4 · Spinetta

Full Description

Italian, 17th century
By Francesco Poggio, Florence, 1620

Compass: five octaves, plus five notes: C/E to f’’’
Length: 156.5; width: 39.7;  depth of case:20 cm; octave span: 16.5 cm
String scale: c’’ = 34.3 cm

The reverse of the nameboard is inscribed in ink: “franco poggio 1620“. The pentagonal inner case and soundboard are made of thin cypress. The case is devoid of ornamentation save for the fine moldings studded with ivory that adorn its top perimeter, the jack rail, and the keyboard cheek pieces. The soundboard has an exquisite tiered rose of carved wood and parchment. The outer case and lid are of thicker softwood, covered in rose-colored velvet, and the inside of the lid is brightly painted in tempera—two angels in “grotesque” style flank a central coat-of-arms. The natural keys are covered with boxwood, the sharps with walnut stained black.  [Restored to playing condition.]

This Italian spinet is among the 14 instruments here on display that have a plucking mechanism, or “jack action.” The group includes harpsichords and virginals as well as spinets. The sound of all of these plucked-string keyboard instruments is characterized by an incisive attack or “ictus” as the plectrum plucks the string, followed by a more or less rapid decay of the sustained tone.

The terms “spinet” ( Fr. “épinette,” Ger. “Spinett”) and “virginal” were often used indiscriminately in the past to denote rectangular or polygonal key- board instruments with a jack action in which the strings run perpendicular to the extension of the key levers in contrast to the wing-shaped harpsichord (It., “cembalo,” Fr.,  “clavecin,” Ger., “Kielflügel,”) in which the strings run parallel to the extension of the keys. Spinets and virginals invariably have just one set, or “choir ” of strings—that is, there is a single string for each note of the compass. In their day, these single-strung spinets and virginals were more numerous than the larger, more expensive harpsichords.

The Albert Steinert Collection                                    
Accession No. 4892.1972

Musical Example:

Ilya Poletaev performing Toccata I from Il Primo Libro de Toccate, by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 16 October 2004