The distinctive sound produced by a harpsichord has always held a certain fascination for me. A solo instrument that somewhat resembles a piano, it predated the latter. The earliest representation of a harpsichord is from this sculpture (left), a 15th century altarpiece.
Using the elements of the organ and psaltery (respectively, a keyboard, and metal strings held taut with tuning pins), the harpsichord gradually developed over time, with an increase in the size of the soundboard and keyboard.
The earliest extant harpsichord was made in Italy. During the 17th century, Flemish harpsichord builders added a second manual, a useful innovation to accommodate transposition (playing in another key) to accommodate a singer’s vocal range.
French makers expanded the two-manual instrument, and later, the English developed an instrument with brilliant treble and a more resonant bass, which contrasted with the more delicate sound of the French instrument, more like a woodwind sound.
With the invention of the piano, harpsichords fell out of favor, but the instrument became popular again during the twentieth century, and was frequently used in concerts to lend authenticity to music composed for the harpsichord.
During the 1950s, harpsichord kits came into vogue. Through the years, I’ve always wanted to get a kit and build one, but the task of assembling the kit sounded daunting. I’m hoping some day to own a harpsichord. I have CDs of harpsichord music, and the sound evokes an image of an 18th-century parlor, complete with an elaborately-dressed girl seated at the keyboard—wonderful background music for a Renaissance historical, don’t you think?
My reading list is an eclectic one, first, because I belong to two book clubs. Secondly, because I need an occasional fix for my historical novel habit, and lastly, because I need to do research for my own writing. Here are my latest reads in no particular order.
Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell
The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson
The Tsarina's Daughter by Carolly Erickson
Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin
Isabella D'Este: A Study of the Renaissance by Julia Cartwright
All Other Nights by Dara Hora
Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Sarah: A Novel by Marek Halter
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Outlaws of Medieval Legend by Maurice Keen
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Without Reservations: The Travels of an
Independent Woman byAlice Steinbach
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant
Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to
Santiago by Ashley and Deegan
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
The Miracle of Prato by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz