there would still be commercial interest in such a significant text, if published as a paberback and printed on demand.


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For those if us dwelling in the Antipodes, what are HKSNA and SEHKS and MHKS?

SEHKS = South Eastern Historical Keyboard Society
MHKS = Midwestern Historical Keyboard Society
HKSNA = Historical Keyboard Society of North America

The first two societies merged in 2012 to form the last one.

I thought you had Google Search in Oz! :grinning:


Prefer Horse’s Mouth to Google.