Organ, Sacred Music, and Historical Keyboards

Pedal Clavichord

Pedal ClavichordEastman’s pedal clavichord was built by Joel Speerstra of the Göteborg Organ Art Center in Sweden, and is modeled on Johann David Gerstenberg’s 1766 pedal clavichord in the Leipzig University collection.

The instrument is an excellent teacher in its own right and a wonderful tool for the development of healthy keyboard technique, involving appropriate use of arm weight and finger strengthening. By virtue of its key action (in which a metal tangent makes constant contact with a string), any tension in the player’s technique has a direct effect on the sound produced.

Joel Speerstra’s research advocates that the pedal clavichord was not only a convenient practice instrument for organists, but also an instrument for building technique. Descriptions of the clavichord’s use, going back to the 15th century, consistently described the clavichord as a challenging instrument on which to perform as well as to prepare to perform music on the other keyboard instruments, especially the organ.

It has proven interesting to compare the touch of the the clavichord with that of the Craighead-Saunders organ, with its faithfully reconstructed 18th-century key action. The Craighead-Saunders’s  key action is exceptionally responsive, though more weighty than modern mechanical action tends to be. This character of touch in both historical clavichords and northern European baroque organs was evidently the reality of the North European organ landscape at the end of the 18th century. That reality was very different in France and Italy and England, where organ actions were lighter and where, especially in France, the amount of surface ornamentation in the music was comparatively higher than it is in northern European organ music. This is probably not a coincidence, but a direct result of the kinds of musical gestures the instruments themselves encouraged in the players.

Working with the historically based pedal clavichord corroborates that the northern European organ’s key touch characteristics were significantly different from those of other parts of Europe; this has tremendous implications for the modern interpretation of this music.