Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/65

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
KEY.
53.
 

it is; but with unequal temperament, or when the tuner does not distribute the tempering of the fifths with absolute equality in instruments of fixed intonation, there is necessarily a considerable difference between one key and another. With stringed instruments the sonority of the key is considerably affected by the number of open strings which occur in it, and their position as important notes of the scale. Berlioz has given a complete scheme of his views of the qualities of the keys for violins in his Traité d'Instrumentation. With keyed instruments a good deal of the difference results from the position of the hands and technical considerations resulting therefrom. A real difference also is obvious in keys which are a good deal removed from one another in pitch, though inasmuch as pitch is not constant this cannot apply to keys which are near.[1]

II. KEY (Fr. Touche; Ital. Tasto; Ger. Taste) and KEYBOARD of keyed stringed instruments (Fr. Clavier; Ital. Tastatura; Ger. Claviatur, Tastatur.) A 'key' of a pianoforte or other musical instrument with a keyboard, is a lever, balanced see-saw fashion near its centre, upon a metal pin. It is usually of lime-tree, because that wood is little liable to warp. Besides the metal pin upon the balance rail of the keyframe, modern instruments have another metal pin for each key upon the front rail, to prevent too much lateral motion. A key is long or short according to its employment as a 'natural' or 'sharp,' and will be referred to here accordingly, although in practice a sharp is also a flat, and the written sharp or flat occasionally occurs upon a long key. Each natural is covered as far as it is visible with ivory: and each sharp or raised key bears a block of ebony or other hard black wood. In old instruments the practice in this respect varied, as we shall show presently. In English alone[2] the name 'key' refers to the Latin Clavis, and possibly to the idea of unlocking sound transferred to the lever from the early use of the word to express the written note. The Romance and German names are derived from 'touch.'

A frame or, technically, a 'set' of keys is a keyboard, or clavier according to the French appellation. In German Klavier usually means the keyed stringed instrument itself, of any kind. The influence of the keyboard upon the development of modern music is as conspicuous as it has been important. To this day C major is 'natural' on the keys, as it is in the corresponding notation. Other scales are formed by substituting accidental sharps or flats for naturals both in notation and on the keyed instrument, a fact which is evidence of the common origin and early growth together of the two. But the notation soon outgrew the keyboard. It has been remarked by Professor Huxley that the ingenuity of human inventions has been paralleled by the tenacity with which original forms have been preserved. Although the number of keys within an octave of the keyboard are quite inadequate to render the written notation of the four and twenty major and minor modes, or even of the semitones allied to the one that it was first mainly contrived for, no attempts to augment the number of keys in the octave or to change their familiar disposition have yet succeeded. The permanence of the width of the octave again has been determined by the average span of the hand, and a Ruckers harpsichord of 1614 measures but a small fraction of an inch less in the eight keys, than a Broadwood or Erard concert-grand piano of 1879. We have stated under Clavichord that we are without definite information as to the origin of the keyboard. We do not exactly know where it was introduced or when. What evidence we possess would place the date in the 14th century, and the locality—though much more doubtfully—in or near Venice. The date nearly synchronises with the invention of the clavichord and clavicembalo, and it is possible that it was introduced nearly simultaneously into the organ, although which was first we cannot discover. There is reason to believe that the little portable organ or regal may at first have had a keyboard derived from the T-shaped keys of the Hurdy Gurdy. The first keyboard would be Diatonic, with fluctuating or simultaneous use of the B♭ and B♮ in the doubtful territory between the A and C of the natural scale. But when the row of sharps was introduced, and whether at once or by degrees, we do not know. They are doubtless due to the frequent necessity for transposition, and we find them complete in trustworthy pictorial representations of the 15th century. [App. p.690 "for the oldest illustration of a chromatic keyboard see Spinet, vol. iii. p. 653a, footnote."] There is a painting by Memling in the Hospital of St. John at Bruges, from whence it has never been removed, dated 1479, wherein the keyboard of a regal is depicted exactly as we have it in the arrangement of the upper keys in twos and threes, though the upper keys are of the same light colour as the lower, and are placed farther back.

The oldest keyed instrument we have seen with an undoubtedly original keyboard is a Spinet[3] in the museum of the Conservatoire at Paris, bearing the inscription 'Francisci de Portalupis Veronen. opus, MDXXIII.' The compass is 4 octaves and a half tone (from E to F) and the natural notes are black with the sharps white. [App. p.690 "for the oldest example of a keyboard to a harpsichord or spinet see Spinet, vol. iii. p. 652a, footnote; but Mr. Donaldson's upright spinet from the Correr collection, although undated, is probably, from its structure and decoration, still older. There is a spinet in the loan collection of the Bologna Exhibition (1888) made by Pasi, at Modena, and said to be dated 1490."] The oldest known in England is a similar instrument of the same compass in South Kensington Museum, the work of Annibale Rosso of Milan, dated 1555. As usual in Italy, the naturals are white and the sharps black. The Flemings, especially the Ruckers, oscillated between black and ivory naturals. (We here correct the statement as to their practice in Clavichord, 367b.) The clavichords of Germany and the clavecins of France which we have seen have had black naturals, as, according to Dr. Burney, had those of Spain. Loosemore and the Haywards, in England, in the time of Charles II, used boxwood for naturals; a clavichord of

  1. See a paper by Schumann, 'Charakteristik der Tonarten,' in his 'Gesammelte Schriften,' i. 180.
  2. In French, however, the keys of a flute or other wood wind instrument are called clefs.
  3. No. 215 of Chouquet's Catalogue (1875).