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[Fr. clavier; Ger. Klaviatur; It. tastiera; Sp. teclado]. The whole set of levers in pianos, organs, harpsichords, clavichords, and similar instruments that actuate the tone-producing mechanism. Each octave consists of seven natural and five chromatic keys, arranged as in the accompanying figure. The intervals between the natural keys are whole tones except for the semitone steps E-F and B-C, where no chromatic key intervenes. The interval between any natural key and an adjacent chromatic key is a semitone.

This arrangement of keys dates from the early 15 th century and has survived various attempts at reform through adoption of a truly chromatic keyboard on which all scales beginning on either the lower or upper keys would have the same fingering. In Western tonal music, the primacy of the C-major scale, played entirely on the lower keys, must derive in some measure from the traditional keyboard design. The lower keys on the modem piano and organ are invariably made of ivory or white plastic, and the upper keys or sharps of ebony or black plastic. On many types of older keyboard instruments, however, the color scheme was the reverse, with dark-colored naturals and light-colored chromatic keys.

The earliest keyboards were sets of levers played bythe bands rather than the fingers. Until the 13th century, the diatonic keyboard with a compass of two octaves or less usually had only one chromatic note, Bb, often treated as a diatonic lower key. By 1400, the keyboard had become fully chromatic, with five raised keys in each octave, and had an expanded compass. The Robertsbridge Codex (ca. 1360), which contains the earliest surviving keyboard music, calls for a range of two octaves and a third, c to e", chromatic from f. Typical early 15th-century keyboards are shown in the instrument designs of Henri Amaut de Zwolle (ca. 1440). They include an organ manual (compass B to f”), a harpsichord and dulce melos (compass B to a"), and a clavichord (compass B to c'"). Later in the 15th century, a compass of F to a", often without the low F# and G# and the top g#, became widespread. By the addition of a single key, apparent E but sounding C, at the bass end and by the use of the low F# and G# keys for D and E, respectively, the C/E short octave in the bass was created, an arrangement that persisted into the 18th century. The upper limit was soon extended from a" to d" and, in the case of many Italian stringed keyboard instruments, even to In practice, the actual pitch of these Italian top notes may not have been any higher than those on other instruments extending only to c".

In the course of the late 17th century, the harpsichord compass first grew toward the bass, down to G1 and F1, and then inched its way from c" to f"". But only the largest clavichords could be extended down to the late 18th-century standard keyboard compass of five octaves (F1 to f'"). The early piano soon reached the full five-octave compass, expanding it to c"" in the 1790s. By 1810 it was six octaves (F1 to f"" in Vienna, C1 to c"" in London), and shortly afterward six and one-half octaves (C1 to f""), the compass of Beethoven’s last sonatas and Chopin’s works. By mid-century, the seven-octave compass A2 to a'"' had become common. The final three keys of today’s standard A2-to-c"" 88-note piano keyboard were added after ca. 1870.

Although the range of the organ, with its stops at various pitches, was far greater than that of any stringed keyboard instrument, the European organ manual keyboard kept to a relatively narrow compass, gradually expanding in the 18th century from four octaves with bass short octave (C/E to c"'), first filling in the missing bass notes, then gradually adding treble notes, and finally reaching today’s standard manual compass of five octaves, C to c"". By the 18th century, Continental organ pedal keyboards had expanded from the original eight-note compass, C to B with Bb (as on the late 14th-century Norrlanda organ), to their present 27- to 30-note range (C to d' or C to f), sometimes even expanded to 32 notes (C to g') in the 20th century. English organs, however, did not begin to acquire pedal keyboards until the mid-18th century, and they were not widespread until the 19th. In the interim, instruments lacking pedal bass notes often compensated by extending the manual compass below C to G1.

Experimental keyboards have been designed with six lower keys (C#, D#, F, G, A, and B) and six raised keys (C, D, E, F#, G#, and A#) per octave to permit the use of identical fingerings in every tonality. Invented and then improved during the 19th century (most notably by Paul von Janko), they have never succeeded in displacing the standard type. Radiating keyboards in a fanlike shape (Clutsam, 1907, based on a Viennese design of 1824), intended to facilitate playing extreme bass and treble keys, have not gained favor either except on organ pedalboards of the modem type.

Chopin - Nocturne 20



[Eng., Ger., It., Sp.; Fr. celesta].

The celesta /sᵻˈlɛstə/ or celeste /sᵻˈlɛst/ is a struck idiophone operated by a keyboard. It looks similar to an upright piano (four- or five-octave), albeit with smaller keys and a much smaller sized cabinet, or a large wooden music box (three-octave). The keys connect to hammers that strike a graduated set of metal (usually steel) plates or bars suspended over wooden resonators. Four- or five-octave models usually have a damper pedal that sustains or damps the sound. The three-octave instruments do not have a pedal because of their small "table-top" design.

The sound of the celesta is similar to that of the glockenspiel, but with a much softer and more subtle timbre. This quality gave the instrument its name, celeste meaning "heavenly" in French. The celesta is often used to enhance a melody line played by another instrument or section. The delicate, bell-like sound is not loud enough to be used in full ensemble sections; as well, the celesta is rarely given standalone solos.

The celesta is a transposing instrument; it sounds one octave higher than the written pitch. Its (four-octave) sounding range is generally considered to be C4 to C8. The original French instrument had a five-octave range, but because the lowest octave was considered somewhat unsatisfactory, it was omitted from later models. The standard French four-octave instrument is now gradually being replaced in symphony orchestras by a larger, five-octave German model. Although it is a member of the percussion family, in orchestral terms it is more properly considered a member of the keyboard section and usually played by a keyboardist. The celesta part is normally written on two braced staves, called a grand staff.


The celesta was invented in 1886 by Parisian harmonium builder Auguste Mustel. His father, Victor Mustel, had developed the forerunner of the celesta, the typophone, in 1860. This instrument produced sound by striking tuning forks instead of the metal plates that would be used in the celesta. The dulcitone functioned identically to the typophone and was developed concurrently in Scotland; it is unclear whether their creators were aware of one another's instrument. The typophone/dulcitone's uses were limited by its low volume, too quiet to be heard in a full orchestra.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky is usually cited as the first major composer to use this instrument in a work for full symphony orchestra. He first used it in his symphonic poem The Voyevoda, Op. posth. 78, premiered in November 1891. The following year, he used the celesta in passages in his ballet The Nutcracker (Op. 71, 1892), most notably in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, which also appears in the derived Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a. However, Ernest Chausson preceded Tchaikovsky by employing the celesta in December 1888 in his incidental music, written for a small orchestra, for La tempête (a French translation by Maurice Bouchor of Shakespeare's The Tempest).

The celesta is also notably used in Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6, particularly in the 1st, 2nd and 4th movements, in his Symphony No.8 and Das Lied von der Erde. Karol Szymanowski featured it in his Symphony No. 3. Gustav Holst employed the instrument in his 1918 orchestral work The Planets, particularly in the final movement, Neptune, the Mystic. It also features prominently in Béla Bartók's 1936 Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. George Gershwin included a celesta solo in the score to An American in Paris. Ferde Grofe also wrote an extended cadenza for the instrument in the third movement of his Grand Canyon Suite. Dmitri Shostakovich included parts for celesta in seven out of his fifteen symphonies, with a notable use in the fourth symphony's coda.

20th Century American composer Morton Feldman used the celesta in many of his large-scale chamber pieces such as Crippled Symmetry and For Philip Guston, and it figured in much of his orchestral music and other pieces as well. In some works, such as "Five Pianos" one of the players doubles on celesta.

The celesta is used in many 20th century opera scores, including Puccini's Tosca (1900), Ravel's L'heure espagnole (1911) Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), and Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), while "an excellent example of its beauty when well employed", is the Silver Rose scene in his Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Busoni's Arlecchino (1917) and Doktor Faust (1925), Orff's Carmina Burana (1936) and Der Mond (1939), Menotti's Amelia Goes to the Ball (1937), Britten's The Turn of the Screw (1954), and Philip Glass' Akhnaten (1984).

The keyboard glockenspiel part in Mozart's The Magic Flute is nowadays often played by a celesta. Among the best-known works of the orchestral repertory making use of the celesta are the “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936). 

Béla Bartók - Music for strings, percussion and celesta 



Harpsichord [Fr. clavecin; Ger. Cembalo, Kielfliigel, Clavicimbel; It. clavicembalo; Sp. clavicembalo, clavecin], A stringed keyboard instrument in use from the 15 th through 18th century and revived since the 1880s.


I. Construction. The harpsichord is similar in shape to the modem grand piano, the strings being roughly parallel to the long side of the case. Each string is plucked by a quill plectrum mounted in the pivoted tongue of a fork-shaped jack that stands at the rear end of the key lever. Depressing the key raises the jack until the horizontally projecting plectrum plucks the string. When the key is released, the contact of the descending plectrum with the string causes the tongue to rotate backward on its pivot. As the jack continues to fall, the plectrum is tilted upward and back until its point passes below the string. A spring (of boar bristle, brass wire, or plastic) mounted at the rear of the jack then returns the tongue to its original position, so that the jack is again ready to pluck. A cloth damper is inserted into a slot sawed in one tine of the forked jack, its bottom edge just above the level of the plectrum. When the key is at rest, the damper touches the string, but the slightest depression of the key raises the damper, leaving the string free to vibrate. Thus a harpsichord string, like an organ pipe, can continue sounding only so long as the player holds a key down.

Each rank of jacks is carried in a pair of mortised battens mounted vertically over one another. The lower batten or guide is fixed, but the upper slide or register is movable, usually by means of stop levers located above the keyboard(s) or at the sides of the wrestplank. Some harpsichords, particularly Italian models, have so-called box slides, combining lower guide and slide in one assembly that moves integrally. In many Flemish harpsichords, registers extending through the cheekpiece can be moved in or out directly. Thus each rank of jacks can be moved slightly toward or away from its choir of strings, engaging or disengaging the plectra. In this way, stops or ranks of jacks can be silenced or added to the ensemble.

The typical 18th-century harpsichord of northern Europe has three choirs of strings, two tuned to 8' pitch and one an octave higher at 4' pitch. (Very rarely in late German harpsichords, a fourth choir at 16' might be added.) Such a harpsichord ordinarily has three ranks of jacks, one for each choir. Frequently there are two keyboards, the upper sounding one 8' stop and the lower the other 8' stop and the 4' stop. The upper manual normally can be coupled to the lower, making all three stops available from the latter.

Three choirs of strings are used singly or in various combinations to provide variations in loudness and timbre. The more nasal sound of a string plucked near one end is noticeable in the upper manual or front 8' stop of the typical harpsichord. It contrasts with the darker sound of the center-plucked lower manual or back 8'. Sometimes an alternative rank of jacks plucks the upper manual choir of 8' strings at its extreme end
to produce an even more nasal timbre (lute stop). Buff leather pads mounted on a sliding batten can be used to damp one choir of 8' strings partially to give a harplike effect (buff stop).

The virginal is a relatively small harpsichord with a case that is rectangular or, if the acoustically inessential rear comers are eliminated, in the form of an irregular polygon. It has a single set of strings mnning roughly perpendicular to the key levers. Other forms are the spinet and the clavicytherium, which is upright. See also Arpicordo, Lute harpsichord, and Pedal harpsichord.

During the first years of the harpsichord’s modem revival, there was a tendency to employ concepts of design and aesthetic more germane to the piano or organ than to the harpsichord itself. Thus many revival harpsichords did not resemble their antique prototypes in the most essential details. The capacity of the harpsichord to vary timbre was exploited more fully than in earlier centuries, and for many years nearly all harpsichords heard in concert halls were provided with pedals to change the stops. The 16' stop was for years almost universally fitted to concert instruments, despite the fact that historically it was found only in Germany during the 18th century, and even there only occasionally. Such modernized instruments were of far heavier construction than the early ones, with longer treble strings and shorter bass strings, the latter often overspun like those of the piano. Plectra were of leather instead of the quill almost invariably used in earlier times. All these changes tended to produce a more sustained, but not necessarily stronger tone of less harmonic complexity than is typical of antique instalments.

Since about 1950, makers have increasingly returned to historical principles of construction. Almost all harpsichords now being made closely resemble those for which Renaissance and Baroque keyboard music was composed. Such instruments are almost invariably preferred because they enable the player to solve many of the performance problems that seemed insurmountable to harpsichordists of the first half of the 20th century. Except in some contemporary works composed expressly for it, the modem harpsichord has been effectively replaced by reproductions of antique instruments used in the performance of the historical repertory.

Throughout the Baroque period, the harpsichord was the chief instmment for the realization of thor-oughbass accompaniment, almost always in chamber music and occasionally in church music, where it replaced the organ. Its ability to blend with other instruments while providing a slight rhythmic impulse at the moment of ictus makes it unsurpassed for the purpose. Although the harpsichord cannot produce significant dynamic gradations of sound by lighter or heavier touch, this limitation is not felt as such in the context of Baroque style. For contrapuntal music it is definitely superior to the modem piano, since the middle and lower parts of a composition stand out with clarity.

II. History. Although the early history of the harpsichord is obscure, the preponderance of evidence about the instmment before 1500 suggests that its early development took place mainly north of the Alps. The first harpsichords were probably made near the end of the 14th century. A document of 1397 refers to Hermann Poll, a Viennese scholar, as the inventor of the clavicembalum, but he might have developed just a particular improved form of the instrument. A drawing of the harpsichord in plan view and several suggested mechanisms for jacks with a discussion of their operation are contained in the mid-15th-century manuscript of Henri Arnaut de Zwolle, a member of the retinue of the Duke of Burgundy. Other 15th-century representations are French, German, English, Istrian, Spanish, and Swedish in origin (Bowles, 1977), and another description was written about 1460 by Paulus Paulirinus of Prague. The earliest surviving harpsichord is a south German upright instmment (clavicy-therium) datable to the end of the 15th century, in the Royal College of Music in London. The light construction of this instrument anticipates features seen in 16th-century harpsichords throughout Europe.

By the early 16th century there was a distinct school of harpsichord making in Italy. The oldest surviving Italian harpsichord, at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, was made in Tuscany and signed by its maker, Vincentius, on 18 September 1515. In their style of construction Italian harpsichords from this date until late in the 18th century generally resemble Vincentius’s instmment very closely. Their constmction was very light, of unfinished cypress or maple ornamented by elegant moldings. The elongated and deeply incurved harpsichords were enclosed in outer boxes ornamented in the prevailing fashion. In the 16th century, large harpsichords usually had a compass of four and a half octaves, C to f"', with a short octave in the bass, and two stops, one at 8' and one at 4' pitch. Some of these might have been tuned about a fourth below modem pitch. Smaller harpsichords often had a C (short octave) to c'" compass and a single set of strings at normal 8' pitch. After about 1600, Italian harpsichords were usually made with two 8' stops, and most earlier instruments were altered to have this disposition. The lack of development of the Italian type of harpsichord, almost invariably with only a single manual, can perhaps be explained by the Italian emphasis on its role as a continuo instrument. The transparent but rhythmically emphatic tone of the Italian instrument, with its two 8' stops sounding together, could hardly be improved in this context.

North of the Alps, a harpsichord of 1537 by Hans Muller of Leipzig (now in Rome) and two virginals made in Antwerp by Joes Rarest in 1548 and 1550 (now in Brussels and Rome), lightly constructed and decorated with moldings, are similar in style to the 15th-century upright harpsichord in London and to Italian instruments. The Muller harpsichord, however, has three stops, which provide a great variety of tone color, including the nasal sound of strings plucked close to their ends. In Antwerp, which by the 1540s was the major northern European center of harpsichord making, a new style of harpsichord was developed between about 1565 and 1580. Much heavier in construction than earlier instruments, this Flemish type, produced in Antwerp by four generations of the Ruckers family from 1579 to about 1680, subsequently influenced harpsichord making throughout most of northern Europe. Ruckers harpsichords were invariably made with two stops, one 8' and one 4'; there was also a buff stop to modify the 8' strings, and this was divided so it could be used separately in the bass or treble. Single-manual instruments usually had a compass of C (short octave) to c'". Two-manual harpsichords were also made, but the second keyboard, which duplicated the resources of the first, sounded a fourth lower in pitch and was merely a transposition device.

The Flemish school exerted a strong influence on the development of indigenous traditions of harpsichord making in Germany, England, and France. Instruments from Antwerp were enlarged and rebuilt, in France especially, throughout the 18th century.

The true two-manual harpsichord, in which the two keyboards could be used simultaneously or in rapid alternation, was developed in France about 1640. The lower keyboard had the traditional 8' and 4' stops, while the upper had a single 8'. There was also a coupler to make the upper 8' stop playable on the lower keyboard, so that all three stops could sound together. English and Flemish makers of the 18th century commonly provided their upper manuals with a close-plucking nasal register (lute stop). German makers sometimes included a 16' stop on the lower manual and a nasal on the upper. Late 18th-century expressive devices included the French peau de buffle, a very soft 8' stop resembling the sound of the early piano, and on English harpsichords, machine stops activated by pedals for instant wholesale registration changes and swell mechanisms that opened louvered shutters over the strings or raised a flap of the lid of a half-closed harpsichord. Attempts were even made to combine the piano and harpsichord in one instrument. But all these devices could not prevent the harpsichord’s gradual displacement by the piano in the late 18th century. Continued references to cembalo, as in the autograph scores of Mozart’s piano concertos or on the original editions of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, are only evidence of conventional usage rather than of musical practice. In the latter case, publishers’ marketing strategies may also have played a part.

Domenico Scarlatti - Harpsichord sonatas

Vermeer. The Music Lesson

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