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The Harpsichord

Harpsichords and clavichords were the leading stringed keyboard instruments of the late 1600s and are several centuries older than the piano. The harpsichord made its sound by plucking wire strings. A key lifted a jack, which held a quill From a crow feather. The quill plucked the string as it rose, and slid past the string on its way back down. Every string was plucked with the same force. A player could control the overall volume, but couldn't play individual notes louder or softer.

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1732), an Italian harpsichord maker for the Grand Prince of Tuscany, invented the piano. It was initially described as a type of harpsichord that played soft ("piano") and loud ("forte"). By the late 1700s, the piano had spread throughout Europe and had reached the American colonies. By 1800, the new instrument had edged out the old-fashioned harpsichord in popularity.

 

Benoist Stehlin (about 1732-1774) lived in relative obscurity. Born sometime before 1732 in Jettingen, Upper Alsatia, he moved to Paris, where he built harpsichords for the remainder of his life. Little is known of his work, although there is an inventory made of his shop at the time of his death on July 11, 1774. Only two instruments signed by Stehlin are known to have survived. Although much is known about Parisian manufacture of French harpsichords in the 1700s, few instruments survived the French Revolution, and, among those that did, many were later broken up and used to heat the French Conservatory.

 


"In Praise of Pianos and the Artists Who Play Them" by Rudolph Chelminski, "Smithsonian" magazine, March 2000

 

Related Images

View of the keys and strings of the Stehlin harpsichord
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View of the keys and strings of the Stehlin harpsichord
View of the Stehlin harpsichord
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View of the Stehlin harpsichord


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