From historical sources such as François Couperin’s L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin (1716, revised edition 1717) and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s De la mechanique des doigts sur le clavessin (1724), we find details describing different types of touch that may be used in harpsichord performance. We suggest that the differences in tone described allude to small differences in dynamics that can be achieved with these two touches, and designed an experiment to test whether differences in dynamics were first acoustically producible, and second, perceivable. Studying a historical harpsichord by Taskin may also further approximate the possibility of dynamics in a harpsichord of this time period, particularly due to its peau de buffle register – an invention by Taskin specifically designed to increase dynamic differentiation on the harpsichord.
We recorded Giulia Nuti performing single tones and musical excerpts with different touches on the 1788 Taskin in February 2013 at the Museo Civico degli Strumenti Musicali, Castello Sforzesco, Milan. Below are examples of these recordings demonstrating the small but perceivable differences in sound possible.
Lower register, F2 soft touch
Lower register, F2, loud touch
Lower register, F5, soft touch
Lower register, F5, loud touch
Peau de buffle register, F2, soft touch
Peau de buffle register, F2, loud touch
Peau de buffle register, F5, soft touch
Peau de buffle register, F5, loud touch
We have also included recordings of the sound of the mechanism during the two touches by shifting the registers so the plectrum does not come into contact with the keys:
Mechanism noise, soft touch
Mechanism noise, loud touch
Further details about this study can be read here. (Link to paper soon to be added)