Denzil Wraight - Italian Keyboard Instruments


Bentside spinets were never among the most numerous of the instruments made in Italy, but they are most economical of space. Compared with the rectangular and polygonal virginals they have the advantage that the keylevers become shorter in the treble than the bass which confers the right balance of speed, the treble keys being easier to play. As a travelling instrument this is unrivalled. The case dimensions in Italian instruments are such that the strings lengths are still capable of producing a proper tone. It should not be thought that because the case is relatively small that the tone must suffer; quite the contrary is true. The small soundboard size enables these instruments to be relatively loud and more than hold their own in an ensemble. Since only one bridge is on a sounding board, the tone is almost identical to a harpsichord, the plucking points being slightly nearer the nut in the bass which makes the tone slightly more penetrating.

A bentside spinet after Zenti (Rome) 1637, C/E-c, 8'

The 1637 Zenti bentside spinet

This Roman instrument is the smallest I offer. Made in its original form as an inner-outer instrument with iron stringing in the treble and brass in the bass it stands a minor third above 415 Hz (i.e. a' = 498 Hz). Its advantage is the small size: length 1169 mm (46"). It can also be strung with brass wire throughout for a pitch of 415 Hz. Although this usually results in a slight loss of quality of the bass strings, with careful work in the bass area of the soundboard even these short strings yield a good sound. A lightweight (1.5kg) travelling case with a handle can be provided. Alternatively I offer it in a false-inner-outer form with lid.

A bentside spinet after Feroci (Florence), 1705, C,D-d, 8'

A number of constructional details suggest that Feroci was familiar with the work of Cristofori and may even have worked for him. This instrument was originally made C-c, but I offer a C,D-d compass as a practical instrument. The overall length of the false-inner-outer construction is only 1692 mm (66.6") which means that the tone of the bass is equal to that of the normal size of Italian harpsichords (typically 200 mm longer) with the same compass. The pitch is 415 Hz and 440 Hz with a transposing keyboard.

A bentside spinet after Mucciardi (Rome), GG,AA-c, 8'

Made after Berlin catalogue no. 4303 which I attribute to Mucciardi, this instrument with its spine of 1960 mm (71.2") is the longest of the spinets I offer. As a result of the spinet form the bass strings are longer and therefore give a better tone than harpsichords of comparable length. The keyboard was originally made with ebony naturals, but I also offer it with boxwood covers, which are more commonly found in Italian instruments. The pitch is 415 Hz and 440 Hz with a transposing keyboard.

page updated 24 October 2005