Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/379

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CLAVICHORD
367
 

or natural keys were usually black, and the upper or chromatic, white. In Italy and the Netherlands the practice was the reverse. The strings, of finely-drawn brass wire, were stretched nearly in the direction of the length of the cose, but with a bias towards the back. On the right of the player were inserted in the sound-board, strengthened on the under side by a slip of oak to receive them, the wrest or tuning-pins round which the strings were fastened, while at the back and partly along the left-hand ride of the case, they were attached by small eyes to hitch-pins of thicker wire. On the right hand the strings rested upon a curved bridge, pinned to fix their direction, and conducting their sound-waves to the sound-board, a flat surface of wood beneath, extending partly over the instrument, but we miss [App. p.593 adds "in clavichords of the 18th century"] the harpsichord sound-hole cut as a rose or some other ornamental device—often the initials of the maker's name. Nearly at the back of each key, in an upright position, was placed a small brass wedge or 'tangent' (t) about an inch high and an eighth of an inch broad at the top (Fig. 3). The tangent, when the key was put down, rose to the string and pressing it upwards set it in vibration. With a good touch the player could feel the elasticity of the string, and the more this was felt the better the instrument was considered to be. By the pressure of the tangent the string was divided into two unequal lengths, each of which would have vibrated, but the shorter was instantly damped by a narrow band of cloth interlaced with the strings, which also damped the longer section directly the player allowed the key to rise and the tangent to fall. The tangents thus not only produced the tones but served as a second bridge to measure off the vibrating lengths required for the pitch of the notes. Thus a delicate tone was obtained that had something in it charmingly hesitating or tremulous; a tone although very weak, yet capable, unlike the harpsichord or spinet, of increase and decrease, reflecting the finest and most tender gradations of the touch of the player, and in this power of expression without a rival until the pianoforte was invented. To ears accustomed to the pianoforte, the 'blocking' sound inseparable from the clavichord tone would seem a disadvantage. A pianoforte, out of order through the hammers failing to rebound from the strings, would however give a very exaggerated and disagreeable notion of this inherent peculiarity of the clavichord. Koch, in his Musical Lexicon, describes the clavichord as 'Labsal des Dulders, und des Frohsinns theilnehmenden Freund' (the comfort of the sufferer and the sympathising friend of cheerfulness).

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Up to the beginning of the present century the use of the clavichord in Germany was general, and we are told by Mr. Carl Engel ('Musical Instruments,' etc., 1874) that it is frequently to be met with there to this day in country places. It was a favourite instrument with J. S. Bach, who preferred it to the pianoforte; and with his son Emmanuel, who wrote the 'Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen,' an essay on the true method of playing the clavichord, and the basis of all succeeding text-books of keyed stringed instruments. Mattheson lauded the clavichord above the clavicymbel or harpsichord.