Archive for the ‘harpsichord’ Category

Martin Skowroneck obituary published

October 12, 2015

My new article “Remembering Martin Skowroneck (1926-2014)” is now available in the most recent issue of the yearbook of the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard Studies,

Keyboard Perspectives Vol. VII/21014, pp. 147-164.

The article includes a “List of Large Keyboard Instruments by Martin Skowroneck”. This will be my only article-length Skowroneck-obituary.

Keyboard Perspectives can be ordered directly from the Westfield Center website (that is, by senting an e-mail. The order information under the “publications” tab is out of date).

The remainder of this very promising Vol. VII, edited by Tom Beghin, is dedicated to Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata Op. 106.

new recordings

July 7, 2015

© Tilman Skowroneck 2015

On 22 and 23 June 2015 I had the pleasure to record a mixed program of Froberger, Louis Couperin and Rameau (the first suite, which I hadn’t previously recorded) in the quiet and lovely church of Jonsered close to Gothenburg. Further below are some sneak clips (music edits done, but perhaps not the ultimate final tonal balance). The recording was made by Herwin Troje. As always, please contact me for permission before sharing these links.

The instrument, a little unexpectedly, is a one-manual brass-strung harpsichord after German originals, with a 392-415 keyboard.


Temperaments used: a ‘French ordinaire’ variation and Rameau (which, really, is another ‘French ordinaire’ variation), at a=392Hz. The project was initiated by the instrument’s owner Bengt Nässén.


Johann Jakob Froberger (1616—1667)

Toccata VI in A minor


Lamentation, faite sur la tres douloreuse Mort de Sa Majeste Imperiale, Ferdinand le Troisieme

Louis Couperin (c. 1626—1661)

Prélude in D minor


Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683—1764)


Martin Skowroneck 1926-2014

May 14, 2014

© Tilman Skowroneck 2014. Last update to this post 2 July 2014.

2013-12-24 20.36.11-2

Martin Skowroneck, December 24, 2013. Photo © Jessica Skowroneck

It is my sad duty to announce that my father Martin Skowroneck, flautist and maker of harpsichords, recorders and baroque flutes, passed away this morning due to complications after heart surgery. He had been in hospital for four and a half difficult weeks. We, his nearest family, were able to say goodbye to him, and my mother was staying with him for the last two days and nights.

My mother and I would like to thank you for your overwhelming response, via various internet media, e mail, phone calls and ordinary mail. It means very much to us to know how he is remembered.

In sadness

Tilman Skowroneck


M. Marais Tombeau pour Mr. de Ste. Colombe

Wieland Kuijken viola da gamba, Tilman Skowroneck harpsichord. Recorded live 30 January 2005

The funeral service was on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 12:00 at the

Kirche zu Oberneuland, Hohenkampsweg 6, 28355 Bremen


strings from waterloo

October 7, 2013

© Tilman Skowroneck 2013

I have mentioned this before. I am not convinced that a given harpsichord can be substantially improved by putting up some new strings.

In fact I am rather convinced of the opposite, which is that random changes to a given design (and the stringing of a harpsichord belongs, or should belong, to its maker’s design choices) not normally result in a major shift toward a better tone. The expectation that a harpsichord can be optimized by applying a number of relatively simple tricks, or by experimenting with some new string material, is usually rewarded by some kind of disappointment. In my experience, a truly noticeable shift in a harpsichord’s quality often goes in the other direction: it happens when the instrument is being neglected. Improvement is a much more hard-won thing, especially when the instrument is assembled and ready to be used.

So what I will discuss here below should be seen as an exception, as I am about to introduce an exceptionally well-suited string material which actually does, within reasonable limits, improve the tone and tuning properties of a harpsichord:

Over the past decade or so, Stephen Birkett  of the University of Waterloo, Canada, has researched the properties of historical iron strings, and has come up with a formula to produce iron wire with very similar properties. This so-called P-wire is now becoming available (here is some more information about it), and I have had the chance to test it in three quite different harpsichords with a Flemish-French mixed scaling (brass in the bass, and iron from the tenor upward). (more…)

teachers and students: transmission versus copying

March 30, 2013

© Tilman Skowroneck 2013

Gustav Leonhardt’s transcription of J.S. Bach’s Ciaccona

Musical transmission is a well-explored topic in the history of Western music. In a rare filmed appearance, pianist Edwin Fischer recited, more than explained, how it works: “Beethoven instructed Czerny how to play the Well-tempered Clavier; Czerny taught it to Liszt; Liszt taught it to Eugène d’Albert.” The clip is part of the documentary “The Art of Piano” (found at 1:07:31 of this YouTube video). To complete the lineage for the benefit of readers of our time: d’Albert taught Fischer, who was endorsing his then-new recording of Bach’s WTC.

In addition to being a great-great-grandpupil of Beethoven, Fischer was also a celebrated teacher. His statement about the musical lineage that authenticated his way of playing Bach can be seen as a statement about pedagogy rather than a display of vanity. It tells us that by the mid-20th century, the idea of a student imitating the example of his teacher was considered more than just valuable in a general sense.

To Fischer, the transmission of skills, knowledge and values from teacher to student in an unbroken tradition was profoundly meaningful: the essence of why one became a pupil, or later a teacher. This idea is not new. In France in the 1670s, J.L. Le Gallois suggested the same pedagogy of learning by imitation in his famous praise of Chambonnière’s way of playing: “in order to learn the pieces of each master, it is necessary to study them with the same masters who have composed them, or with their best pupils.”

For a student of harpsichord in Amsterdam in the 1980s, however, learning by imitation was not normally considered an option. On the contrary. (more…)

oiling quills: new findings

June 5, 2012

© Tilman Skowroneck 2012

Denzil Wraight has now published his findings about the wear pattern of quill, the best technique for oiling quill, and recommended oils for this purpose in one short article and a rather longer one with extensive explanations at:

This should be seen as a complement, and in some ways a correction, to my own article about voicing which I published earlier on this blog (a link to the PDF version is here). I am presently testing oiling the quills (with Ballistol) in two of my instruments according to Denzil’s recommendations (including the French Double that takes the brunt of my practicing) and my initial experience is positive (see my most recent thoughts in the third comment added to this post).

beryllium copper on the front page

April 26, 2012

© Tilman Skowroneck 2012

As the “searches” tab in my blog stats is telling me, many people are interested in the characteristics of  beryllium copper harpsichord wire in comparison to other materials. Some time ago, I have posted an explanation in the “Skowroneck harpsichords” tab of the sidebar (see my full text there), but I would like to pull the discussion to the front, and expand it.

As I have stated, beryllium copper is not the same as phosphor bronze (the latter doesn’t sound all that well, hence this whole discussion) although it looks very similar. It has similar characteristics to brass and can be used in harpsichords with a brass scaling, or in the bass of harpsichords with a mixed scaling. I also claim that,

beryllium copper of the kind best known to me also has a good sound. True, most people will have no possibility to make direct comparisons between the various materials – and “good” is a problematic term. I have tested brass and beryllium copper in one single instrument and monitored their properties over a time span of 15 years. I found beryllium copper to sound slightly “fuller” than the brass that is usually available today, but without compromising the appropriate overall “brassy” sound character. Together with the advantages listed above I personally prefer this material. As said above, however, these properties may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and not all beryllium copper appears to be as good as I describe here.

I am re-posting this here, because I should add that beryllium copper can be hardened just as other wire. This property might in fact be at the bottom of some negative judgments about its usefulness as harpsichord wire. (more…)


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