The instruments


            But why build four instruments?  Like any process involving measurement, the process of determining the unit of measurement of an anonymous instrument involves a certain amount of error.  The unit of measurement determined for any given instrument is therefore never completely accurate and there is usually a small amount of difference between the ‘text book’ value of the unit found from the unit of measurement database and the unit determined by measuring the baseboard and then making the necessary calculations.  The question then is:  “How much should we expect this error to be?”.  This turns out to be a very difficult question to answer.  One way to answer the question, however, would be to build four identical instruments and see how much difference there was between them, and how different the unit of measurement calculated from these four instruments was from the actual unit of measurement used to build them.  Building only one instrument would not help very much to answer the question.  Statistically the confidence in the measurements goes up and the error goes down in proportion to the square root of the number of instruments made.  Making four instruments reduces the error by half, 9 instruments by one third, 16 instruments by one quarter, etc.  A pragmatic decision was made to make only four instruments!  In so doing the error in our results was reduced by a half and the confidence in our results was doubled over making just one instrument.

            The new instruments, like the instruments built in the seventeenth century, have a very simple musical disposition with just two choirs of strings at 8' pitch.  The compass was increased from 45 notes to 51 notes to give a compass of C to d3 in order to be able to play a good part of the eighteenth-century literature.  In the historical period many makers, including Guarracino, made instruments in which there was a separate light-cased instrument inside a heavy outer case (cassa levatoia).  But these makers also made instruments in which the appearance of a separate inner instrument in an outer case was imitated but where, in fact, there was only a single heavy cased instrument with the features of an inner instrument faked up inside it (cassa falsa levatoia).  We decided, for variety, to make two of each type of instrument.

            The cases of three of these instruments have been beautifully decorated by Stefano Pessione, an artist in Rome, and the fourth, has been decorated by Silvia Morsiani (the sister-in-law of Graziano Bandini) from Imola.  This decoration has all been hand painted and draws its inspiration from various Neapolitan themes and particularly that of Parthenope.  One of the instruments has a painting inside the lid showing Parthenope leading a group of mythological figures including Sebete the god of the river that flows under Naples into the Bay of Naples, and Dionysus and Ceres (Bacchus and Demeter) the God and Goddess of the harvest.  This painting has been done in oil with the care and attention given to the finest oil paintings.

            Two of the instruments have elaborate stands and music desks and two have somewhat less intricate stands and music desks as a slightly less expensive option.  The elaborate music desks are even decorated at their top with a small rosette of ebony and bone which has a diameter of exactly one Neapolitan oncia.  But all of the instruments have beautiful and intricate decoration built into the instruments themselves.  The soundboards have an elaborate rosette made of extremely thin layers of cypress wood and parchment.  The thin layers of wood of these rosettes are pierced and cut layer by layer and have an appearance similar to a Gothic church window.  Three of these wooden layers are glued to the underside of the soundboard and the parchment layers are glued to the top.  The whole is finished off on top of the parchment circles with two turned rings of pear wood to give it a rich and ornate appearance of highly sophisticated workmanship.  In addition the whole of the inside of the instrument is decorated with numerous cypress mouldings carefully mitred together.  The top cap moulding has a fine strip of contrasting ebony down its middle.  The jackrail is also elaborately decorated with mouldings.  There are ornate sawn scrolls in the keywell made of a sandwich of cypress and ebony and the ‘nameboard’ above the keys is richly ornamented with mouldings.  The keys themselves are also highly decorated:  the sharps are topped with delicate veneers and the naturals are decorated with arcaded fronts.  In fact almost all aspects of the instrument are decorated in some way and wherever possible in the Neapolitan style and taste.

            Many different kinds of wood have been used in the construction of these instruments.  Perhaps the most important is the fine, straight-grained spruce from the Foresta di Panaveggio in the Dolomites used for the soundboard.  In addition knot-free cypress has been used extensively along with walnut, lime, poplar, abete rosso, boxwood, ebony, service, pear and beech.  The keyboards also use bone and re-cycled ivory for their decoration.  The correct treatment of each of these different woods and materials requires extensive experience and skill.  For example, in accordance with the historical tradition only hot glue made from animal hide and bones was used to glue the various structural parts of the instrument together.  Also in accordance with historical tradition all of the hardware - the hinges, locks, keys and hasps - was hand made in the time-honoured way.  One of the instruments was even quilled with plectra (which pluck the strings) using raven feathers.  Two special levers, used to insert and dis-insert the registers, were made imitating the double tail of the siren Parthenope, perhaps the most important symbol and icon of Naples after Vesuvius.  Even the stick used to hold the lid open is decorated with mouldings and intarsia, and was also made using simple measurements based on the Neapolitan oncia.


Click here for a complete description of the design and construction of these harpsichords


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