The Harpsichord

A guide to all things harpsichord
Although it may conjure images of Lurch and elderly ladies in musty chintz-curtained parlours, the harpsichord was at one time the instrument of choice for hip young ladies in fashionable parlours. A woman who could display her musical accomplishments on an elaborately decorated harpsichord was socially ahead of the game.

The harpsichord appeared sometime in the Middle Ages and continued to be widely played for a few hundred years, however its popularity waned with the emergence of the piano in the eighteenth century.

The Baroque Period
 The distinctive notes of the harpsichord featured prominently in Baroque and Renaissance music and notably, in the the concertos of immensely popular composers such as Bach and Vivaldi.  It was Bach who arranged some of Vivaldi's concertos, many of which he (Vivaldi) had written for the young girls at a convent school in Italy, so that they may be played on the harpsichord.The Baroque period was a particularly vibrant period for music, breaking away as it did from traditional European religious and choral based music.

Although its use significantly receded in the 19th century, the harpsichord was resurrected with the birth of the 20th century. Renewed interest in  music from the 16th to 18th centuries eventually led to a concern with creating historically authentic harpsichords and by the middle of the century, instruments were once again being built in accordance with traditional methods of construction.

Baroque Horror
In 20th century popular culture, the harpsichord become the representative instrument of Baroque horror  -it's unique, vivid sound suggested ancient castles, dusty halls and a general other-worldliness that didn't seem to belong in the modern world. Thus the harpsichord became a hackneyed symbol for spookiness and old-world creepiness.

However in the 21st century, the harpsichord has largely escaped from its cliched image and is once again in full favour with many contemporary classical musicians. It has a certain drama and vividness that can be very uplifting. The harpsichord is in...