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History of Harmony

In the words of British composer Thomas Beckman the harpsichord is, “The sound of harmony in composition.” At onetime or another most everyone has heard the piano, not so with the harpsichord. In comparison with the piano hardly anyone has heard the harpsichord or could recognize it. A question begins to form—what role did the piano orchestrate in the curtain call of the once popular harpsichord?To begin, a harpsichord is an early keyboard instrument that vaguely resembles a piano—the resemblance between the two ends there. Instead of having one keyboard like a piano the harpsichord has keys in rows called manuals. There can be one to three manuals; usage is dictated by the music. Smaller harpsichord variants, like virginals and spinets usually had one manual, while Flemish, German, French, and English harpsichords had two or more. It was only in Italy that many harpsichords had three manuals. This aberration may have had something to do with the composition and style of dance and opera.The harpsichord dates back to the sixteenth century and the way it produces sound is even older. A harpsichord makes music by plucking a string; rather like a harp. Traditionally on the end of each key sat a crow, raven, or dove quill called a plectrum. In the end of this plectrum is a wooden stick, which sits on the end of the key. When the key is depressed the wooden stick, called a jack, pushes upward causing the plectrum to pluck the string. In this way it is almost like plucking a harp string or the guitarist’s finger strumming. In marked contrast to the more percussive action of the piano. Music coming from the harpsichord is usually bright and sharp. The main disadvantage of the harpsichord that makes it so difficult to play is the inability to vary the sound or dynamic. There is a way to make it seem as thought the sound is varied. This hard-to-achieve skill requires the Harpsichordist to use mult...

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