The fretted clavichord


Fretted Clavichord, Nürnberg or Leipzig, c1540;
Museum für Musikinstrumente der Universität Leipzig

This early clavichord visibly reveals the advantages of the fretted clavichord. The instrument required a reduced number of strings compared to the compass and allowed tuning within a short time. The space required  was small, the instrument easily movable and could be placed on any available table.


music sample:
Matthias Greiter (1495-1550) "Verschütt´ hab ich das Habermus" (excerpt)
(tablature of Clemens Hör)
played by René Clemencic
Instrument: Peter Kukelka, copy of a fretted clavichord c1540

Fretted clavichords belong to the oldesty keyboard instruments in playable condition. The basic construction is comparatively simple, the single elements rather solid and resilient and the instrument as a whole very economic in keeping and tuning. Since certain notes usually not played simultaneously (like c and c sharp or b and b flat) used the same strings the tuning effort was shortened and the instruments could be kept small and light to help their small volume.

These instruments were ideally suited for private domestic music-making and practising. So soft as to not disturbing the surroundings the direct touch allowed a very sensitive control. But the clavichord also was a demanding instrument: If the touch was too hard the strings were raised in pitch and the resulting howling and wailing admonished the player to further exercise the touch.

But even within the 16th century a more public approach to keyboard music for dance and entertainment, accompaniment of singers and instrumentalists caused a decline of the clavichord in some countries. Its reduced volume could by no means enhanced loud enough to fill even a smaller hall.

Therefore the instrument was hardly in use after about 1550 to 1650 in western European countries like France and England or later in Italy or Spain, despite the name often used later for any small keyboard instrument. The instrument was, however, in frequent use in Germany, Scandinavia and the baltic countries up to the early 19th century.


© Greifenberger Institut für Musikinstrumentenkunde |