first and last – 60 years (and a few) of skowroneck harpsichords

© Tilman Skowroneck 2019

Just as I was writing that Martin Skowroneck’s unfinished harpsichord no. 90 now reaches completion in the Oldenburg workshop of Dietrich Hein (see also here), Menno van Delft sent me pictures of the first Skowroneck harpsichord, which is on display in the Berlin instrument collection.

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(Photo: Menno van Delft 2019)

So this is “no. 1”, a rather ambitious project with a 16′, 2x 8′, 4′ and buff stop, built in 1953. According to Martin Skowroneck (Cembalobau; Harpsichord Construction (Bergkirchen: Bochinsky, 2003), 261–62), this instrument is very globally based on a sketch of harpsichord no. 316 (known as “Bach-Cembalo” at the time) in the Berlin collection (which explains why it looks more or less historical in shape and especially, why it has this particular disposition). The inner construction is more or less modern (in want of better information at the time), with heavy frame members in ash, ribs under the bridge and a thin 4′ hitchpin rail. The boards for the case had to be prepared at a machine pool in Bremen, to be carried on foot across town for assembly in the basement of Skowroneck’s rented house in the Gravelottestraße. Knowing only this story, I was quite astonished to see such a neatly finished and gleaming harpsichord-shaped object on Menno’s photo!

Fast forward sixty years, to harpsichord no. 90. Here below we see two Skowronecks in the workshop, attaching the bottom. That was in August 2013. Shortly hereafter, the work on this instrument stalled. Before leaving that summer, I remember lifting the rig for drilling the keyframe balance pins on to the work bench in preparation of the next work step, but when I visited in December again, it hadn’t been used. The instrument was basically still in the same state as seen here when Sko senior passed away in May 2014.

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(Photo: Robin Blanton 2013)

The next photo below is from February 25, 2019, today two weeks ago. We can see my trusty voicing knife, freshly stropped, and a good two handfuls of already be-plectraed jacks in place. What the picture does not show is my absolute excitement about finally being able to hear some actual musical sounds (instead of tentatively tapping around on the soundboard, nodding wisely and mumbling “this sounds promising,” like I had done all this time). That week, I managed to ‘do’ the entire lower 8′, including dampers, and to play a little, using a makeshift jack rail.

Dietrich is telling me that he is now almost done voicing the entire instrument. What I’ve heard so far is quite “promising” indeed. The decoration and the stand have still to be decided upon. But all in all this promises to be a worthy conclusion of 60+6 years of Skowroneck harpsichord making.

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(Photo: Tilman Skowroneck 2019)

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