Harpsichords, Pianos & a Clavichord!

In our last online event for the summer, we were treated to a very special lecture-performance on several fascinating keyboard instruments by harpsichordist and conductor Jory Vinikour. Jory performed a fantastic selection of repertoire from various style periods selected to showcase the characteristics of each instrument. This week’s blogpost features a write-up of the event, sharing some of what we learnt during the course of a highly enjoyable and interesting afternoon!

Harpsichord Piano Clavichord
Harpsichordist Jory Vinikour (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune)

Jory’s debut in our online events programme was part of our Piano Day festival in which he gave a performance-lecture on the workings of the harpsichord and Baroque style featuring works by Bach, Couperin, Rameau and Scarlatti. However, in this session Jory took us on an informal tour of his collection of instruments which included revival harpsichords, two 19th C pianos, a selection of traditional harpsichords and a clavichord!

Revival harpsichords

The tour started with two revival harpsichords (click here to read Jory’s blog post about revival harpsichords), the first of which was an instrument by Pleyel from either 1939 or 1952. Unlike traditional harpsichords, this one has an iron frame which allows it to retain it’s tuning more effectively and gives a powerful sound. The first piece featured in the session was a Bach Concerto after Vivaldi in D major.

Jory playing Bach on his Pleyel harpsichord
Jory playing Bach on his Pleyel harpsichord

The other revival instrument was built by the renowned British builder, Anthony Sidey. This instrument is Jory’s preferred for concerts and he played Scarlatti’s Sonata in A minor, K175 Sonata for us. It was interesting to note that this instrument has been built in a more traditional manner than the Pleyel, but also produces a powerful sound capable of carrying in a concert hall.

Second of the harpsichords by Sidey
Harpsichord by Anthony Sidey

Another interesting observation was that  both of these instruments have a much heavier action than traditional harpsichords. Jory mentioned that caution is required when playing them in order to avoid injury. This is partially because harpsichord technique tends to rely far more on finger action than modern piano technique which thinks about finger and arm combined.

The pianos

After the revival harpsichords, we took a brief step back in time to listen two beautiful 19th C pianos by Bosendorfer and Erard. The Bosendorfer dates back to 1846 and is from the end of the period which featured the lighter Viennese action. Weighing a third of a modern Steinway D, this instrument is effectively a bridge between a classical fortepiano and the modern piano. Jory played Mendelssohn’s beautiful Song Without Words, Op. 19 No. 1 for us and explained that a greater use of pedal is required as the instrument has less resonance than a modern one.

Erard Aufschwung
Jory playing Schumann’s Aufschwung on his Erard piano

The other piano was made in 1843 by Erard who has a significant impact on the development of the piano with numerous patents to their name. Apparently, Liszt preferred the Erard pianos to those of the other great French maker of the time, Pleyel (which was Chopin’s preference). Jory played Aufschwung from Fantasiestücke, Op.12 by Schumann, demonstrating that this is much more powerful than the Bosendorfer and closer to the modern instrument that we are now familiar with.

The clavichord

The first half of the session closed with a demonstration of a rather intriguing instrument which is from a distinct family to the harpsichord and could be seen more as the grandfather of the piano. Unlike a harpsichord which plucks its strings, the strings of a clavichord are struck and therefore it was callable of producing dynamic variation, albeit at the softer end of the dynamic range. Jory played Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor and demonstrated how difficult the instrument is to play in that they keys have to be hit in the right place inn order to produce the desired sound!

Mozart’s D minor Fantasy played on a clavichord!

Traditional harpsichords

The last instruments featured were copies of traditional harpsichords, the first being a copy of a 16th century Italian design built by American builder Clyde Parmalee in 1985. Like the Italian instruments of the time, this is much lighter than French or German counterparts with a shallower case. Jory played a Toccata by Frescobaldi and discussed various fascinating topics relating to the harpsichord, including the short octave, the multiple registers and different stops.

Parmalee harpsichord
Harpsichord by Clyde Parmalee

The last instrument was built by David Rubio with features from Franco-Flemish instruments combined with some modern revival elements, therefore isn’t a museum standard copy. Jory demonstrated this instrument with a Bach Toccata  and works by Byrd and Bull from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. The session came to a rousing end with a dance suite by Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer.

If you missed this workshop or the previous session then you can still purchase access to the recordings for each of them here and here. Jory also has an extensive collection of albums available to listen to on Spotify. Click here to view his profile.

Next events

We will be taking a short break over the summer with our events programme returning in mid-September. Our next events will include presentations on healthy, expressive technique, learning pieces and the Trinity piano examination syllabus. We will also be celebrating the Online Academy’s fifth birthday in October with a special line-up of events. Please sign-up to our mailing list for information and updates regarding upcoming events.