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HPSCHD-L  May 1998

HPSCHD-L May 1998

Subject:

Re: Unclear on the concept

From:

"Hendrik Broekman - [log in to unmask] ultranet.com" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 10 May 1998 17:08:30 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (128 lines)

Frank Weston wrote in part:
 
>what is the best philosophy to adopt in the construction of
>a harpsichord from scratch (or kit) such that the instrument has the
>optimum musicality and qualities of touch and tone, and has the most
>potential value to the widest audience.
 
The best philosophy can be expressed quite independent of the question of
materials which can seem to be more articles of faith than otherwise.  For
me, the core of the craft is a blend of joy in the work, attention to
detail, intellectual curiosity, constant questioning and little else.  The
specifics are the small stuff and I try not to sweat the small stuff any
more than is necessary to make an instrument that 1, displays the known
gross physical characteristics of whatever school I happen to be working in
at the moment,  2, still can be made profitably in the twentieth (soon to
be twenty-first) century and, 3, will give to people living now and not yet
born good service for years, perhaps centuries, to come.  This is plain
vanilla stuff and I doubt it will engender much argument.  I suspect that
for most of the respondents to this question the specifics that fulfill
those requirements will be different between respondents as well as, for
each respondent (as is also true for myself) different today than yesterday
stretching many yesterdays into the past.  After all, it's only the
difference of opinions that make horse races (or harpsichord lists) at all
interesting.  We can each of us marshal facts, speculations, logic and
opinions about materials and processes for our own point of view and get
quite passionate about it, but at core, the intensity and drive to produce
the best product is probably about equal in all serious makers.   The
phrases "optimum musicality" and "most potential value to the widest
audience" are loaded questions and will probably provoke some hefty
kerfuffle since they imply the mythical beast, the all-purpose harpsichord.
I suspect most answers will tend toward 'build what makes YOU happy'.
 
>Specific questions:
>
>What are the advantages/disadvantages of using modern finishing materials
>and adhesives such as epoxy, CA glue, lacquer and grain fillers?
 
The advantage of these materials is that their use is either well
understood or easily comprehended by most people living in modern society
by virtue of being materials of modern society.  In the case of epoxy, CA
glue and modern adhesives the final report has yet to be written on their
longevity.  Hide glue has a long history and we can report that it is an
entirely effective adhesive, but it does not lend itself to sporadic
amateur use quite as well as the stronger sorts of PVA adhesives (Titebond
& the like).  Is this evidence of flabby thinking and cultural degeneracy?
Perhaps, but it probably has at least as much to do with the more complex
and busy lives we all lead away from work.
 
>What is wrong with decorating a soundboard with acrylic paint?
 
It's not authentic.  In the hands of a really good H(istorically)
I(nformed) P(ainter), though, there is probably nothing wrong with acrylics
since, by definition, they will be applied very lightly and sparingly with
little evidence of the unfortunate glossiness that one gets straight out of
the tube.  They will probably be just as color-fast as gouache colors and
they seem even more proof to abrasion or flaking off.  My 1974 XVII C
French double has an acrylic-painted board and there is just as much paint
there now as then.
 
>Shellac is an old and highly regarded finishing material.  When and where
>is its use acceptable on a harpsichord and why?
 
It's a great polish and a wonderful sealer.  Thin wash coats on soundboards
and wrestplanks.  Slightly stronger seal coats under some paints although
hide glue is a better alternative here.
 
>Is it wrong headed to consider designing an improved scale for a
>harpsichord?  If I were able to do so would it be accepted by serious HIP
>musicians (see, I learned a new word.)
 
Is it wrong headed? Yes.  The wheel has already been invented, but this is
a free country.  Would it be accepted?  Maybe, depending on the quality of
hype you bring to the task of persuading players that your 'improved' scale
solves performance problems unaddressed by close copies.  It's been done in
the past, it can be done again.  But, remember Lincoln's dictum about not
being able to fool all the people all the time.  The real issue here is
that the word "harpsichord" implies a plucking action - nothing more.
There are so many approaches to scaling in historical examples that the HIP
makers aren't even halfway through learning to make each of those
approaches work to their optimum.  And each school of musical composition
seems to thrive on locally contemporaneous instruments.
 
>Is the idea in constructing a harpsichord keyboard to have a light, smooth,
>well balanced action, or is it more important to keep it historically
>accurate.  Are the two mutually exclusive?
 
Is this a trick question?  For the purposes of the history of the
harpsichord in the twentieth century, the two are mutually inclusive,
synonymous even.  Here words get in the way.  Does well-balanced refer to
some subjective valuation or does it describe a key which balances
perfectly at its balance point?  What do you mean by light?  How can an
action which is discontinuous by virtue of plucking be considered smooth?
 
>Is increased power desirable in an instrument, so long as there is no
>sacrifice in touch and tone but with some sacrifice in historical accuracy?
 
Yes when you have to play your harpsichord in a large concert hall, no when
you take it back home to a smallish room that accentuates the coarseness
that usually accompanies such attempts.  If you want a loud instrument,
copy a Kirckman.
 
>What is more important, historical accuracy or musical qualities?
 
Musical qualities informed by the lessons historical accuracy can teach.
Bypass this critical step at your peril.  The curve of the history of the
harpsichord renaissance starts with the rediscovery of the instruments
(close copies made in the late nineteenth century), continues with
increasing belief in the doctrine that everything is susceptible to
improvement (resulting in Pleyels, Neuperts, Dolmetsch', Challis' - all
neatly described by Sir Thom. Beecham as a pair of skeletons copulating on
a tin roof) and followed by the increasing conviction that  plucking
keyboards reached their several peaks of development during the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries.  Anyway, like it or lump it, that's where we are
now.  But this craft is largely player- and customer-driven.  Makers can
offer neat, off-beat, even 'perfected' designs until they are blue in the
face, but we have to sell harpsichords to make a living.
 
>BTW, why won't any of you tell that poor man how to make a soundboard?
 
Because it takes many hours of attempts and sweat to teach even talented
and well-practiced woodworkers to make soundboards.  To be complete, the
instructions would have to occupy  several pages with absolutely opaque but
perfect prose.  And at an average of two or three hours per page...
Besides, advice is seldom worth what you pay for it ;-).
 
 
 
Hendrik Broekman

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