A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Cembal d'Amore

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CEMBAL D'AMORE translated is 'harpsichord of love,' but according to Adlung ('Musica Mechanica') this instrument did not belong to the clavicembalo or harpsichord genus, but to that of the clavichord. The strings, he states, were as long again as in the ordinary clavichord, and the tangents which produced the tone from the strings, instead of touching them near to their left-hand terminations, made the impact exactly in the middle of their whole length between the bridges, of which there were two instead of one as in the clavichord, and two soundboards of unequal forms and dimensions. Both halves of the strings were thus set in vibration simultaneously, which necessitated the use of a different damping contrivance to the simple one of the clavichord. In the cembal d'amore the strings lay upon the damping cloth, instead of its being woven between them, and small wooden uprights supported it. The strings were therefore damped when at rest; when raised upwards by the tangents they were free to vibrate, and remained so as long as the keys were pressed down. The form of a cembal d'amore was that of an English spinet with the keyboard to the right hand of the player instead of the left, thus reversing the extension of the instrument laterally. Adlung attributed to it more tone than the ordinary clavichord, and more capability of bebend effect by the gently reiterated movement of the key. But too much pressure on the key would affect the intonation as in a clavichord. In estimating its dynamic power he places the cembal d'amore far behind the pianoforte, though beyond the clavichord. Mattheson (Critica Musica) refers to it and to a parallel between the Florentine (pianoforte) and Freiberg (cembal d'amore) in a bantering tone. Gottfried Silbermann of Freiberg (1683–1753) invented it, and Hähnel of Meissen attempted to improve it by adding a 'Celestine' register. Others, as Oppelmann and Hasse of Hamburg, made the instrument.

Through the even series of overtones being banished by the contact with the first, or node at the half length of the string, the quality of tone or timbre must have tended towards that of the clarinet. The Rev. J. R. Cotter, of Donoughmore Rectory, Cork, between the years 1840 and 1865 endeavoured to obtain this effect from a pianoforte which he had constructed in Messrs. Broadwoods' workshops, by making a 'striking place' at the middle of the vibrating length of string. In this, the Lyrachord, as he named it, the clarinet quality was a prominent characteristic. [App. p.584 adds that "the instrument should be regarded as a double clavichord, the two instruments being separated by the tangents."]

[ A. J. H. ]