What is a Harpsichord?

A harpsichord is a stringed keyboard instrument with plucked strings rather than struck strings, as opposed to the clavichord and piano. The spinet and virginal, as well as the harpsichord proper, are sometimes referred to as harpsichords. The instrument was first mentioned in 1397, and it quickly rose to prominence as a solo instrument, as well as being used in chamber music, orchestral music, and opera.

It’s not surprising that a harpsichord’s sound differs from that of a piano due to the use of a different mechanism, the plucking of the plectrum. First, unlike a piano, a harpsichord may have two keyboards or manuals instead of one. Second, compared to the piano’s seven-plus octave range, A0-C8, the harpsichord has a smaller range, with typical modern instruments having five octaves from F1 to F6. Furthermore, the maximum dynamic of a harpsichord is softer than that of a piano, making crescendos, decrescendos, and accents impossible, and its notes have very little sustain.

The upper manual of a harpsichord will have two sets of strings, while the lower manual will have three sets. String sets are changed using stops or registers, which are controlled a lever, knob, or foot pedal. A coupler connects the two manuals, allowing you to play the lower while also engaging the upper. The upper manual has a damper that changes the quality of the sound when used, giving it a guitar-like sound.

The Renaissance and Baroque periods saw the harpsichord reach its pinnacle. The Brandenburg Concertos Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as works Antonin Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, François Couperin, Henry Purcell, Georg Friederich Handel, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Domenico Scarlatti, are well-known favorites.

The purchase of a harpsichord is depicted in the film Ripley’s Game, and the harpsichord is featured in the soundtracks for Alexandre Desplat’s The Queen, John Williams’ The Screaming Woman, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Anssi Mattila, Zuzana Ruzickova, Wanda Landowska, and Trevor Pinnock are all well-known harpsichordists.