A harpsichord for travelling - the Clavecin brisé

Reisecembalo geschlossen

Clavecin brisé by Marius, Musée d'Instruments, Paris, Cité de la Musique


A problem keeping inventive minds busy again and again: how to design a keyboard instrument to be easily movable. Some types of the the 16th to 18th centuries like fretted clavichords or Italian harpsichords could be carried around by one or maybe two persons and came close to those ideas. Small organ types even were distinguished by  just that, whether portative (latin portare, to carry, meaning "portable") or positive organs (latin ponere, to place, here: <able to be> placed ...[movable by two or maybe more]), But the big harpsichord from north of the Alps were pieces of furniture of respectable size and weight and not so easy to move around. So it appears almost logical that the maybe most inventive type of movable harpsichord was designed by a French harpsichord maker. 

Jean Marius in 1700 made public a collapsible harpsichord to the Académie in Paris, an instrument of three parts of equal width giving a harpsichord with one manual when put aside each other. The lenghts of the central and treble part were designed so that they could be folded up at their rear ends with a special hinge; when done so they had the same length as the bass box with the longest strings and could be placed top to top to a strong wooden box easy to carry and closed all around to withstand  any rumbling and bumping in a luggage compartment of a badly sprung coach but easily put together with only a few twists and turns to be a usable harpsichord again - but not without thorough re-tuning again after being shaken for hours or more.

For this unavoidable by-effect Marius "borrowed" an invention by a colleague, the Maître de la Musique Estienne Louilé who had presented a newly invented tuning tool to the Académie only a year before. It was a monochord with a single key and harpsichord jack and a movable fret to shorten the string for any pitch desired within an octave. The instrument depicted above possesses a tuning tool after Louilé, but this  little extra, as necessary and useful as it was, was applied to only a few collapsible harpsichords by Marius, obviously for more than "a little extra".


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