3 · Clavichord

Full Description

German, 18th century
By Johann Gotthelf Hoffmann, Ronneburg, 1784

Compass: five octaves, plus one note: FF to f’’’.
Length 173.0 cm; width 51.0 cm; depth of case 16.8 cm; octave span 15.9 cm
String scale: c’’ = 26.2 cm.

The reverse of the nameboard is inscribed in ink: “S[oli]. D[eo]. G[loria]. / Christian Gotthelf Hoffman / in Ronneburg. Nom: 28 / 1784”.  The case is of oak and is devoid of ornament except for mouldings and two gilt parchment roses in the soundboard.  The instrument is supported by a trestle stand of oak. The natural keys are covered with ebony, the sharps with ivory. The instrument is double-strung throughout its compass. The strings for the lowest nine courses (FF to C) are overspun (close-wound).

This clavichord is “unfretted,” which means that the metal blade, or “tangent” at the end of each key strikes its own pair of strings. The unfretted instruments are therefore larger, and more heavily built to withstand the increased string tension. The wider stringband necessitates longer key levers which are more favorably balanced and offer a more responsive touch.

Large unfretted clavichords were popular in German-speaking and Scandinavian lands in the 18th century, when the clavichord was highly prized for its sensitive response to dynamic (soft/loud) expression. Clavichord playing reached its height in the hands of J. S. Bach’s son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and his contemporaries The appeal of the clavichord’s expressiveness in Germany and Austria helped to set the stage for the piano’s rapid development in the later 18th century.

The Belle Skinner Collection
Accession No. 4945.1960