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Full Plectrum Domination
January 6, 2010 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Harpsichords sound pretty. Look pretty too. You can build your own. Even from Lego. (previously) But don't make it your trade.
posted by Joe Beese (17 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Harpsichords sound pretty. Look pretty too.
I couldn't agree more.

I have LOVED the sound of the harpsichord since I was a kid (my dad has quite the baroque music collection, and I was probably the only kid in my high school class who was into it then [and maybe now]). Great post!
posted by yiftach at 2:33 PM on January 6, 2010


pretty... pah!

Harpsichords can sound kick ass.

Lord that tune gets stuck in my head something fierce. #987 on my list on songs you have to hear.
posted by edgeways at 2:59 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


One harpsichordist of note, who always displayed a soulful presence...
posted by longsleeves at 3:06 PM on January 6, 2010


longsleeves: "One harpsichordist of note, who always displayed a soulful presence..."

According to the last link, Ted Cassidy was actually proficient on the instrument.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:21 PM on January 6, 2010


THIS is what the harpsichord is all about (wait for 2:47-48 and also at the end for some wonderful super-Frenchy thick harmony).
posted by LMGM at 3:21 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a testament to the versatility of musicians that they can get so many different sounds from a mechanically plucked instrument. Remember the scene in Snatch, where Gorgeous George is knocked out by Brad Pitt's character? There was a nice bit of harpsichord playing in the background. Put it in a former punk guitar band, add a trumpet, and it still fits in. And if you can get several in a room together with an orchestra, and some tightly spaced notes, the sound can be so much more flowing. When taking piano I had always thought harpsichords were so limited in their potential. But, live and learn.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:23 PM on January 6, 2010


Actually, I like this rendition of the same piece better (despite the lack of visuals). The pacing is a lot better, which is important, considering that it's an unmeasured prelude (i.e., the prelude is written without rhythmic notation, and it's up to the performer to figure out how to group the notes into coherent gestures).
posted by LMGM at 3:30 PM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


According to the last link, Ted Cassidy was actually proficient on the instrument.

So I see, thanks. Oddly, his playing appears to be simulated in this YT video from the series.
posted by longsleeves at 3:45 PM on January 6, 2010


(jump to 2:15)
posted by longsleeves at 3:50 PM on January 6, 2010


I would say that this is pretty much what harpsichord is all about. I hate to agree with a YT commenter, but "that shit at 5:55 kills me every time". I'm a sucker for Trevor Pinnock's Bach interpretations. How can you not be?
posted by The Bellman at 3:56 PM on January 6, 2010


(paraphrase) "A toasting fork distressing a bird-cage" -Sir Thomas 'Tommy' Beecham.

Not that I share such sentiments. That crazy tinkle-jangle sound just sends me. Love my I-tunes set of pop songs featuring the Harpsy.

Blind by early Deep Purple.

Bravura in The Face of Grief
by Michael Nyman.

Good times: stretching out underneath a Harpsichord while someone above plays various Baroque selections.
posted by ovvl at 4:09 PM on January 6, 2010


The better Beecham harpsichord diss was "Two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm."

But I disagree with Beecham about most things, including that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:39 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed that last link, the interview with harpsichord maker Jack Peters.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:59 PM on January 6, 2010


Nice links. I have fond memories of the job I had in the music dept in college, which occasionally involved moving the baroque ensemble's harpsichord around to gigs. I remember a mad dash across Manhattan with a harpsichord in the school van, late for a recording session.
posted by jetsetsc at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2010


I'm not a picky person in general, and my taste in music is pretty eclectic, but I cannot stand the sound of the harpsichord.

A harpsichord note is a perfect, warm, chocolate piano note truffle, liberally sprinkled with iron filings and wrapped in tinfoil.
posted by CaseyB at 12:54 PM on January 7, 2010


There's a wonderful recording of Mozart's Sonatas for 4 hand keyboard performed on the instrument.

Mozart's keyboard works for four hands feature among the most delightful and entertaining of his compositions. Indeed, a favourite family pastime was to play duets on a harpsichord or pianoforte. The young Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl apparently spent many happy hours playing together on the same keyboard. This we learn about from the English music historian and traveller Charles Burney reporting in 1772 : «By a letter from Salzburg (...) I am informed that this young man, who so much astonished all Europe by his premature knowledge and performance, during infancy, is still a great master of his instrument. My correspondent went to his father's house to hear him and his sister play duets on the same harpsichord.»

In the sonatas recorded for this CD, humour and ease - generally significant for Mozarts's character - also appear in a very specific form. We know from his letters that he had an extreme sense of humour, and it is this we find even in compositions where he teases and intermingles the hands of the performers. We believe that this artful device of coquetry cleverly woven in the polyphonic texture is neither unintentional nor ungainly.

We decided to use a harpsichord for these recordings as we are convinced that this instrument played a more defining role in the life of the composer than one would be led to believe. This is evident in that as early as 1770 Leopold, Wolfgang's father, had acquired a harpsichord, already mentioned in Burney's letter, and last but not least from the indications «Cembalo 1» and «Cembalo 2» in the autographs of the K 501 and 521 sonatas. On the whole , in our view the harpsichord seems to have been the ideal instrument for the appropriate rendering of this type of composition.


When I listen to it I can picture Wolfie and Nannie sitting pressed together on the bench, giggling as they play. (No doubt with Leopold smoking his pipe in the corner, caressing sums in his imagination.)

You can find it here.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:46 PM on January 7, 2010


Xenakis, anyone?
posted by PBR at 11:32 AM on January 8, 2010


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