The harpsichord of Hades

I have discovered the worst harpsichord in Britain. Well, the worst I’ve had the opportunity to play so far. I was spoiled as an undergraduate to have access to a Rubio (a copy, apparently, of Blanchet’s 1733 Chateau de Thoiry harpsichord). This one is not in quite the same league.

Here is a recording of me playing Bach’s sublime G minor Sinfonia, BWV 797, on my piano.

And the same piece on the harpsichord.

I won’t name the owner or location of this instrument, for reasons of respect, though perhaps someone will recognise it. One ought to feel some pity that a presumably once playable instrument now sounds like something John Cage knocked together, but I have a suspicion that this harpsichord was never of the first rank. It is sad that it has been so neglected, but I’m sure I’m not alone in finding beauty even in out-of-tuneness.


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5 Responses to “The harpsichord of Hades”

  1. Evie Says:

    There is something in the harpsichord version…gives the piece a melancholic edge – Bach with dissonance! Or maybe just that Bach’s genius is indestructible.

  2. Cross Eyed Pianist Says:

    Interesting….. It reminds me of my sixth form days when I played harpsichord for the school baroque group. The school harpsichord had been constructed from a kit – a kind of Airfix Harpsichord! – and was always going wrong: broken strings, etc. It was a very quirky and temperamental instrument. I have not touched one since.

  3. Gareth Says:

    E/V, I’m sure you’re right about Bach being indestructible. Of course, instruments in his time used different temperaments from the ones we are used to, but I don’t think they were quite as radical as in this specimen.

    Fran, playing a good harpsichord can be a thrilling experience. There was a spinet in my grandparents’ house when I was small, and I used to look forward to playing it when we went to visit them during the holidays. I’d like to become proficient at playing a wide range of keyboard instruments apart from the piano, but finding them is the problem.

  4. Cross Eyed Pianist Says:

    Have you been to Finchcocks? ( I believe they have open days where you can go and have a proper tinkle, so to speak!

    I revised my feelings about the harpsichord when I heard Mahan Esfahani play the Goldbergs at the Proms (at Cadogan Hall). He made both music and instrument sound contemporary, sexy and exciting. Proof of Bach’s enduring appeal.

  5. Gareth Says:

    I haven’t, but it looks exciting, thank you!

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