New CD release of interest

A new release from this fine player, on a 1751 Hemsch copy:

Le 19/01/2024 23:52, Andrew Bernard via The Jackrail écrit :

A new release from this fine player, on a 1751 Hemsch copy:

An intriguing feature of the instrument Giulia Nuti plays here is that
Christian Kuhlmann added to his “Hemsch-style” harpsichord a second
removable soundboard:

“I have had the good fortune to be able to closely study what is perhaps
the most
interesting of the five harpsichord by J. H. Hemsch that survive to this
day, that of 1751
(owned by Frédérick Haas), and have succeeded in building replicas that
sound and feel
very close to the original. After building several of my own
Hemsch-style harpsichords, I
began wondering what innovations J. H. Hemsch might have incorporated
into his craft if
he were alive today. This led to the idea of adding a second soundboard
inside the harpsichord.
Initially, it was merely an experiment to explore the potential impact
on the sound,
but the result was a harpsichord with two distinct sound
characteristics, as the second
soundboard can be easily inserted or removed.”

Christian Kuhlmann’s website offers sound clips both with and without
the second soundboard. See here the instrument used for the recording:

I wonder how the second soundboard is coupled, and how on earth can it be removed? These chaps never give anything away. and the photos do not reveal anything or show it.

I also wonder why people feel the need to improve on the perfection of instruments like Hemsch made. I find it strange. What is it that is not good enough?

Thanks @Dennis for showing this. It is certainly interesting if nothing else.

I have a very vague idea there may have been some historical attempts in this area. Others will know. Obviously never became mainstream practice.

Thanks Andrew, didn’t know. I have for now only listened to the prelude to the first partita and I think the recording is going to please me. A certain degree of freedom, beautiful natural ornaments added here and there, and more articulation than usual.

That’s easy: an aluminium soundboard, plastic jacks and so on. I’m joking of course, to say it makes no sense wondering what innovations a composer or instrument maker would have incorporated. Even if it was possible at all to give a response.
Fortunately, being a fine and sensible maker, Kuhlmann has “only” introduced a second soundboard, a device not entirely new. I can’t remember now where did I read about a double soundboard or a double bottom in historical harpsichords, so I may be wrong.

t I have designed a construction, that works with a second, removable soundboard to be placed inside the harpsichord. With this second soundboard, the sound becomes even more telling and concise

I’d like to know and see how the second soundboard is inserted and removed (and where do you put it when not in use?), and if it’s a complete soundboard - i.e. with the ribs - or just a wooden membrane.

All I can imagine is: as the Hemsch back bottom (starting from the bellyrail towards the tail) is not structural, it may be held with screws (it was held by wooden pegs and no glue). Same for the second soundboard. You substitute one for another very easy. (I am not advocating for screwing the bottom or making it easily removable, far from it)

On the practical side, I can’t imagine a player turn the harpsichord on its side, unscrew the bottom/soundboard, screw in the sounboard/bottom, put the harpsichord on its legs, play the piece, then redoing all that for the following piece…
There surely must be another way, but even if was a mere inserting the soundboard in a thin slit cut in the cheek, bentside and maybe tail, it would still be a major nuisance. Do the recording on the website advocate for such nuisance?

(bottom line: less soundboards, more peau de buffles! :smile:)

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Just from comparing the two short sound files with and without the second soundboard, I’d probably leave the second soundboard in all the time because it sounds richer. But it would depend what music you’re playing.

Unfortunately, and as with all the existing recordings (and against current musicology ), I see all dances played in Italian style, with no inégales. A few years ago I met here in Italy two harpsichord professors in different conservatorios. When I tried to explain them the many, many reasons why, for example, it makes perfect musical sense to play the Allemande of Partita 1 in French style, slow with semiquavers inégales, they did not just reject my arguments, they refused to hear them! Their contrary arguments were : “What you are saying is ridiculous, everybody plays Bach witn no inégales!”. Sadly, not only they are not aware of recent musicology (Little and Jenne for example), but even worse, they were not ready to hear the evidence. A pity.

What do people expect of a “second soundboard” that is enclosed in the case?

It will not be able to transduce any energy into sound waves in the air.

The stiff case bottom will reflect sound back to the original soundboard.

A flexing soundboard in the case will absorb some of that energy and dampen part of the sound.

A directly coupled second soundboard will absorb even more energy via direct impedance.

My first impression of the recordings is that the 2xx version is somewhat darker in the bass opening, and then it seems somewhat constrained in the higher registers, which is what I’d expect if higher partials are somewhat damped.

I don’t claim to be right, it’s just my response. I’ll be curious to learn what others hear.

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How fascinating. I’ll be curious how this topic develops. I know of no historical harpsichord that has/had a second soundboard, though I’d love to know if there are any. But not too much after the harpsichord era, in the early 19th century, both square and grand pianos often had what was called a “dust cover” that was essentially a second soundboard. I know of Graf grand pianos that have this, and my Clementi square from 1811 clearly had one that is now missing. I have been told by many people that the dust cover on these pianos contributes to the sound and/or tone of the instrument, clearly audible to listeners. I don’t know how the harpsichord in the recording does this, but piano dust covers usually just lie on little tabs glued in the rim of the piano. They are usually an inch or two above the stringband. They are always easily removeable (which is why they get lost so often!).

I somewhat disagree: listening to all the samples on the Outhere website there are quite often hints of inegale, for example in the conjunct motion parts of the Bb Allemande and (surprisingly) in the G major Gigue.

(Though I am not aware of a musical reason why the first Allemande should be either slow or systematically unequal : unusually for Bach it is mainly a bunch of almost Handelian arpeggios with occasional bits of scale and polyphony. But for instance the C minor Allemande could well be quite inegale.)

I doubt I could live with this recording for other reasons … almost all the movements are taken either ‘fast’, meaning hectic, or ‘slow’, meaning plodding or even static in the Arvo Pärt holy minimalist sense (D major Sarabande). Apart from E minor the Sarabandes work best for me in a slow 3 per bar, not a slow 6; and I just miss the mid-range of tempos where the lines could be singable without extraordinary vocal agility or breath capacity …

Nuti also does not seem to recognise that Bach’s rhythmic notation is often non-literal - for example there are more triplets in the G major Allemande than strictly appear to be notated, for a musical effect much more straightforward and flowing, or much less finicky, than what she makes of it.

I was not able to find a comparison video (with/without dust cover), but did find these very fine recordings of a square piano with the dust board in place.
My guess is that the cover helped conceal action noise.
Since the rear supports are near the hitchpin rail, perhaps the board could pick up some vibration in that area.
In any case, this is a very nice piano.

I agree with some of your objections, Thomas, and on one matter I stand corrected: actually some time ago I praised on Facebook Ketil Haugsand for a recording of two pieces by Bach (one of them a Courante) with excellent inégales.

(edit: rest of my post discussed a publication of mine: deleted!)

We seem to have three separate topics in this thread.

  1. The recording of Giulia Nuti.
  2. The second soundboard.
  3. Notes inégales.

As far as No.2 is concerned, I have downloaded and, despite the plodding performances, have listened to the two audiofiles and find no significant difference between them. That without the second sb (1x) peaks 0.4dB (left) 0.8dB (right) higher than the other (2x). Both of the recordings lack high frequencies above 5kHz, which is unusual for harpsichord recordings.

If I play the first four beats immediately one recording after the other, I hear a little more bass in the second one and less treble, but if I were played them at random I am sure I should not be able to detect which one was being played on the basis of the sound.

Of course, the effect of the second sb may be more obvious in real life – or it might be a case of the emperor’s new clothes.


I forgot to post the link:

On sq piano dust covers as a “second soundboard”: for what it’s worth anecdotally, an experienced square piano restorer once told me the “dust covers” were often made of very good soundboard-quality wood.
And separately: I have encountered a small clavichord that to me sounded louder with the light poplar lid closed than when the lid was open.

Le 20/01/2024 18:35, Claudio Di Veroli via The Jackrail écrit :

they are not aware of recent musicology (Little and Jenne for example)

Claudio, could you give more specific references to “Little and Jenne”?

Many thanks.

Probably this: Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach, Expanded Edition - Meredith Little, Natalie Jenne - Google Books

Meredith Little and Natalie Jenne, Dance and the music of JS Bach, Indiana University Press, 2001.

Dear All

I was able to see and play this harpsichord at Herne Tage Alter Musik in mid-November 2018, and Christian ably demonstrated to me the insertion of the second soundboard in only a few minutes.

I have no pictures, and in any case, it is his proprietary invention. I can only recollect that he has an ingenious method of hooking all the jacks to raise them free of the keys. The keyboards can then be removed, and the auxilliary soundboard carefully slid into place through the more than sufficient space between upper and lower bellyrails into perimeter brackets.

The keyboards are then returned to the instrument, jacks lowered, and the instrument is instantly playable in its new configuration.

As for the subtle but discernible acoustic effect, it can be somewhat heard from the recordings posted. Of course, the auxilliary soundboard cannot be directly excited in the normal manner by the strings through the bridges. I suspect that most of the tonal change to a tighter sound could be due to the division of the air cavity into two horizontal segments, making the tone somewhat thinner and more typical of an earlier instrument.

I found it a little interesting, and wonder if he has pursued the idea on other instruments.

As for the dust covers, David (Friends of the Square Piano) Hackett prefers the term “shade”. There are several theories about these. Yes, sitting above the strings and on the earlier squares covering the full width of the instrument, they certainly mellow the tone somewhat. Some have suggested they also served the purpose of preventing the maidenly players from becoming overly excited by the eroticism of the moving action parts.

Being thin, somewhat fragile, and having to be removed for tuning, many of these shades haven’t survived with their instrument. The later ones might have been more tonal woods, but the ones I’ve copied are slab sawn Baltic pine.



Interesting about the device for hooking all jacks- might be applicable for transposing keyboards as well, they often get sticky forcing one to take out all the jacks.

Ah, I wasn’t aware that the edition has discussions of interpretation as well as the full fingering.

I wonder if the conclusion might change if one tried application of inegales (and triplets) to the Praeludium - as I think the notation allows - then the Allemande might be a contrast to that slow/inegale movement.

I apologise again. I am again in violation of the promise I made to the late Barbieri:

  • to advertise my publications, yes,
  • to discuss online their contents in any detail, never.

Will now delete my latest offending posts . . .