Clavichord

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Clavichord
Clavichord-JA Haas 007.jpg
A clavichord
Classification String

A clavichord is a musical instrument like a small keyboard. It was very popular for many years, especially in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Playing[change | edit source]

To play a note on the clavichord a key is pressed down. This makes the other end of the key (inside the instrument) comes up (like a see-saw). That end has a thin metal blade called a "tangent" which hits the string. The tangent stays on the string until the player takes his finger off the key.

Notes[change | edit source]

On some clavichords many of the strings share more than one note. For example: a C and C sharp might share the same string. The tangent of the C sharp will be slightly nearer the bridge than that of the C. This is the part of the string that vibrates. So C and C sharp could not be played together. Clavichords like these were called “fretted”. If each string had its own note it was called “unfretted”. A fretted clavichord was smaller and cheaper to make as fewer strings were needed.

On a piano, once a note has been played, the sound cannot be changed any more. All the player can do is hold it down and allow the note to fade in sound. On a clavichord, the player can shake the key up and down and this will make the tangent push the string up and down a little, making it tighter or looser. This was called “Bebung” in German. It is like vibrato on a string instrument.

Sound[change | edit source]

The clavichord is a very quiet instrument. It was not suitable for playing with other instruments because it was so quiet. But it sounds very beautiful in slow, expressive music. It was used as a practice instrument by harpsichord players, or by organists who wanted to practise at home instead of in a (often very cold) church. They were so small that they could be lifted up and put on a table. They could be put one on top of another so that an organist could practise music written for a two-manual organ. Sometimes they even had pedals for organists to practise their pedalling.

Uses[change | edit source]

Many German composers like Johann Sebastian Bach wrote music for the “Clavier”. This meant any keyboard instrument: harpsichord, clavichord or organ. The player could choose which they wanted to use.

When the piano suddenly became popular – in the 1760s and 1770s – people started to forget about harpsichords and clavichords. Today a few people make harpsichords and clavichords again so that people can play Renaissance and Baroque music - the music from when the clavichord was popular.

Other websites[change | edit source]

Media related to Clavichords at Wikimedia Commons