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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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About Harpsichords
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hpd

The instrument you see here was built for me by Frank Rutkowski and Robert Robinette in New York in 1973. It's a late-French double, with a sumptuous Louis XVI case of inlaid mahoganies, satinwood, and ebony, replete with considerable gilding. The egg-tempera paintings on the soundboard are absolutely spectacular. Splendid would be a massive understatement. Most important of all, it is a fine-sounding musical instrument.

R&R have been my friends since I was 18. In fact, we all met in the harpsichord practice room at the University of Illinois in 1953, before the two of them started building instruments. In 1955, R&R set out to become harpsichord builders, first in Detroit, later in New Haven and New York. Frank's father had been a casket-maker in Chicago, and from him Frank learned how to do really exquisite joinery and flawless finishing. All R&R instruments are marvels of precision craftsmanship.

It's arguable that such incredibly fine work isn't really necessary. In any case, there exist great antique instruments in good playing condition that are fairly sloppy as to construction. So it's somewhat a matter of style and personal preference, perhaps. One goal I think R&R have always had is that the instruments are meant to be played, which makes reliability a concern. By extension, a well-made harpsichord requires less day-to-day maintenance, presumably leaving more time for the owner to devote to playing it, which is after all the main reason for owning one.

As it is, harpsichords require a fair amount of attention, far more than pianos. They should be tuned every day or so, if you want really optimal sound. Tuning is fortunately quite easy and generally takes 20-30 minutes, or even much less if only a few notes need to be touched up.

There's relatively little material readily available on the web about harpsichords, as far as I've been able to tell. From the major music pages reported by various searches, I've found a few things, but nothing really major. This suggests that I could possibly perform a service, since I have many hundreds of pictures and other related documents.

[to be continued]

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