on 2/24/08 1:32 AM, Carey Beebe at [log in to unmask] wrote:
> The kits were a very accessible way to harpsichord ownership as Andrew
> remarked, but we must remember the world has changed in many ways
> since then. Harpsichords were quite counter-cultural in the 1960s, and
> I believe the huge kit market in the States, satisfied by several
> companies, was spawned largely by the desire for enthusiasts to have
> something to keep them occupied in their basement over the inclement
> long winter months. The kits were really a phenomenon of the 1960s and
> 70s. I built my first with my father's help in 1979.
> When a certain critical mass of serious musicians really came to terms
> with the harpsichord along with "Early Music", the focus changed from
> kits to finished instruments. This probably was happening by the
> mid-1980s. The days in the late 70s producing models like the
> Zuckermann Flemish Single IX and X in runs of 500 sets of parts are
> long gone.
Carey's assessment is pretty accurate. I remember, while in college in the
late '60s, if you wanted a hpd you looked in a big black book called the
Whole Earth Catalog, where you could find Z's ad along with phenomenal
amounts of vacuous counter-cultural blathering about all sorts of stuff.
Now I never thought of assembling a hpd kit as a way to "stick it to the
man," but there must have been a lot who did, and I still see many "aging
hippies" who haven't outgrown that sort of nonsense. Even now, if one
encounters a person of my generation who has some faint knowledge of the
word "harpsichord," the first question invariably is, "Did you build it
The problem is that the demand for harpsichords is finite, and that the
market is pretty well saturated. This is becoming worse because of the
counter-revolution spearheaded by Angela Hewitt, et al. It's ironic that
this should come at a time when makers are building better instruments than
ever, and so many promising young players are doing such a phenomenal job.
For those of us who know how to find their recordings on the small indie
labels, it's almost an embarrassment of riches. But to the general public
that looks to the major labels and the major magazines for guidance, there
is little to be seen but performances on the Great Black Beast. Most people
will buy only one recording of a piece of music, and if that is a piano
performance, they will never know that the hpd even exists. The about-face
of these labels and magazines, which used to support the hpd vigorously, is
a bitter pill to swallow.
(An exception is Richard Egarr, who is recording for Harmonia Mundi, and
with whom I had a delightful visit last Monday night over dinner after his
Academy of Ancient Music performed here. Richard has done Book I of the WTK,
Book II is forthcoming, and he tells me that a complete Louis Couperin is in
For the makers, the problem is that most new hpds now are replacements for
older instruments, unlike the old days when there was a steady demand from
those who didn't have anything. The substantial number of old instruments on
the second-hand market depresses the need for new instruments and possibly
their price, except for the very top makers.
Sorry to ramble, I'm trying to wake up.
James R. (Jay) McCarty, MD
Fort Worth, TX
"Sine arte, scientia nihil est"