Antique keyboard instruments brought to life
3 July 2009, London, UK
The harpsichords, clavichords and early pianos on display at Fenton House in Hampstead, London, have always been out of reach to most visitors, along with the secrets of how they sound. These antique instruments are too fragile to touch, and incapable of staying in tune.
Now, thanks to the efforts of researchers from the University of Abertay in Scotland, visitors will now be able to discover for themselves what these instruments actually sound like. The team, led by Dr Kenny McAlpine, has recreated the sounds of two of the instruments – a c.17th century Italian virginal and a 1777 two-manual Kirkman harpsichord – by making detailed forensic recordings of each individual note. The sounds are then ‘housed’ inside a specially built two-manual electric keyboard that visitors can play.
Listen to the instruments by visiting our new downloads section or click here.
In order to make the sounds authentic, the team captured some very delicate sounds such as the jacks and the plectra as they make contact with the strings and return to rest. McAlpine said: ‘There’s always the question of balancing the needs of access to old, fragile instruments and preserving them for future generations. Our process answers that “red velvet cord” problem.’
McAlpine says he now plans to digitalise the sounds of the other 19 instruments in the collection.