I am posting here a new version of my article on harpsichord voicing, which has previously appeared in Swedish and Dutch (1995 and 1998). Since then, I have collected more information about voicing (both with delrin and quill) and I have seen many more instruments by various makers and in various states that in one or another way confirmed my ideas or helped to refine them. So while this text is, in structure, not unlike the original one, it speaks, let us say, louder. This article is divided in six sections. After final proofreading, I will also provide the whole text as a downloadable pdf document.
The article was originally intended as an encouragement for using bird’s quills in harpsichords. However, the commonly used delrin is a very good alternative for quill, if it is used well. Even the reader who is not considering quill will find useful information about delrin further below.
Harpsichordists hear a lot from other musicians about how their instrument sounds: it is too loud, says the recorder player; it is too soft, say the members of a string ensemble; it sounds too aggressive, says the cellist who sits beside the bentside; it is unreliable and out of tune, say all those people who have to do with casually played conservatory harpsichords. A true harpsichord lover might find these remarks ridiculous, but let’s face it: there is every reason for learning how to improve one’s tuning technique, how to keep the dampers in shape and, of course, how to make proper plectra. A harpsichord in poor shape has, in terms of charm, not much to offer – and even in an instrument in better shape we must accept most of the basic conditions that characterize harpsichords: their dynamic range is relatively small in comparison to other instruments, no matter how hard we hit the keys; their tone has a high content of partials; and although the non-musical noise that accompanies the tone production – that is, the mechanical clicking that accompanies the attack and the characteristic sound heard when we release the key – may be low in a good instrument, the player has little influence on it. If we want to maximise our possibilities as players, we ought to look more closely at the part of the action that produces both, the tone and the noise: the plectrum. (more…)