8 · Harpsichord

Full Description

Flemish, 17th century
By Andreas Ruckers, Antwerp, 1640

Compass: four octaves, plus two notes: C to d’’’
Length 181.3 cm; width 70.7 cm; depth of case 24.1 cm; octave span 16.0 cm
One manual and two choirs of strings, one at 8’ pitch, the other at 4’ pitch
String scale: c’’ =  33.2 cm

The name batten bears the painted inscription: ANDREAS RUCKERS · ME · FE- CIT · ANTWERPAE. The instrument is decorated in the characteristic Flemish manner. The outside of the case and lid are painted in panels of subdued colors. The inside of the lid is covered with light green printed moiré paper surrounded by block-printed bands of black and white arabesque pattern. The main section of the lid bears the Latin motto: “1640 MUSICA COMES LAETITIAE MEDICINA DOLORUM” (Music is the comrade of joy and medicine for sorrows); the motto on the inside of the front flap reads: “CONCORDIA MUSIS AMICA“ (Harmony is friend to the muses).  The soundboard is painted in a rustic style with birds and flowers, and features a cast metal rose surrounded by a painted wreath supported by angels.  [Restored to playing condition.]

The keyboard was extended around the turn of the 18th century from its original range of C/E to c’’’ by the addition of six notes yielding a fully chromatic present compass of C to d’’’. Such updating of older instruments was known  as “ravalement,” and indicates a preference by later musicians for older Flemish instruments. This parallels the modern predilection for Italian violin-family instruments from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  Note the thicker case walls of these Northern school instruments as compared with the much thinner inner cases of the Italian harpsichords and spinets. Also noteworthy is the difference in timbre—the longer string scale of the northern instruments produces a more sustained sound.

This instrument is an excellently preserved example of the Flemish school of harpsichord-making at its height in the middle of the 17th century. Andreas Ruckers the Elder was a prolific maker; well over a hundred instruments bearing his name survive today.

The Belle Skinner Collection                            
Accession No. 4878.1960

Musical Example:

Adam Pearl performing Courante from Suite VI in C major (Lievre de 1656), by Johann Jakob Froberger (ca.1616-1667)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 7 November 2010