Instruments of extreme beauty

Let us praise the harpsichord. Heavens knows it needs praising, because the poor instrument is much maligned. Thomas Hobbes described its sound as “poore, nasty, brutish and short", while Sir Thomas Beecham more famously described it as like "two skeletons copulating on a tin roof."

How unfair. The harpsichord is unique among musical instruments. Not only can it produce the most exquisite sound, but the appearance of the instrument can also be a thing of extreme beauty.

Alan Gotto has been making harpsichords near where I live in Norfolk since 1976. He came to the craft after spending some time working for an organ builder. At university he studied music, and specialised in early keyboard studies. Self-taught as a harpsichord maker, he now offers a range of five types of instruments which include spinets and virginals (which is what the photo at the head of this post actually is). Additionally there is a beautiful Gotto portative organ for coninuo players. All Alan's instruments are built to order. Completion of a comissioned instrument can usually be expected within 6 - 12 months from date of order, full details are on his web site.

Words are superflous when describing Gotto harpsichords. Instead feast your eyes on these instruments of extreme beauty:

Gilded case decoration, with landscape after Claude by Angie Maddigan.

Painted black and Venetian red, with case decorationin Renaissance Italian style. Inner case of cedar.

Black and vermilion lacquer, with chinoiseriein 18th Century French style.

And the extreme beauty is carried through to the sound. This article wasn't written because Alan Gotto asked me to. It came about because I bought The Brook Street Band's invigorating original instrument performances of the Handel Trio Sonatas, Opus 5 on Avie. I listened to this stunning CD and thought, hey - it sounds magnificent. Then I read the sleeve notes. The recording venue was Raveningham Church in Norfolk, a few miles from where I write these words, and the harpsichord was by Alan Gotto. (The chamber organ was by Goetze and Gwynn).

Instruments of extreme beauty in every way.........

If you enjoyed this post take an overgrown path to Diary for evening of 12th May 2005
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MikeZ said…
I though the Hobbes quote was about life in the Middle Ages....

Among the first records I bought was Landowska playing Bach. Every time I hear her playing the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, I get goosebumps. (And that was on that nasty old German Pleyel.)
Garth Trinkl said…
Mike, I think that Pliable is playing with us. And while I don't think it actually refers to the Middle Ages, per se, (referring instead to general anarchy) the Hobbes quote is from Book XIII of Leviathan.

Maybe Hobbes first used the line to refer to clavichord/harpsichord music, and then he liked it so much, he used it again in his treatise.
philosophia said…
Yes! Three cheers for the harpsichord. I've had the pleasure of hearing Kris Bezuidenhout play and lecture numerous times, and they have all been such wonderful experiences. He actually plays the harpsichord, fortepiano, and modern piano, and infuses such magic into his performances. It's so wonderful!
Pliable said…
MikeZ's mention of Wanda Landowska prompts me to say that it is also such a pity the harpsichord is pigeon-holed as an 'early music instrument'.

Landowska was of course the dedicatee of that magnificent 21st century work - Poulenc's Concert champetre (1927/8).

And going even further I would heartily recommend the UK band Mysterious Barracudas, who as well as being fine classical musicians include a harpsichord in their jazz line-up!

If that sounds unlikely follow this link to hear what it sounds like... (Do I feel a new post coming on?)

Any other nominations for 20/21st century harpsichord works very welcome.

I now wish I had posted this on
Sequenza21. That would have wound a few people up...

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