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The clavichord is a European stringed keyboard instrument known from the late Medieval, through the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras. Historically, it was widely used as a practice instrument and as an aid to composition, not being loud enough for larger performances. The clavichord produces sound by striking brass or iron strings with small metal blades called tangents. Vibrations are transmitted through the bridge(s) to the soundboard. The name is derived from the Latin word clavis, meaning "key" (associated with more common clavus, meaning "nail, rod, etc.") and chorda (from Greek χορδή) meaning "string, especially of a musical instrument".

—John Mainwaring, Memoirs of the Life of the late G. F. Handel, 1760.


History and use

The clavichord was invented in the early fourteenth century.[2][3] In 1504, the German poem Der Minne Regeln mentions the terms clavicimbalum (a term used mainly for the harpsichord) and clavichordium, designating them as the best instruments to accompany melodies.

One of the earliest references to the clavichord in England occurs in the privy-purse expenses of Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII, in an entry dated August 1502:

It was very popular from the 16th century to the 18th century, but mainly flourished in German-speaking lands, Scandinavia, and the Iberian Peninsula in the latter part of this period. It had fallen out of use by 1850. In the late 1890s, Arnold Dolmetsch revived clavichord construction and Violet Gordon-Woodhouse, among others, helped to popularize the instrument. Although most of the instruments built before the 1730s were small (four octaves, four feet long), the latest instruments were built up to seven feet long with a six octave range.

Today clavichords are played primarily by Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical music enthusiasts. They attract many interested buyers, and are manufactured worldwide. A modern clavichord can range in price from $2,400 to as much as $20,000. There are now numerous clavichord societies around the world, and some 400 recordings of the instrument have been made in the past 70 years. Leading modern exponents of the instrument include Derek Adlam, Christopher Hogwood, Richard Troeger, and Miklos Spányi, and fine modern instruments are widely available. Some modern makers include: Dick Verwolf in the Netherlands, Peter Bavington and Karin Richter in Great Britain, Joris Potvlieghe and Jean Tournay in Belgium, Thomas Steiner in Switzerland, and Ronald Haas, Owen Daly, Charles Wolff, David Jensen, and Andrew Lagerquist in the United States.

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