Disclaimer : I have no pecuniary interest in this sale, nor do I or any of my associates, henchmen or relatives assert that this harpsichord in any way furthers research into historical keydips, fingering on Goldberg or which birds yield the best feathers for à 4’ stop. I however admit that the seller sold to me (damn cheap too) a reproduction English double manual after Hitchcock by Michael Thomas some time ago and thus I am desirous to further his efforts to outing this Pleyel from his antique shop in Aix, which he is closing…
@steverod No need for Pleyel bashing. They are what they are. My colleague harpsichord maker has spent years restoring - in completely reversible way - his Pleyel nearly identical to this in date and time. When adjusted and set up and restrung, it is a mighty thing and a great joy, and wonderful to play. Most people who bash Pleyel have not touched one restored and improved to this extent.
Interesting this has come up. I was reading this yesterday:
Followers of Wanda Landowska, for example, used an explosive finger-thrust technique that suited her heavy-Pleyel harpsichord but was useless on the clavichord. In fact, Landowska considered the latter instrument “primitive”.
Back to Landowska and the clavichord, perhaps in this particular matter Landowska was not wrong, because I guess she referred to small fretted clavichords. Historical evidence for these is arguably earlier than for harpsichords, and they are indeed portable, inexpensive, “primitive” instruments. As we all know, when the clavichord came to be considered a worthy instrument on its own, in the C.P.E. Bach generation, the fretting and small size were left aside, and makers produced the unfretted, large and nice-sounding instruments that were so popular until the fortepiano was improved towards the end of the 19th century.
That’s not strictly correct: fretted clavichords continued to be
produced alongside unfretted ones until the 1840s. Some of these were
smallish but some were large, 5-octave instruments, an example being the
(attrib.) C. F. Schmahl in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto,
described in /Clavichord International/, Vol. 11 No. 2 (November 2007).
There are even surviving six-octave fretted clavichords, like the
anonymous one in the Neumeyer-Junghanns-Tracey collection in Bad
Krozingen (No. III.3).
These were diatonically-fretted instruments, ie with no more than two
adjacent notes obtained from the same course.
Edwin Ripin in a 1970 article (‘A Reassessment of the Fretted
Clavichord’, Galpin Society Journal XXIII) identified several advantages
of the fretted type, and went so far as to say:
What emerges when one actually gets clavichords of both types
under one’s fingers is that the pairwise-fretted ones are far more
efficient, sensitive, and finer-toned musical instruments than their
What we don’t know, of course, is whether eighteenth-century clavichord
players felt the same.
Thanks Peter for your very knowledgeable clarification and expansion on this argument. Indeed it is well known that the large unfretted clavichords may have a better bass, but overall are not significantly louder than smaller fretted ones. What you say confirms this. I wonder why! Could it be that an excessive number of strings dampens the soundboard? (this does not happen in harpsichords where soundboards are wider to accommodate jacks inserted between strings).
I was aware of the great vogue of Swedish clavichords in the first decades of the 19th century. I wonder which music was played upon them …
According to my limited experience in making, what you say can sure be the reason. Dampenng of the soundboard.
Much less audible is on the harpsichord, but still audible, according to some or many makers. I did find this true on a harpsichord of mine as well. With one choir of string installed, the sound was somewhat more “spacious”. A subtle effect, but it was there.