Denzil Wraight - Italian Keyboard Instruments


This area of harpsichord making is one about which we know relatively little since apart from instruments by Honofrio Guarracino (fl. 1652-1692) few of the unsigned ones can be identified with their makers' names. Indeed it is only within the last decade (with substantial contributions from John Koster) that we have begun to recognise which unsigned instruments belong to this city's tradition. Other attributions have been made recently by Grant O'Brien to the Neapolitan oeuvre, although it seems probable that we can expect a considerable growth in our knowledge of this area as our understanding of the criteria of identification improves.

Naples appears to join with Sicily in providing interesting evidence of early harpsichord making and constructional features which are quite different from other areas of Italy. The use of a non-Pythagorean scaling system is a relic of a 15th-century tradition and seems to be evident in the original state of a harpsichord, W501, presently thought to be Neapolitan, (inventory no. 1986.518 in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA. This is described in an online article [see also my 2001/3 "Überlegungen zu Mechanik..." in Publications]. This tradition is also described on my page for Sicilian harpsichords.

One feature typical of Naples is the use of maple for casework, which was less often found in other Italian centres of harpsichord making. The Neapolitans appear to have been the only ones to have extended its use to the soundboard, although spruce/fir was also widely used.

Stringing appears to have been mostly intended for brass wire and thus the long scales would accord with what we know from documentary reports of low pitches in Naples.

I offer a single manual C/E-c³ Neapolitan harpsichord made with case and soundboard of maple, based on several instruments thought to be of Neapolitan origin, (W460, W480, W501, and W641 under "D A" in my catalogue of instruments; see 1997/1, The stringing of Italian keyboard instruments..., Part 2 in Publications). The disposition is either 1x8' or 2x8' with brass stringing.

page updated 24 October 2005