Harpsichord after an anonymous Italian model 1694, by Johannes Secker 1983 – used for Lamentation for King Ferdinand III, Suite in C minor by Froberger, Sonatas in A major and C major by Scarlatti, Prelude and Fugue in A minor by J.S. Bach, O Mistris Myne by Byrd, Sonata by Arne.
The very conservative traditions of Italian harpsichord construction changed very little during almost two centuries. From the beginning of the Baroque period until the middle of the 18th century, the widespread influence of Italian makers continued to hold sway in Southern Germany, Spain and early Bourbon France. Even incursions by the influential and successful Flemish makers, especially Ruckers, did not replace the designs of the Italians.
The basic instrument is characterized by certain unchanging features; a single manual with two eight foot registers, light construction using bolsters or ‘knees’ rather than heavy framing members to take the tension, short-scale stringing using brass wire, cypress or other softwoods for both case and soundboard, and a keyboard balance point with little mechanical advantage. Most of these light instruments were housed in outer cases which took no tension. Only in the mid-18th century did Italian makers join the two cases into one, and even then they introduced mouldings which where intended to suggest the old construction. This feature is even seen in Taskin’s harpsichord of the 1760’s. Rather than decorating with veneers as northern makers did, the Italians continued to paint and stencil their cases, rarely painting the soundboard as Flemish and French makers did.
The instrument is associated with a long tradition of composers whose music is of the highest quality; the Italians Frescobaldi, Rossi, Cimarosa, and Scarlatti as well as the south German school of Froberger, Boehm, Ritter, Zachow, Muffat, and Pachelbel.
So the Italian harpsichord as it is heard here has a very different sound from the northern instruments by Taskin and others. It is very dry, almost explosive, with a plangent bass augmented by crow-quill. The sound is not loud, but it is very penetrating and full of sunshine.
The design of early fortepianos from Italy and Germany inherited the basic construction features established by the Italian harpsichord makers of the 17th century.