Opus 48 - Harpsichord

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    Although the shape and keyboard of the harpsichord are similar to those of the piano, the two instruments are very different from each other, with vastly different timbres. The strings of the piano are struck whereas those of the harpsichord are plucked. Each key on the harpsichord activates a jack connected to a plectrum that plucks the string.

      Harpsichord - CMC 91-2.1-11
    In the manner of J. J. Couchet 1679
    and J. Ruckers 1640
    By Yves Beaupré
    Montreal, Quebec
    Black cherry, Sitka spruce, bone, ebony, linden,
    tempera, brass
    Length: 193 cm;
    width of keyboard: 78.7 cm;
    thickness: 24.1 cm
    Inscription on nameplate: "YVES BEAUPRAE ME FECIT MONTREALAE MCMXCI" M. On the pin block,
    the instrument is signed "Y.B. no 64."

    The earliest evidence of an instrument of this type is from 1397, when a Paduan lawyer wrote that Hermann Poll claimed to have invented the clavicembalum. As of the late fifteenth century, the harpsichord is depicted in a number of paintings and described in several manuscripts, in particular that of Henri Arnault de Zwolle. The harpsichord became more widely used in Europe, acquiring a particular character in each country. Italy, Flanders, France, Germany and England all had great harpsichord makers, and numerous schools of harpsichord making coexisted until the late eighteenth century, when the instrument was supplanted by the pianoforte. This new instrument, whose strings are struck, made it possible to play with varying nuances--hence its Italian name meaning "soft-loud" in keeping with the musical tastes of the day. The harpsichord did not come back into use until the late nineteenth century, when a Parisian named Érard built the first modern harpsichord, with a quite different sound from that of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century instruments. Since 1945, there has been a return to the construction and sound of early harpsichords.

    Yves Beaupré based this harpsichord on two Flemish instruments, one by Joseph Joannes Couchet, dated 1679, the original of which is in the Smithsonian Institution, and the other by Joannes Ruckers, dated 1640, preserved at Yale University.

    Couchet was related to the Ruckers family of Antwerp, who dominated the Flemish school between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Their instruments, which influenced harpsichord makers throughout Europe, are highly regarded by contemporary instrument makers, who strive to reproduce their tone.

    This instrument has a single keyboard of fifty-two keys and two eight-foot unison registers. It is tuned to a short octave, and its range is GG/BB-d'''; a transposing keyboard allows the shift in pitch from A=415 to A=440. The soundboard, signed "Danièle Forget 1991," is decorated with a bronze rose and tempera motifs consisting of flowers, insects, parakeets and berries. Forget has added the indigenous Canadian ephemera to the insects traditionally painted on Flemish harpsichords. The decoration of the body is typical of Flemish instruments: marbling on the sides and block-printed paper on the inside of the lid.


    Yves Beaupré

    Yves Beaupré Video Excerpt
    Yves Beaupré
    Montreal, Quebec

    Yves Beaupré is a Montreal instrument maker who has established a solid reputation in the realm of early music. A graduate in harpsichord performance from the Université de Montreal, he made his first instrument on his own. Since this first experience in 1976, he has devoted himself to instrument making and now has sixty harpsichords to his credit. A Canada Council grant in 1981 enabled him to study major collections of instruments in Europe and meet master harpsichord makers.

    While Beaupré follows traditional instrument-making techniques, he prepares his own technical drawings, convinced that understanding and interpreting the principles of early harpsichord making is artistically and musically preferable to slavish copying. He has thus brought some innovations to the instruments, making them more mechanically reliable and stable. The National Arts Centre in Ottawa owns a Beaupré harpsichord, as do numerous internationally renowned professional harpsichordists.