5 · Harpsichord

Full Description

Italian, 18th century
By Stefano Bolcioni, Florence, 1731

Compass: four and one-half octaves: C/E to f’’’.
Length: 183.8; width: 79.7;  depth of case: 22.2 cm; octave span: 16.0 cm
One manual, 2 choirs of strings at 8’ pitch
String scale: c’’ = 24.8 cm

The reverse of the nameboard is inscribed at the bottom in large capital letters: “STEFANUS . BOLCIONIUS . PRATENSIS . M . D . C . XXX . I .” The inscription is repeated below in diminutive script preceded by the date in Arabic numerals: “1631”.  The right rear of the nameboard is inscribed in pencil: “Reparirt von Adolf Wihan 3 . 3 . 1921.  The inner case is of cypress and is devoid of ornamentation except for mouldings around the upper perimeter typical of Italian harpsichords. The outer case of poplar is painted black on the outside and is ornamented with gold arabesques. The inside of the lid is painted red with gold decoration. The instrument rests on a platform stand supported by three legs covered with carved gesso and painted to match the case. There are two choirs of strings at 8-foot pitch. The natural keys are covered with boxwood, the sharps with walnut stained black.

Like the Ridolfi harpsichord, this instrument features the Italian “inner/outer ” case arrangement. The more heavily constructed outer case is actually a piece of furniture built to house and protect the inner case of the instrument proper. In the later 17th and 18th century it was common for makers to save material and effort by abandoning this two-layered casing. Instead they favored a single heavy-sided outer case into which thin strips of cypress and mouldings were glued to the inside above the soundboard to give the appearance of an instrument nested inside an outer case.

The Italian school of harpsichord making matured early in the 17th century and represented a conservative tradition: examples from 1750 differ little from instruments made in 1650. The great majority of Italian “cembalos” were single-manual instruments with two choirs of strings at 8’ pitch; Italian harpsichords with two manuals and multiple choirs of strings are very rare.

The Albert Steinert Collection   
Accession No. 4889.1972