The Full Wiki

More info on archicembalo

archicembalo: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


]]The Archicembalo was a musical instrument constructed by Nicola Vicentino in 1555. This was a harpsichord built with many extra keys and strings, enabling experimentation in microtonality and just intonation.



The Archicembalo had two manuals, but unlike those on a normal harpsichord these two keyboards were used to provide extra pitches rather than a timbral difference. Both manuals contained all of the usual white and black keys, but in addition each black key was divided into two parts so that a distinction could be made between a sharp or flat note. The lower manual also included black keys between B and C, and between E and F. In total there were 36 keys available in any octave, each of which could be tuned to a different pitch. (manual diagram)


There were two systems of tuning the Archicembalo considered by Vicentino:

  1. The most important was the extended quarter-comma meantone temperament, which given such a wide gamut of fifths becomes almost exactly a system of 31 equal divisions of the octave (see: 31 equal temperament). This arises because after a cycle of 31 quarter-comma-tempered fifths, the 32nd pitch will be remarkably close to a pitch already existing in the system; thus five of Vicentino's 36 possibilities became practically redundant in this system. He suggested that these five be tuned instead according to the second manner described below.
  2. Vicentino offered an alternative tuning in which the upper keyboard was tuned a quarter-comma higher than the lower, allowing pure fifths by playing chords across the manuals, giving a limited system of triadic just intonation. This tuning still permits modulation to a wide range of keys, but not in a completely circular fashion as with the first tuning described above, and still only modulates by the meantone-tempered fifth, not by the pure fifth.


Vicentino used his Archicembalo to test his own theories of tuning, and realize the more obscure ancient Greek genera which had been neglected for centuries. In addition to his experiments, he found it very helpful for accompaniment of vocalists and instrumental players, as it was capable of coping with the subtle intonational differences inherent in musical practice in a way that no keyboard instrument had before.

For composers of the time, the Archicembalo made total modulatory freedom a possibility without sacrificing the purity of meantone temperament's just thirds as with 12-tone equal temperament. This was exploited by those who learned to play it, such as Luzzasco Luzzaschi. Contemporary composers had been writing vocal music in a very chromatic style for some time, but it was instruments such as the Archicembalo that permitted them to explore the instrumental possibilities of chromaticism with a purity of intonation.

Spelling and pronunciation

Vicentino named his instrument the arcicembalo (pronounced [artʃiˈtʃɛmbalo]), but in English texts it is more often spelt archicembalo (Template:PronEng), possibly confused with similarly spelled words having Greek origin, such as architect.


  • Alves, Bill, The Just Intonation System of Nicola Vicentino, 1/1: Journal of the Just Intonation Network, 5, No. 2 (Spring 1989), pp. 8–13. [1]
  • Kaufmann, Henry W., More on the Tuning of the Archicembalo, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 23, Spring 1970, pp. 84–94.

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Wikipedia has an article on:




archicembalo (plural archicembalos)

  1. (music) A form of harpsichord that had extra keys and strings



archi- +‎ cembalo


Italian Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia it

archicembalo m. (plural archicembali)

  1. (music) archicembalo


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address