German Double Harpsichord

The German double is based on one made by Johann Heinrich Harrass around 1710, now in the Schloss Museum in Sondershausen, Thuringia. Of the two surviving Harrass harpsichords I chose this one rather than the one in Berlin as the latter has been much altered over the years so that it is not possible to determine what its original disposition was. On the other hand the Berlin instrument is thought to have belonged to J S Bach, and to have been given by him to his son Wilhelm Friedemann. Harrass worked in Gross Breitenbach, south of Weimar, but may have learnt his trade elsewhere because the instrument contains a very interesting amalgam of styles and practices. The very sturdily built and braced case shows the influence of Italian makers (like other German instruments) but also has some of the characteristics of the Flemish school. The disposition is two 8 foot choirs, one 4 foot, with a shove coupler typical of the later French expressive doubles, and this arrangement together with the five octave compass (FF to f''') make it a surpringly modern instrument for its date. There is also a buff stop on the front 8 foot. At 8 feet long it is also among the larger harpsichords.

The sound is very big and rich as befits such a generously proportioned instrument. The treble is very flutey and sweet, and the 4 foot would sound good as a solo stop right to the top of the compass. The bass is rich and well focussed and throughout the compass the tone has strong fundamentals but with much more bite than would be expected on a French double. It is strung with Malcolm Rose brass wire and Stephen Birkett's P-wire, and quilled in goose. It is transposable to A440 or A415.

The case is made of English walnut (the original was beech) and the keyboard has ebony naturals and bone-topped hawthorn sharps. The stand (which can be dismantled) is the same design as the one I made for the Mietke single but the extra length of the case means that the rococo stretchers flow a bit better. I have also put some finials on the crossings – rather reminiscent of a Pickelhauber I think.

This harpsichord was recently used by Mahan Esfahani for his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations (DG 0289 479 5929 8) although, strangely, there is no picture of it in the CD booklet though there are pictures of other harpsichords.


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