Harpsichord after William Smith

This harpsichord is based on the one by William Smith thought to have been made around 1725, now in the Bate Collection in Oxford. Almost nothing is known of Smith, and no other instruments by him are known to have survived. He was probably apprenticed to Benjamin Slade in 1709, and it has been suggested that he may have been primarily a spinet maker – an idea suggested by the fact that the grain of the soundboard in this instrument is set at about 47 degrees to the spine. In 1993 Michael Cole put forward the theory that the harpsichord in the famous portrait of Handel by Mercier, might be this surviving instrument, and the similarity is certainly very striking. Nothing can be proved but it certainly seems possible that Handel would have at least known this or a similar instrument.

The case, including the spine, is made of English walnut, veneered inside with maple, with decorative inlaid lines. There is a single manual with a compass of 5 octaves from GG to g''' (with the ability to transpose to either A440 or 415), naturals covered with camel bone, and 'skunk-tail' sharps. There are two 8foot registers strung in brass. The sound is full and characterful, the back register sweet and singing, and the front more pungent, and with a particularly good treble on both. Though not the chimerical “universal harpsichord”, it is nevertheless suited to a very wide range of music, perhaps reflecting that which was available in London in the early 18th century. This harpsichord is a good example of the English style in the period before that in which it came to be dominated by Kirckman and Shudi and their various imitators.


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