Single-manual after Ruckers

Single-manual Flemish harpsichord

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An example of the single-manual Flemish harpsichord that I build, patterned after the 1637 Andreas Ruckers in the musical instrument collection of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg:

In addition to the Nürnberg instrument, I examined another instrument by Andreas I: a 1640 single-manual in the collection of Yale University. Many of the decorative features of the latter were incorporated in my copy.

A view of the keyboard, showing the "seahorse" printed papers and the decorative keyfronts:

A view of the soundboard, showing the typical soundboard painting for this type of instrument, complete with birds, insects, and even a prawn, all executed by yours truly:

Another Ruckers single-manual, completed in March of 2016 for a customer in Ontario. This instrument has a 49-note, fully chromatic keyboard (C-c'''), and was supplied with a trestle stand in the later Flemish style, along with matching seat:

The single-manual Flemish harpsichord, as built by the Ruckerses and the Couchets over the course of 150 years, is the perfect instrument for the budget-conscious harpsichordist or organist. Its full, surprisingly powerful sound makes it the ideal continuo instrument. Its light weight (about 50 lbs or 23 kg minus lid and stand) is a decided advantage, making for easy transport. The instrument will fit easily in a small hatchback (with the rear seats down), as will the knock-down stand.

Both the originals and the copy shown in the photos are fitted with just two sets of strings: an 8-foot and a 4-foot. I prefer to retain the sound and playing characteristics of the original, rather than squeezing in another 8-foot register, as many makers do nowadays. Upping the register count to three increases the overall tension and down-bearing on the 8-foot bridge, thereby reducing resonance and volume. For those who absolutely must have two 8-foot stops, a compromise solution is to eliminate the 4-foot register.

There is a buff, or harp stop that is split between treble and bass, allowing for some novel effects (pizzicato bass against full treble, etc.) that are characteristic of the music written for this type of harpsichord.

The overwhelming majority of single-manual Flemish harpsichords produced during the period from c.1550 to c.1700 had a rather limited compass: 45 notes, from C/E (short bass octave) to c'''. As an alternative, the instrument can be furnished with a full four-octave keyboard, from C (chromatic bass octave) to c'''. In this disposition, which was rare but apparently sanctioned during the 17th century, much of the simpler music of Sebastian Bach is playable on it, for example the Two- and Three-Part Inventions.

It is possible to enlarge the compass even further by extending the bass register by five notes and the treble by two, making for an overall compass of 52 notes, from G/B (short octave) to d'''. The resulting case width is increased by a scant 4.5 cm.

Normally the instrument is tuned to a'=415 Hz, but it can be fitted with a transposing keyboard, which allows it to be played at a'=440 Hz. The change-over to modern pitch is very easy, involving the removal of the right-side cheek piece and a simple shift of the keyboard.

Other, less elaborate decorative schemes than the one shown in the photos are possible; this will greatly reduce the cost and place this little Flemish within the reach of almost any budget.

I am currently taking orders for harpichords based on the 1637 Ruckers--please inquire as to price and availability.

Ruckers Sound Sample

Click here to play the sound


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