14 · Harpsichord

Full Description

German, 18th century
By Johann Adolph Hass, Hamburg, ca. 1760

Compass: five octaves and one note, FF to f’’’.
Length 273.7 cm; width 100.0 cm; depth of case 28.4 cm; octave span 16.5 cm
Two manuals and five choirs of strings: one at 16’ pitch, two at 8’ pitch,
one at 4’ pitch, and one at 2’ pitch.
String scale: c’’ = 34.0 cm

The left side of the soundboard near the jackrail is inscribed: “J. A. Hass / Hamb. Anno 1710”. (The last two digits appear to have been retouched.) The case of cedar has a double curved bentside; its exterior is painted a reddish brown to simulate tortoise shell.  The inside of the lid and the jackrail are decorated with chinoiserie in gold on a red lacquer background.  The keywell is veneered with laburnum wood panels. The 16’ bridge has its own sound- board, which is attached to the right of the 8’ hitchpin rail.  There are buff stops (producing a lute-like sound) for the 16’ and upper manual 8’ choirs. The natural keys are covered with tortoise-shell, with ivory fronts, and the sharps are of ebony veneered with ivory. [Restored to playing condition]

This magnificent instrument is a summation of over three centuries of harpsichord-making.  Its multi-choired disposition offers the player the widest possible range of registrations, from a single set of strings to a majestic, or- ganlike ensemble of 5 choirs sounding simultaneously. The few surviving elaborate instruments with a 16’ register were often cited as evidence for the so-called “Bach harpsichord” that was much sought after in the last century when the harpsichord was being revived for the performance of 18th-century music. Although there is no evidence that J. S. Bach ever had regular access to such an instrument, its existence is testimony to the changing musical aesthetic of the time that favored a more varied and flexible use of dynamics and tone colors. This instrument has been much studied and emulated in the work of modern makers.

Hieronymous Hass and his son Johann Adolph of Hamburg were two of the leading German makers of the 18th century.  Their fine workmanship and sumptuous decoration made their harpsichords and clavichords collector ’s items in their own day and highly prized museum objects today.

The Belle Skinner Collection                                       
Accession No. 4879.1960

Musical Example:

Richard Rephann, director emeritus, performing Gigue from French Suite No. 1 in D minor, BWV 812, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 25 April 1998