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Pratensis Harpsichord (Italy, 1610)

About the Pratensis Harpsichord (Italy, 1610)

One of the oldest working keyboard instruments preserved outside Europe, this four-octave harpsichord was built near Florence, Italy, in 1610 by Vincentius Pratensis, according to an inscription inside. A second inscription giving an earlier date is a modern forgery. The harpsichord itself, delicately made of cypress wood with keys of boxwood and stained fruitwood and spruce soundboard, fits inside a protective, lidded outer case that was repainted in the nineteenth century. The keyboard, with short-octave bass (omitting seldom used accidentals for the sake of economy) governs two rows of crow-quilled jacks that pluck a single set of strings at different points to produce tonal contrast; by moving their racks slightly to the left or right, both rows of jacks can be employed separately or they can play simultaneously. This rare instrument was cleaned and restored in 1989-90. Another example by the same maker, also dated 1610, is in the collection of the University of Leipzig.

Pratensis Harpsichord (Italy, 1610)