Clavichord Technique
Clavichord Bibliography

Clavichord Demonstration-Recital at ICHKM 2011

Demonstration-Recital from ICHKM 2011 using the Russell Collection Anon. c1620 Flemish triple-fretted clavichord & 1784 Hubert double-fretted clavichord.

Clavichord Technique

Black and white photograph of the clavichord by Johann Bohak, RCM 177

Clavichord by Johann Bohak (?Vienna, ?1794) which belonged to Haydn and upon which he composed the greater part of The Creation. (RCM 177)

The clavichord was widely used from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Today it is making something of a comeback, thanks to a better understanding of historical instruments, a number of excellent and dedicated makers and through a renaissance of interest amongst keyboard players eager to experience this most expressive of instruments at first hand.

The touch of the clavichord is unique because it is the only keyboard instrument to put the player in direct contact with the sounding strings at all times. Through its simple action -  a single pivoted lever with the player's finger at one end and the tangent (a metal blade) at the other - the player is in direct control of the vibrating string.  The tangent has a double function. It transfers the energy of the finger to the strings, by striking the strings (two per note) and causing them to sound while at the same time defining the sounding length of the string by dividing it into two, one half of which is free to vibrate, the other half being damped by a piece of felt (the listings). Once a note has been initiated, it will only continue to sound while the tangent remains in contact with the string.

The most difficult aspect of playing the clavichord is finding the finger technique to produce a good note and then the appropriate weight to sustain the tone. The direct control of the strings which the clavichordist experiences from from the keys is as close as a keyboard player can get to the infinitely subtle bow control required to play a stringed instrument well and is invaluable for learning the subtle nuanced articulations of Baroque and Classical music. 

The clavichord can be an invaluable teacher of keyboard technique and alert listening. It makes every movement of the finger, hand and arm audible and disciplines poor control and unnecessary gesture. The technique of playing the clavichord  has to be learned afresh as ordinary piano, organ or harpsichord technique may not give sufficient finger control and arm balance to produce a good sound. The process of mastering this technique has many positive benefits, both technical and musical and in this 'instructive' role it has been used by players to improve their performance on the organ, harpsichord and piano.  Miklos Spanyi translation and article on Johann Sebastian Bach's clavichord technique as described by Griepenkerl can be downloaded from this link

The clavichord has a wide dynamic range and although it cannot be really loud, one might say it has the widest range of all instruments, since its sound comes out of silence. This lends clavichord performances a special atmosphere with the audience drawn into a more concentrated realm of hearing. In the right hands, the clavichord can produce greater shades of colour, nuance and dynamic than are normally experienced on any other instrument.

The tremendous value and importance of playing the clavichord is also underlined in CPE Bach's Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, Berlin, 1759: 

Every keyboardist should own a good harpsichord and a good clavichord ... a good clavichordist makes an accomplished harpsichordist, but not the reverse. The clavichord is needed for the study of good performance. ... Those who concentrate on the harpsichord grow accustomed to playing in only one colour, and the varied touch which the competent clavichordist brings to the harpsichord remains hidden from them. (From translation by. William J Mitchell, Introduction to Part 1, pp. 37-38.)

Below is a selective bibliography which has proved useful in my research and teaching.



Clavichord: Primary Sources
Clavichord Technique & Performance Practice
Haydn and the Clavichord
Later tutors

Clavichord: Primary Sources

J. Bermudo, Declaración de instrumentos musicales (Osuna, 1555/R)

T. de Santa María, Arte de tañer fantasia (Valladolid, 1565/R; Eng. trans., 1991)

F. Correa de Arauxo, Facultad organica (Alcalá, 1626/R), f.25

C. Douwes, Grondig ondersoek van de toonen der musijk (Franeker, 1699/R), 98ff, 119ff

J. Mattheson, Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre (Hamburg, 1713/R), 262ff

P. Nassarre, Escuela música (Zaragoza, 1723–4), 471ff

Q. van Blankenburg, Elementa musica (The Hague, 1739/R), 146f

C.P.E. Bach, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, 1753–62; Eng. trans., 1949)

J. Adlung, Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit (Erfurt, 1758/R, 2/1783), 568ff

J.S. Petri, Anleitung zur practischen Musik (Lauban, 1767, enlarged 2/1782/R)

J. Adlung, Musica mechanica organoedi, ii, ed. J.L. Albrecht (Berlin, 1768/R); ed. C. Mahrenholz (Kassel, 1931)

C. Burney, The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Provinces, or the Journal of a Tour through these Countries, Undertaken to Collect Materials for a General History of Music (London, 1773, 2/1775)

P.N. Sprengel, P.N. Sprengels Handwerke und Künste in Tabellen, xi (Berlin, 1773), 241ff

F. P. Rigler, Anleitung zum Klavier für musikalischen Lehrstunden, i (Vienna, 1779, 2/1791; repr. 1791 as Anleitung zum Klavier für musikalischen Privatlehrstunden) [appx with 24 cadenzas, 6 kbd pieces]

C.F.D. Schubart, Musicalische Rhapsodien (Stuttgart, 1786)

D.G. Türk, Clavierschule, oder Anweisung zum Clavierspielen für Lehrer und Lernende … nebst 12 Handstücken (Leipzig and Halle, 1789, enlarged 2/1801/R; Eng. trans., 1982)

J. Verschuere Reynvaan, Muzykaal kunst-woordenboek, i (Amsterdam, 1795), 143ff

C.F.D. Schubart, Ideen zu einer Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Vienna, 1806/R), 288f

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Clavichord Technique & Performance Practice

P. Badura-Skoda’s Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard (OUP, 1993)

S. Barrell, '18th-C. Clavichord Music as a Source of Instruction in Keyboard Technique and Performance', Het Clavichord I,1 (April 1988), p.24.  

S. Barrell, 'Performance Practice from 18th-C. Sources', Het Clavichord 1,2 (August 1988), p.18; 1,3 (December 1988), p.29; II,1, (April 1989), p.14; 11,2 (August 1989), p.10; 11,3 (December 1989), p.17.

S. Barrell, 'The Empfindsame Clavichord Player's Bag of Tricks', Het Clavichord III, 1 (April 1990), p. 11.

B. Brauchli, The Clavichord (Cambridge, 1998)

P. Chanel, 'Clavichord as a Guide to the Interpretation of 15th to 17th Century Literature, ' The Diapason, Vol. 83, No. 5 (May 1992), pp. 12-13.

L.A. Coon, 'The Distinction between Harpsichord and Clavichord Music', PAMS (1936), p.78. 

K. Cooper, The Clavichord in the Eighteenth Century (Doctoral Dissertation, Columbia University). Ann Arbor, University Microfilms International, 1971. Contains translation of Türk, Daniel Gottlieb. Clavier-School, or Instruction in Clavier-Playing for Teachers and Students, with Critical Remarks. Leipzig, Schwickert, Hemmerde und Schwetschke, Halle, 1789 (original). Kassel, Bärenreiter, 1962.

C. Hogwood, 'A Supplement to C. P. E. Bach's Versuch, E. W. Wolf's Anleitung of 1785', C. P E. Bach Studies, ed. S. L. Clark (Oxford, 1988), p.133. 

R. Kirkpatrick, 'On Playing the Clavichord, ' Early Music, Vol. 9, No. 7 (July 1981), pp. 293-305.

J. Raas, ‘“As if I Were a Clavier”  The Close Relationship between Haydn and the Clavichord,’ Clavichord International, 8/1 (May 2004).

S. P. Rosenblum, 'Keyboard Articulation, Concerning Articulation on Keyboard, ' Performance Practice Review, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 31-40.

D. Schulenberg, The Keyboard Music of J. S. Bach (Schirmer, 1992) second, revised edition (Routledge, 2006).

R. Troeger, 'Speculations on Bach's Clavichord Technique', Diapason LXXIII,12 (December 1982), p.12.

R. Troeger, Technique and Interpretation on the Harpsichord and Clavichord. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1987.

R. Troeger, 'The Clavichord and Keyboard Technique,' The American Organist, Vo. 30, No. 3 (March 1996), pp. 59-63.

Richard Troeger, Playing Bach on the Keyboard – A Practical Guide (Amadeus Press, 2004)

A. Whiting, 'The Lesson of the Clavichord', New Music Review VIII (1909), pp.69, 138.

S. R. Williams, 'Improving Piano Technique with the Clavichord', American Music Teacher XVI (1966), p.26

M. Zapf, 'Handing down the Tradition: the Survival of Bach's Finger Technique in an Obscure Nineteenth-Century Clavier Tutor', De Clavichordio V, Proceedings of the International Clavichord Symposium, Magnano Italy, 2002, Bernard Brauchli, Alberto Galazzo, Ivan Moody,editors.  

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Haydn and the Clavichord

J. Barnes, 'Haydn's Clavichord', De Clavicordio III, Proceedings of the International Clavichord Symposium Magnano, 24-28 September 1997, Edited by Bernard Brauchli, Susan Brauchli, Alberto Galazzo.

J. Benson, 'The Use of the Clavichord in Haydn's Music', 250th Haydn Congress (1983).

J. Benson, 'Haydn and the Clavichord', International Joseph Haydn Congress, Vienna, 1982 (Munich, 1986).

B. Brauchli, 'Het clavichord op het Iberisch schiereiland', Het Clavichord II,3 (December 1989), p.5.

P. Brown, Joseph Haydn's Keyboard Music (Bloomington, 1986), p.134ff.

R. Fuller, 'Affekt and Rhetorik in the Clavier Music of C.P.E. Bach and Suggested Applications in the Music of Joseph Haydn', De Clavicordio IIIV, Proceedings of the International Clavichord Symposium Magnano, 24-28 September 1997, Edited by Bernard Brauchli, Susan Brauchli, Alberto Galazzo.

P. James, 'Early Keyboard Instruments', Proceedings of the Musical Association  LVII (1930-1), p.23.

R. Maunder, 'Mozart's Keyboard Instruments', Early Music XX (May 1992), p.207-19.

E. M. Ripin, 'Haydn and the Keyboard Instruments of his Time', Haydn Studies (1981), p.302.

R. Troeger, 'Thoughts on Haydn and the Clavichord,' Clavichord International, 1/1 (May 1997).

H. Walter, 'Haydn's Keyboard Instruments', Haydn Studies (New York, 1981), p.134.

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Later Tutors

D.G. Türk: Clavierschule (Leipzig and Halle, 1789/R; Eng. trans., 1982)

J.L. Dussek: Instructions on the Art of Playing the Piano-Forte or Harpsichord (London, 1796)

M. Clementi: Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Piano Forte (London, 1801/R)

L. Adam: Méthode de piano (Paris, 1802, 2/1805/R)

A. Streicher: Kurze Bemerkungen über das Spielen, Stimmen und Erhalten der Forte-piano (Vienna, 1802)

J. N. Hummel, Ausführlich theoretisch-practische Anweisung zum Piano-forte Spiel, c1822–5 (Vienna, 1828; Eng. trans., 1829; Fr. trans., 1838/R)

C. Montal: L’art d’accorder soi-même son piano (Paris, 1836/R)

C. Czerny: Letters to a Young Lady on the Art of Playing the Pianoforte, ed. and trans. J.A. Hamilton (New York, ?1837–41)

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