bout the Clavichord
The clavichord is a keyboard instrument. Its name is derived from the Latin term clavis, and the Greek term chorda, meaning key and string respectively. It is a predecessor of the piano and forte piano. Like these instruments, its strings are struck, as opposed to being plucked as is the case with the harpsichord and virginal. Unlike the piano which has felt covered wooden hammers strike its strings, the clavichord has brass tangents. These are narrow and not particularly wide, very much like the head of a small screw driver. The tangents have a profound impact on the instrument, as is discussed below.
The tangents not only set the string into motion, but also determine the vibrating length of the string in the same way that putting your finger down on the fingerboard of a violin determines the vibrating length of the string. This fact is exploited on many clavichords by what is known as fretting, having several tangents strike a single string in succession to produce several pitches. This reduces the number of strings needed in the instrument, which makes tuning less cumbersome and reduces stress on the case of the instrument. One disadvantage of fretting is that it is not possible to play more than one note on a single string at the same time. If two notes are fretted and are used in a chord, it is not be possible to play all of the notes in that chord simultaneously. Thus, fretting is usually employed on accidentals and their adjacent notes. An instrument that has two tangents strike certain strings is called a double fretted instrument, while one that has three tangents strike certain strings is called triple fretted. Quadruple fretting is rarely used. Another disadvantage of fretting is that the placement of the tangents effect the temperament of the instrument. Thus in many instances it is not possible to change the temperament of a fretted instrument without moving the tangents.
The clavichord is only capable of producing a soft tone because the tangents both strike the string and determine the vibrating length of the string. Thus it is usually not used to accompany other instruments. Almost all clavichords employ two strings per note as a means of increasing their volume. These instruments are said to be double strung. Some instruments are triple strung, like a piano. The additional strings also provide resistance when a key is pressed, giving the instrument an appropriate touch. The disadvantage of such an arrangement is that it puts more tension on the case of the instrument. Another consequence of the tangent determining the pitch of a string is that when the tangent is released the string stops sounding.
The clavichord is particularly expressive. It is capable of producing a range of dynamics, unlike the harpsichord. Further, a performer can also raise the pitch of a currently sounding note by increasing pressure on the key. Thus it is possible to produce a vibrato effect by varying the pressure on a key. This is known as bebung. A performer can also play a portamento by striking the resolving note firmly thus increasing the tension on the string so that it plays a pitch one half step higher than the resolving note, and then decreasing pressure on the key to lower the pitch to the resolving note.
In comparison to the piano, the clavichord has a comparatively simple key action. Each key pivots on a bar. The tangent is attached to the far end of the key, known as the key lever. Thus when a key is depressed, the key lever is raised and the tangent strikes a string. There is a small strip of leather below the key lever to minimize the noise created when a key is released.
When a tangent strikes a string it divides in into two sections, one on either side of the tangent. To prevent one of the sections from sounding, strips of leather or thick cloth known as listing are woven between the strings at the left side of the instrument. Some clavichords also have a listing board which is covered in felt and is placed on top of the strings on the left side of the instrument. This not only serves to dampen the vibrations but also supports the strings when they are struck, giving the instrument a firmer touch.
The clavichord has several structural features in common with the harpsichord and piano. The first of these is a sound board.
It functions to amplify the sound of the strings. The second is a curved bridge which rests on top of the soundboard. Like all bridges, it determines the length of the portion of the string that vibrates. It also transmits the sound to the soundboard.
One end of each string is attached to the instrument by a hitchpin. The hitchpins are hammered into the hitchpin rail which is located on the left rear side of the clavichord. The other end of the string is attached to a tuning pin, which are usually located on the right side of the clavichord.
Clavichords usually have a rectangular case. They vary in size but are generally not more than 18 inches deep, by 48 inches wide, by 8 inches tall. Thus they are smaller than most other keyboard instruments. They are also fairly light. Most instruments weigh between 50 and 100 pounds These features make the clavichord very portable.
The clavichord was invented during the fourteenth century. It was common throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It fell into disuse during the Classical period, and was replaced by the forte piano.
The clavichord shown on this page was made in 1961 by Otto Rindlisbacher of Zurich. It has a range of C through f''' It is entirely unfretted except for the range from c''' through f''' The lowest register is strung in wound bronze wire. The upper registers are double strung in Roeslau steel wire. It is not based on a particular historical clavichord.
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