Clavichord performances (Byrd, Bach, Mozart, Grieg)


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William Byrd (c1540 – 1623) was one of the leading composers of the English Renaissance. The Carman’s Whistle is his setting of a popular tune from the time of Elizabeth I. Note that the performer in this video is reading the music in a very 21st-century way – from an iPad!

Here’s an arrangement of a Prelude (originally for solo violin) by J.S. Bach. It’s played on a replica of a clavichord from 1670.

Larger clavichords can be used to perform many piano pieces from the early Classical era (Mozart and Haydn, for example). Here’s Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca (Rondo in Turkish style):

Hearing late 19th-century piano music played on a clavichord is unusual, to say the least. However, here’s a clavichord performance of Grieg’s Wedding Day At Troldhaugen, from book 8 of Lyric Pieces (1896). The performer has had to adapt the music slightly, due to the clavichord’s short keyboard range and lack of sustaining pedal. Even so, it’s surprisingly effective.

For comparison, here’s Wedding Day At Troldhaugen again, but this time played on the piano. In this recording (audio only), Leif Ove Andsnes plays a Steinway piano which was owned by Grieg (see http://griegmuseum.no/en/about-troldhaugen).

Keyboard instruments before the piano, part 2: Clavichord

The clavichord is a small keyboard instrument which was designed for private enjoyment. It’s more expressive than the harpsichord, but it’s very quiet. In recordings, clavichords may actually seem to be quite loud. This is because they tend to be recorded at fairly high volume levels.

Clavichord strings are struck by small pieces of metal called tangents. The tangents remain in contact with the strings while the keys are pressed.

In the following video, Steven Devine introduces the clavichord… from his kitchen!

As shown briefly in the video above, a clavichord allows the performer to produce a type of vibrato. That means making the note ‘wobble’, as a violinist can do. On the clavichord, this is known as bebung. Here is a very good demonstration:

There are two types of clavichord, fretted and unfretted. In this next video, the difference between the two types is explained and demonstrated.