Denzil Wraight - Italian Keyboard Instruments


Photo of my wife Claudia and son Philipp by chistmas tree candlelight in 2003. (I'm in the middle) I was born in 1951 in Rochester, Kent, U.K., into a family of builders and architects. This old river-crossing city on the River Medway was known in Roman times as "Durobrivium". Therefore I have occasionally signed instruments in the Italian tradition as "DENZILIVS DVROBRIVIENSIS"

The Queen's University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, accepted me to read Economics but I changed my course before I started to Philosophy since my search to synthesize different perspectives was taking shape. At university I made a clavichord and graduated with a BA(Hons) in 1974.

I then worked for Thomas Wess in Liverpool who had taken a particular interest in Italian instruments, being one of the few at that time to have made an Italian harpsichord and clavichord.

In 1975 I started as an independant instrument maker, specialising in Italian harpsichords, virginals, and clavichords. By 1980 my interest in research on the history of these instruments had developed and I moved to Germany.

The 1980s was a period of examining Italian instruments and seeking to understand their alterations and development. Construction of new instruments proceeded at the same time with several harpsichords having split sharps, and a cimbalo cromatico for Christopher Stembridge. There followed some German instruments: a Walter fortepiano for Emilia Fadini, then a Gräbner two-manual harpsichord for Aline Zylberajch and Martin Gester.

By the early 1990s enough instruments had been examined to enable me to start writing the history of Italian instruments in the form of a Ph.D thesis. A monograph on "The Identification and Authentication of Italian String Keyboard Instruments", part of the groundwork for the thesis, appeared in 1992. For further details see: Publications

In 1995 I delivered a replica Grimaldi 1702 harpsichord to the Musée de la Musique, Paris, which was a reconstruction following Grimaldi's inferred design procedure including the use of local foot measure. Thus were workshop practice and historical research combined.

My Ph.D thesis published in 1997, "The stringing of Italian keyboard instruments c.1500 - c.1650, brought together the identification of instruments, the examination of the original states and from the resulting new data an analysis was given of the development of the relative pitches and the idea that Italian instruments were at different pitches relative to each in order to facilitate transposition. Part 2 of the thesis includes a catalogue of 748 instruments.

My dissertation was succeeded by other publications that gave more general histories (e.g. The New Grove Dictionary, 2nd edition, 2001) and more detailed treatments of specific areas ('The pitch relationships of Venetian string keyboard instruments', Tagliavini Festschrift 2001), as well as on Nuremberg wire and Italian stringing practice ("Principles and Practice in Stringing Italian Keyboard Instruments", Early Keyboard Journal, 2000).

In 2000 I started the construction of a commission for a Renaissance wooden pipe organ (organo di legno after Lorenzo da Pavia) for Eun Hee Kim, which also gave me the opportunity to understand better how a Venetian organ and harpsichord maker designed his instruments.

Following my participation in the conference on "The Pre-Classical Piano in the 18th Century" at the National Museum of Music (Vermillion, SD, USA) in May 2000 I built a Cristofori-action fortepiano which combines practical experience of making musical instruments, research into workshop practices, and specific knowledge of Cristofori's stringing system. My current work involves making Cristofori's invention of the piano better known through demonstrations of the instrument, concerts, recordings, and articles.

Photo of Denzil Wraight: caught unawares while tuning the Ferrini fortepiano for the first concert in the Musée de la Musique, Paris (photo courtesy of Martin Gester)

page updated 30 November 2005