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The French Harpsichord

 
Instrument after Nicholas Blanchet

Instrument after Nicholas Blanchet

The French Harpsichord

When we talk about “French harpsichords” most people will think of the instruments of a.o. Blanchet, Hemsch and Taskin. But these were builders who mainly worked in the 18th century.

At the time the Ruckers family built their instruments in Antwerp, in the 17th century, there was a quite distinct local tradition of harpsichord building in France. These harpsichords are mainly doubles, with aligned keyboards, with a standard compass of GG⁄BB – c”’. The Denis family built many harpsichords in that tradition.

Instrument after Denis

Instrument after Denis

At the beginning of the 18th century the French became enamored of the sound of the harpsichords of the Flemish Masters and discontinued their original style of building. They rebuilt many harpsichords of the Ruckers family. The harpsichords newly built there at that time were strongly influenced by these instruments. The Blanchet family bridges the two styles. Their harpsichords evolve from the early style to the later more sumptuous instruments.

The father, son and grandson Blanchet were one of the most famous families of harpsichord-makers during the 17th and 18th century in France. They enjoyed their greatest fame due to the ravalements (renovation and expansion) of the Flemish harpsichords by Ruckers and Couchet.

Nicolas Blanchet, the founder of the dynasty, lived at the time of the transition from the traditional early French style to the later Flemish influenced way of building. I chose one of his instruments, built around 1715, because it still has this speaking quality of the older tradition, which is less prominent in harpsichords of his son. The tone is rich and bright, with deep basses and a clear, singing treble.