12 · Harpsichord

Full Description

French, 18th century
By Pascal Taskin, Paris, 1770

Compass: five octaves & one note, FF to f’’’.
Length 231.1 cm; width 91.1cm; de[tj pf caase 29.2 cm; octave span 15.9 cm
Two manuals and three choirs of strings (2 x 8’, 1 x 4’)
String scale: c’’ = 34.3 cm

The nameboard bears the painted inscription: “Refait * Par * Pascal * Taskin”. Around the painted rose on the soundboard is the following inscription: “Pascal * Taskin * Elève * de * Blanchet”. Although the tonal and mechanical aspects of this instrument are remarkably well preservered, its decoration is largely a 19th-century pastiche incorporating some earlier, 18th-century painted panels. The stand is not original. [Restored to playing condition]

As a young man Pascal Taskin (1723-1793) left his native Belgium, came to Paris to apprentice under François-Etienne Blanchet I (the maker of Exhibit No. 9) and married the widow of Blanchet’s son.  He was appointed harpsichord maker to the court of King Louis XV in 1772, a position he continued to occupy under Louis XVI until the Revolution.

Taskin was an extremely fastidious craftsman and an innovator. He is the most credible claimant to two improvements to the harpsichord. First, he introduced into some of his instruments a register of jacks fitted with plectra of soft leather (peau de buffle) which produced a sweet, if somewhat muted sound.  A contemporary described the effect: It “no longer plucks, but carresses the string.”  He also introduced knee-levers to control the stops. These inventions were an obvious attempt to counter the challenge of the dynamic flexibility of the increasingly fashionable piano.  Responding to contemporary fashion, Taskin made several pianos at the end of his career, one of which is in this Collection.

This instrument is currently very lightly quilled. This was the custom in France, as noted by the 18th-century itinerant English music historian Dr. Charles Burney. The last of the “clavecinistes”—Duphly, Balbastre and Schobert—would doubtless have revelled in the rarefied douceur of its sound.

Gift of Mrs. S. B. Grimson                                           
Accession No. 4866.1957

Musical Example:

Richard Rephann, director emeritus, performing La muse victorieuse from Vingt-cinquième Ordre, by François Couperin (1668-1733)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 19 January 1992