Clavichord – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

I. What is a Clavichord?

A clavichord is a type of keyboard instrument that was popular during the Baroque and Classical periods of music. It is similar in appearance to a piano but operates in a different way. The clavichord produces sound by striking strings with small metal blades called tangents. The player presses keys on the keyboard, which causes the tangents to strike the strings and produce a sound. The volume and tone of the sound can be controlled by the pressure applied to the keys, making the clavichord a dynamic and expressive instrument.

II. History of the Clavichord

The clavichord has a long history, dating back to the early 14th century. It was a popular instrument in Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and continued to be used into the Classical period. The clavichord was often used for private performances in homes and small gatherings, as its quiet sound made it unsuitable for larger venues.

During the 18th century, the clavichord began to fall out of favor as other keyboard instruments such as the harpsichord and piano gained popularity. However, the clavichord experienced a revival in the 20th century as musicians and instrument makers rediscovered its unique sound and expressive capabilities.

III. How does a Clavichord work?

The clavichord operates on a simple mechanism that allows the player to control the volume and tone of the sound. When a key is pressed on the keyboard, a tangent attached to the key strikes a string, causing it to vibrate and produce a sound. The length of the string determines the pitch of the note, and the pressure applied to the key determines the volume and tone of the sound.

Because the tangents remain in contact with the strings after they are struck, the player can control the length of the note by varying the pressure on the key. This feature allows for dynamic and expressive playing, making the clavichord a versatile instrument for interpreting a wide range of musical styles.

IV. Differences between a Clavichord and other keyboard instruments

The clavichord is often compared to other keyboard instruments such as the harpsichord and piano, but it has several distinct characteristics that set it apart. One of the main differences is the way in which sound is produced. While the harpsichord and piano use a mechanism to pluck or strike the strings, the clavichord uses tangents to directly strike the strings, resulting in a softer and more intimate sound.

Another difference is the way in which the keys are connected to the strings. In a clavichord, each key is connected to a tangent that strikes a single string, allowing for individual control over each note. This feature gives the clavichord a unique level of expressiveness and flexibility in playing.

V. Notable composers and compositions for the Clavichord

Many composers from the Baroque and Classical periods wrote music specifically for the clavichord, taking advantage of its unique sound and capabilities. Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the most famous composers of the Baroque period, wrote several pieces for the clavichord, including preludes, fugues, and suites.

Other notable composers who wrote for the clavichord include Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Christian Bach, and Domenico Scarlatti. These composers explored the expressive possibilities of the clavichord, creating music that showcases the instrument’s dynamic range and intimate sound.

In the modern era, composers such as Gy├Ârgy Ligeti and Sofia Gubaidulina have also written music for the clavichord, further expanding the instrument’s repertoire and pushing the boundaries of its sound. The clavichord continues to be a popular instrument among musicians and enthusiasts who appreciate its unique qualities and historical significance.