‡ in ‡ memoriam ‡ François ‡ Badoud ‡
FRANCISCI MAGNVS AMOR – Exploring the great love of a collector and enthusiast of early keyboard instruments
Historic keyboard instruments
are not always easy things to like. The trouble starts, especially with plucked instruments, with the choice of plectra, made generally from quills. If they are too soft or too hard, it becomes difficult to articulate properly. The aim is to find a golden mean, but this becomes impossible if the touch is to be equal over the whole keyboard—in this case forty-five keys.
But should uniformity be a goal anyway? It’s hard to imagine the instrument makers of old limiting themselves in that way. If you choose animal-based materials for the plectra which pluck the strings and boar bristle for the jack springs, plus felt or leather dampers, the instrument develops an unpredictable life of its own which is compounded by the movement of the different types of wood—from the case and keyboard to the soundboard itself—according to ambient temperature and humidity. In short, historic keyboard instruments demand far more loving care and attention even than young children.
But players and listeners alike may discover an endless cosmos of nuances, including the unavoidable mechanical noises too, if they are willing to cope with all these idiosyncrasies.
As always, the two original instruments featured here are conceived for the musical demands of the renaissance and early baroque. Their range, with a «short octave» in the bass, corresponds to a standard that remained in force over centuries on both sides of the Alps.
Even the layman will notice that both instruments seem to sound stronger in their low and middle registers whereas the intensity of sound, for all its transparency, diminishes in the higher registers. This will be nothing new for music lovers who will be familiar with it from the example of renaissance organs.
Apart from a transparency they have in common, the harpsichord and virginals otherwise differ completely in sound. The virginals are characterised by an earthy timbre, rich in fundamentals, manifested by the frequent nomenclature «arpicordo» in Italy. In comparison, at first hearing the harpsichord sounds much more monosyllabic. Yet sharply attuned ears will discover a mysteriously colourful world in the intimate tones of this instrument with its single 8 foot register.
We owe thanks to generations of musicians and connoisseurs such as François Badoud, in whose hands both Italian instruments are preserved for now and in the future, for «rescuing» these rhythmically and polyphonically iridescent sounds for us today.
Sadly, François Badoud passed away during the preparation of this production in January 2020. He can be assured of our gratitude.
16 January 2020