Sunday, August 12, 2012

THE HARPSICHORD LIVES ! (A non-political post for once.)

Aren't you sick of all this political controversy? Don't you need a small break in the action - at least to regroup and reload? (and fuck all you "sensitive" assholes, that's what we're gonna do.) Today, in place of our usual political diatribe, we are pleased to present a tribute to that most expressive of keyboard instruments, the harpsichord.

Yesterday I read - or was it today? - but in any case I read an article in the Washington Post lamenting the low estate of the harpsichord.

I love the harpsichord. There is not another instrument made that has its unique qualities. You can get a viola to sound approximately like a rebec. The guitar can be made to imitate the sounds of the lute or even the Arabic oud. But to get a proximtion of the harpsichord, the closest thing you can get without an actual harpsichord is playing what I call "flatfoot piano"; that is, piano without using the pedals. And even that is light years away from the beauty of the tone and variations of the harpsichord.

Actually, music written for the organ transposes very well to the harpsichord. Take your finger off the key, the note stops. (Of course, the organ has the property of full-power sustain as long as the key is depressed and the air keeps flowing to the pipes). As a plus, for some reason harpsichord music generally flows well on the guitar; due, I (as a middling guitarist) suppose, to the fact that in order to sustain a fretted note on the guitar one must maintain the fretted position (and in order to mute an open string one must use a palm technique, but I digress...).

In fine, there is nothing that sounds like a classic harpsichord. There have been modern attempts at synthesis of the sound; the best of them produced by Roland musical instruments. But while the Roland attempt was quite good it was nothing compared to actual courses of strings plucked by jacks activated by keys.

If ever I am wealthy enough to afford a mansion with a music room, the centerpiece of it will be a harpsichord, a double manual (two-keyboard) style with what is known as a "lute stop".

The harpsichord is far from obsolete. Rather, it is an instrument which although it sounds beautifully nevertheless is "too hard" or "not profitable" for contemporary instrument makers to offer.  

But if enough people listen to the works originally written and performed on the harpsichord, they will easily be able to distinguish the suitability of the harpsichord to these tunes, and will be able to see exactly what is missing as regards the transcriptions of these works for pianoforte.

There is no substitute for it. Vive le Harpsichord! (And pardon my French.)

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