Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/700

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
688
HARPSICHORD.
HARPER.

Eley, then master of the East India Volunteer Band. He soon afterwards became a member of the band and a great proficient on the trumpet. He continued in the band nearly 18 years, during the first 7 of which he also performed in the orchestras of some of the minor theatres. About 1806 he was appointed principal trumpet at Drury Lane, and the English Opera House, Lyceum. In 1820 he was engaged in the same capacity at the Birmingham Musical Festival, and in the following year succeeded the elder Hyde at the Concert of Ancient Music, the Italian Opera, and all the pricipal concerts and festivals, a position which he retained for upwards of a quarter of a century. The East India Company nominated him inspector of the musical instruments supplied to their bands, an appointment which he held until his death. Harper played on the slide trumpet, and produced a pure, brilliant, and even tone, with a command of execution which enabled him to surmount the greatest difficulties on his most difficult instrument. He was stricken with mortal sickness at a rehearsal in Exeter Hall for a concert of the Harmonic Union, and died in a few hours afterwards on Jan. 20, 1853. He was author of an Instruction Book for the Trumpet. Harper left three sons, the eldest of whom, Thomas, succeeded his father in all his appointments as principal trumpet, a position he still holds; the second, Charles, long filled the place of principal horn in the best orchestras; and the youngest, Edmund, also a horn player, settled at Hillsborough, Ireland, as pianist and organist, and died there, May 18, 1869.

[ W. H. H. ]

HARPSICHORD (Fr. Clavecin; Ital. Clavicembalo, Gravicembalo, not unfrequently Cembalo only, also Harpicordo; Germ. Clavicymbel, Kielflügel, Flügel). The most important of the group of keyed instruments that preceded the pianoforte, holding during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries a position analogous to that now accorded to the grand pianoforte. It had a place in the orchestra as an accompanying instrument when the first opera and the first oratorio were performed (Florence and Rome, about a.d. 1600), and during the time of Handel and Bach was the constant support to the recitativo secco, its weak bass notes being reinforced by large lutes and viols, and ultimately by violoncellos and double basses. Towards the end of the iSth century the instrument was withdrawn[1], and the big fiddles were left by themselves to accompany the ordinary recitative in a fashion more peculiar than satisfactory.

The name harpsichord is the English variant of the original harpicordo, which, like clavicembalo, clavicordo, spinetto [App. p.668 "spinetta"], and pianoforte, betrays its Italian origin. The clavicordo was a table-shaped, five-cornered harpicordo, rectangular, like the German clavichord, but otherwise quite different from that instrument, which was made to sound by 'tangents,' or simple brass uprights from the keys. All instruments of the harpsichord, clavicembalo, or spinet family were on the plectrum principle, and therefore were incapable of dynamic modification of tone by difference of touch. The strings were set in vibration by points of quill or hard leather, elevated on wooden uprights, known as jacks, and twitching or plucking them as the depression of the keys caused the points to pass upwards. [Jack.] Leather points were probably used first [App. p.668 "The Correr upright spinet or clavicytherium that was in the Music Loan Collection at Kensington, 1885, now the property of Mr. G. Donaldson of London, is perhaps the oldest instrument of the harpsichord and spinet kind in existence. This instrument preserves traces of brass plectra, not leather. See Spinet vol. iii. p. 651a, footnote."], since we learn from Scaliger, who lived 1484–1550 (Poetices, lib. i. cap. 48), that crowquills were introduced in keyed instruments subsequent to his boyhood, and he informs us that through them the name 'spinet' (from spine, a thorn or point) became applied to what had been known as the 'clavicymbal' and 'harpichord.' The Canon Paul Belisonius, of Pavia, is said to have introduced quills: the use of leather is shown in a harpsichord by Baffo, dated a.d. 1574, and presently to be referred to; and in one by the elder Andreas Ruckers of Antwerp, dated a.d. 1614, now in the possession of Col. Hopkinson.

It is the principle of the plectrum that derives the descent of the harpsichord from the psaltery, just as the pianoforte is derived, by analogy at least, from the dulcimer, and the clavichord from the moveable-bridged monochord; the model for the shape of the long harpsichord being that kind of psaltery which the common people called 'istromento di porco'—from a supposed resemblance between the trapeze form and a pig's head. [See Psaltery.] There is an interesting suggestion of this connection of the harpsichord with the psaltery preserved in the church of the Certosa, near Pavia, built about a.d. 1475. King David, who in the Middle Ages always played a psaltery, is there shown holding an 'istromento di porco.' The body of the psaltery is open, and shows eight keys, lying parallel with the eight strings. David touches the keys with his right hand, and uses the left to damp the strings. All this may be the sculptor's fancy, but Dr. Ambros (Geschichte der Musik, 1864) regards it as a recollection of a real instrument, although obsolete, somewhere seen by him.

The earliest mention of the harpsichord is under the name of clavicymbolum, in the rules of the Minnesingers, by Eberhard Cersne, a.d. 1404. With it occur the clavichord, the monochord and other musical instruments in use at that time. [See Clavichord.] The absence of any prior mention or illustration of keyed stringed instruments is negative evidence only, but it may be assumed to prove their invention to have been shortly before that date say in the latter half of the 14th century, especially as Jean de Muris, writing in a.d. 1323 (Musica speculativa), and enumerating musical instruments, makes no reference to either clavicembalo or clavichord, but describes the monochord (recommending four strings however) as in use for measuring intervals at that time. Moreover there was no music wire before this epoch [App. p.668 "hammered music wire existed but could not have been extensively used"]; the earliest record of wire drawing being a.d. 1351, at Augsburg. It may occur to the reader—why

  1. The King's Birthday Ode was accompanied by the harpsichord until June 4th, 1795, when a grand piano was substituted, a harpsichord having been used at the rehearsal.