Harpsichord Check-in

It’s been a busy time, musically speaking.  The concert given by the Tower Trio last Sunday, in Goshen, NY, was a big success.  The audience responded generously with a free-will offering that will cover some necessary organ work.  Wonderful!

The organ needs a full-scale restoration, and we hope to advance that cause in the coming months.

Also, I’m now involved in a concert with the Classic Choral Society (or the Orange County Classic Choral Society), headquartered in Blooming Grove.  The upcoming concerts feature music by Ola Gjeilo, and I am one of two pianists involved.

Meantime, two longer-term projects are underway, both involving harpsichord.

My harpsichord made an excellent account of itself at Sunday’s Tower Trio concert.  We opened with “Music for a While” by Henry Purcell.  I did my own realization of the bass line (unfigured in the original).  Purcell’s sense of harmony is absolutely wonderful, and I loved working through this song for myself.

Also, I played part of the Zipoli B-minor suite, published in 1716.  The 2007 Bennett 1×8 Italian, while optimal for continuo, was more than adequate to realize the piece in sparkling tones.  The instrument is small but mighty, bright and responsive; analogous to an Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce.  It looks like a late-17th century “inner” missing its “outer,” but it is nothing other than a complete musical instrument, thoroughly suitable to a professional.

I had an appreciative crowd gathered around the harpsichord after the program, eager to hear more of it, and to have an explanation of how it works.

The complete bottom octave is what sold me on this particular instrument (besides size, which is a major issue).  I can play the Well-Tempered Clavier and a substantial chunk of the repertoire besides.  The Dretzel piece fits on it.  I have taken to putting check marks by the individual movements and entire works that fit it.  It comes to a tidy stack; and every note is a gem on this harpsichord.

Of course, I want another harpsichord.  And a clavichord is on my bucket list.

I have decided to keep the instrument in a mildly irregular temperament (It strikes me as missing the point to have a sliding 415/440 keyboard and then use meantone).  I have settled, for the time being, on Neidhardt’s 1724 Große Stadt temperament.  This temperament contains three just fifths, three sixth-comma fifths, and six twelfth-comma  fifths.  Perhaps oddly, the sixth-comma fifths are C-G, G-D, and D-A, the “home” fifths.  Playing C and G as a twelfth is a little challenging.

I’ve been tempted to stick with equal temperament, despite the disdain.  It was the cynosure of all eyes, the holy grail of tunings, theorized and attempted for many years before it gradually took over for excellent reasons.  I could call it something posh like “Neidhardt 1724/1732 Hof Temperament.”  Or “Twelfth-comma meantone.”  Or “Werckmeister 1707 gleich-schwebende.”

Having a historic temperament on the instrument that still accommodates the energetic development of solo and concerted music in the “long eighteenth century” is fine by me.  I can play anything I want on this temperament, and at least I have a prom date.


Playing Buxtehude in quarter-comma meantone is just wrong.  I will more to say on this as my thinking develops. His “landscape” was meantone? Were squirrellier words ever spoken?

About Jonathan B. Hall

Keyboard artist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and State. Many interests include music theory and history, literature, astronomy, genealogy, philosophy and theology, gardening, and good food. Cat lover, too.
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