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Book Review

Edward L. Kottick. A History of the Harpsichord. Indiana University Press, 2003. 592 pages + CD (Track details). 193 b/w & 24 color photos, 17 figures. 7" x 10". US | UK | DE | FR | CA | JP

13 August 2003: This exceptional book arrived in today's mail. I picked it up after dinner and couldn't put it down for more than two hours, reading the first hundred pages, plus excerpts throughout the rest of the book and much of the bibliography while listening to the accompanying CD. Since summer is an excellent time for reading, I decided to write down my initial, highly favorable impressions immediately for the benefit of readers of this website. I will add additional comments from time to time.

Not only does Kottick's History supplant The New Grove Early Keyboard Instruments as the first book to read about the harpsichord, but it is a valuable reference for information about specific types of instruments. The author covers all significant known developments from the the invention of the harpsichord (around 1400) to the present.

This book is especially user-friendly. It makes use of the magazine technique of placing notes about related subjects in boxes, around which the main text flows. Also included in boxes are tables summarizing differences between instruments, eg, 17-Century Flemish versus 17-Century Italian harpsichords at a glance. In addition, each chapter concludes with a summary of the important points covered. Ample white space in the margins and relatively large type make this an easy book for the Varilux generation to read.

The glossy color plates illustrate some of the most beautifully and extravagantly decorated instruments, while black and white figures throughout the text illustrate significant designs, including the Trasuntino 31-note per octave keyboard, the Grimaldi folding harpsichord, and several mother-and-child virginals.

While builders will find this book of great interest, it is not written for builders and avoids the overly technical language of some keyboard literature. The comprehensive bibliography will be useful to anyone seeking further information about specific instruments or developments.

One area that is not covered is pitch. Since Bruce Haynes has not dealt much with harpsichords in The Story of "A", it will be up to some future author to struggle with this difficult topic.

To be continued . . . .

Copyright © 2002-2015 John Wall