This harpsichord is the work of two celebrated makers: originally constructed by
in Antwerp (1646), it was later remodeled and expanded by
in Paris (1780).
A harpsichord is a
musical instrument played by means of a
keyboard, a row of levers which the player presses. When the player presses one or more keys, this triggers a mechanism, which plucks one or more strings with a small quill. Unlike the
piano, a keyboard instrument invented in 1700, on which harder and softer presses of the keys produce louder and quieter sounds, on the harpsichord, harder or softer pressing of the keys does not change the volume (loudness) or tone of the notes.
Baroque music era, the harpsichord was one of the key instruments used for chordal
accompaniment and to play the
basso continuo parts, both in small
chamber music ensembles and in Baroque
orchestra and opera orchestras (the other important instrument for basso continuo was the
pipe organ). At the same time, the harpsichord was also used during this era as a solo instrument, to play virtuoso
concertos. The harpsichord differs from the pipe organ in that the pipe organ uses metal and wood pipes and air to produce sound, rather than strings, and in that with an organ, a note sustains for as long as the player depresses the key; in contrast, on harpsichord, the sound decreases in loudness shortly after it is played.
"Harpsichord" designates the whole family of similar plucked keyboard instruments, including the smaller
spinet. The harpsichord was widely used in
Baroque music. During the late 18th century, it gradually disappeared from the musical scene, with the rise of the
piano. In the 20th century, it made a resurgence, being used in
historically informed performances of older music, in compositions, and in some styles of popular music.