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Contemporary harpsichord: Wikis


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Contemporary harpsichord refers to the use of the musical instrument the harpsichord in the 20th century. The instrument was successfully revived thanks to pioneers such as Wanda Landowska.



The harpsichord had fallen out of popularity during the mid 18th century in favour of the fortepiano and keyboard.[1] In the 20th century it was revived and composers once again began writing for harpsichord.

Significant composers wrote for the harpsichord in the 20th century including Manuel de Falla, Francis Poulenc (Concert champĂȘtre), Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Louis Andriessen and Iannis Xenakis. It is probably the works of Gyorgy Ligeti that are the most frequently performed pieces of contemporary harpsichord literature. His composition Continuum in 1968 was a groundbreaking piece in terms of a new technique of playing.

Revival style harpsichords were produced mainly by the Pleyel et Cie company at the request of Landowska, who instructed them to add a 16' stop in 1912[2] and to make them less fragile when moving, so they were cast in iron or steel. Generally these instruments are no longer considered popular as they are considered unauthentic and weigh considerably more than historical copies.

Frank Hubbard, in "Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making" dismisses them on the ground of their acoustic inferiority to instruments built according to the ancient techniques, as well as to the overall absence of 16' stops in most antique instruments.

Popular culture

The harpsichord also had a significant career in popular music. Its first appearance in jazz music happened around 1940, when pianist Johnny Guarnieri was asked to play a harpsichord in Artie Shaw's quintet "Gramercy Five".[3] The band recorded eight tracks between 1940 and 1945, which were reissued in 1990 (The Complete Gramercy Sessions).

In the 1960s and 1970s, the harpsichord was used by groups including The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Monkees, The Partridge Family, The Mamas & the Papas, and Simon & Garfunkel. Other artists since these decades to have used harpsichord include Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Bjork, The Arcade Fire, The Stranglers, and hip-hop band Cypress Hill.

The harpsichord returned to the popular vernacular in large part because of the television show The Addams Family, which included numerous references to the instrument thanks to the character of Lurch who was frequently seen and heard playing the harpsichord. Other films that include harpsichord include the 1960s Miss Marple films featuring Margaret Rutherford and cult show The Prisoner in the episode "Dance of the Dead". Also, the harpsichord could be heard in accompaniment to the Oompa-Loompas in the hit 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.


Notable performers who are involved in playing contemporary music for harpsichord include Wanda Landowska,Elisabeth Chojnacka, Elaine Funaro, Vivienne Spiteri, Christopher D. Lewis and Jane Chapman

See also


  1. ^ "Harpsichord History". Retrieved 2009-04-13.  
  2. ^ Richard, J.A. (1979). "The Pleyel Harpsichord". The British Harpsichord Society. Retrieved 2009-04-13.  
  3. ^ Berindei, Mihai (1976). Jazz Dictionary, Scientific and Encyclopedic Publishing House, Bucharest, p. 115


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