Harpsichord | variants



In modern usage, "harpsichord" can mean any member of the family of instruments. More often, though, it specifically denotes a grand-piano-shaped instrument with a roughly triangular case accommodating long bass strings at the left and short treble strings at the right. The characteristic profile of such a harpsichord is more elongated than a modern piano, with a sharper curve than the bentside.[7][not in citation given]


The virginal is a smaller and simpler rectangular form of the harpsichord having only one string per note; the strings run parallel to the keyboard, which is on the long side of the case.


A spinet is a harpsichord with the strings set at an angle (usually about 30 degrees) to the keyboard. The strings are too close together for the jacks to fit between them. Instead, the strings are arranged in pairs, and the jacks are in the larger gaps between the pairs. The two jacks in each gap face in opposite directions, and each plucks a string adjacent to the gap.

The English diarist Samuel Pepys mentions his "tryangle" several times. This was not the percussion instrument that we call triangle today; rather, it was a name for octave-pitched spinets, which were triangular in shape.


A clavicytherium is a harpsichord with the soundboard and strings mounted vertically facing the player, the same space-saving principle as an upright piano.[8] In a clavicytherium, the jacks move horizontally without the assistance of gravity, so that clavicytherium actions are more complex than those of other harpsichords.

An ottavino built by Arnold Dolmetsch in 1923, and modeled after a 1698 instrument by Joannes Carcassi


Ottavini are small spinets or virginals at four-foot pitch. Harpsichords at octave pitch were more common in the early Renaissance, but lessened in popularity later on. However, the ottavino remained very popular as a domestic instrument in Italy until the 19th century. In the Low Countries, an ottavino was commonly paired with an 8' virginals, encased in a small cubby under the soundboard of the larger instrument. The ottavino could be removed and placed on top of the virginal, making, in effect, a double manual instrument. These are sometimes called 'mother-and-child'[9] or 'double' virginals.[10][11]


The archicembalo, built in the 16th century, had an unusual keyboard layout, designed to accommodate variant tuning systems demanded by compositional practice and theoretical experimentation. More common were instruments with split sharps, also designed to accommodate the tuning systems of the time.

The folding harpsichord was an instrument that could be folded up for travel.

Pedal Harpsichord: Occasionally, harpsichords were built which included another set or sets of strings underneath and operated by pedals which pluck the lowest keys of the harpsichord. Although there are no known extant pedal harpsichords from the 18th century or before, from Adlung (1758): the lower set of usually 8' strings "...is built like an ordinary harpsichord, but with an extent of two octaves only. The jacks are similar, but they will benefit from being arranged back to back, since the two [bass] octaves take as much space as four in an ordinary harpsichord[12] Prior to 1980 when Keith Hill introduced his design for a pedal harpsichord, most pedal harpsichords were built based on the designs of extant pedal pianos from the 19th century, in which the instrument is as wide as the pedalboard.[13] While these were mostly intended as practice instruments for organists, a few pieces are believed to have been written specifically for the pedal harpsichord. However, the set of pedals can augment the sound from any piece performed on the instrument, as demonstrated on several albums by E. Power Biggs.[14]

Compass and pitch range

On the whole, earlier harpsichords have smaller ranges than later ones, although there are many exceptions. The largest harpsichords have a range of just over five octaves, and the smallest have under four. Usually, the shortest keyboards were given extended range in the bass with a "short octave". The traditional pitch range for a 5-octave instrument is F1–F6 (FF–f‴).

Tuning pitch is often taken to be A4 = 415 Hz, roughly a semitone lower than the modern standard concert pitch of A4 = 440 Hz. An accepted exception is for French baroque repertoire, which is often performed with a = 392 Hz, approximately a semitone lower again. See Jean-Philippe Rameau's Treatise on Harmony (1722) [Dover Publications], Book One, chapter five, for insight into French baroque tuning; "Since most of these semitones are absolutely necessary in the tuning of organs and other similar instruments, the following chromatic system has been drawn up." Tuning an instrument nowadays usually starts with setting an A; historically it would commence from a C or an F.

Some modern instruments are built with keyboards that can shift sideways, allowing the player to align the mechanism with strings at either A = 415 Hz or A = 440 Hz. If a tuning other than equal temperament is used, the instrument requires retuning once the keyboard is shifted.[15]

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Cembalo
العربية: هاربسكورد
asturianu: Clavecín
Bân-lâm-gú: Cembalo
беларуская: Клавесін
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Клявэсын
български: Клавесин
bosanski: Čembalo
brezhoneg: Klav-kerdin
català: Clavicèmbal
Чӑвашла: Клавесин
čeština: Cembalo
dansk: Cembalo
Deutsch: Cembalo
eesti: Klavessiin
Ελληνικά: Τσέμπαλο
español: Clavecín
Esperanto: Klaviceno
euskara: Klabizenbalo
français: Clavecin
furlan: Clavicembal
Gaeilge: Cruitchorda
Gàidhlig: Cruit-chòrda
한국어: 하프시코드
Հայերեն: Կլավեսին
hrvatski: Čembalo
íslenska: Semball
italiano: Clavicembalo
עברית: צ'מבלו
ქართული: კლავესინი
қазақша: Клавесин
Кыргызча: Клавесин
latviešu: Klavesīns
Lëtzebuergesch: Cembalo
lietuvių: Klavesinas
magyar: Csembaló
македонски: Чембало
Nederlands: Klavecimbel
Nedersaksies: Klavecimbel
日本語: チェンバロ
norsk: Cembalo
norsk nynorsk: Cembalo
occitan: Clavecin
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Klavesin
polski: Klawesyn
română: Clavecin
русский: Клавесин
Seeltersk: Cembalo
sicilianu: Clavicìmmalu
Simple English: Harpsichord
slovenčina: Čembalo
slovenščina: Čembalo
српски / srpski: Чембало
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Čembalo
suomi: Cembalo
svenska: Cembalo
Türkçe: Klavsen
українська: Клавесин
Tiếng Việt: Harpsichord
粵語: 古鍵琴
中文: 大鍵琴