Mersenne’s clavichord: music from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France

Charlston, T. (2015) Mersenne’s clavichord: music from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France. [Audio]


This recording is part of a broader performance research project to explore sixteenth- and seventeenth-century French keyboard music through the touch and sound of the clavichord. The recording presents a conspectus of music divided into the three main historical periods — the sixteenth century, the early seventeenth century and the later seventeenth century — and performed on a unique reconstruction of the clavichord by Peter Bavington after Marin Mersenne’s description and illustration in his Harmonie Universelle (1636). The clavichord was highly valued within late-renaissance culture and continued to be used by musicians into the seventeenth century and later. Like the lute, the clavichord’s intimate and expressive voice enjoyed a favoured status in aristocratic and learned circles. While many harpsichord and organ makers built clavichords and at least forty-one professional musicians between 1557 and 1793 possessed one or more clavichords, no clavichords of incontrovertible French origin survive. The design, touch and sound of the Mersenne clavichord has a direct impact on these performances. A larger repertoire was reconstructed to fill the lacuna after the seven printed keyboard books published by Pierre Attaingnant (c. 1494–1551/2) in 1531 and before the relative wealth of surviving late seventeenth-century manuscript and printed volumes. The final programme was drawn from intabulations of vocal music, instrumental counterpoint and dances, and lute music. Although modern players and makers of recent times have tended to undervalue the rôle of the clavichord in the development of late Renaissance and Baroque keyboard music in France, this recording gives a practical demonstration of its appropriateness in a wide range of genres and styles.

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