Remember how it feels when you see something you’ve always known about and all at once you realize you’ve never really looked at it? That’s what happened when I started taking pictures of early music keyboard instruments. I realized that I had never really looked at the black and ivory keys on a keyboard.
Peter (my significant other) has an avid interest in early music especially the harpsichord. He planned a trip to England and Scotland around collections of harpsichords, virginals, forte pianos and other early music instruments. What an amazing trip and I’ll talk about it in other blogs. He also planned a trip to the National Museum of Music in Vermillion South Dakota. Check out their website and you just might want to go too! http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/
After taking hundreds of pictures of keyboards, I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the variations. Remember my previous posts about ‘The difference is in the details’? Here is another example. This post is just about the keyboard – the black and white keys, their edges, and decorations. I’m not going to go into the technical issues here so don’t stop reading yet!
As a teenager, I taught music using a modern piano so I know about the octaves, the naturals and the accidentals for sharps and flats. I did not know about earlier keyboard instruments like harpsichords and forte pianos. I did not know anything about the history of the keyboard.
In researching the keyboard I found that long and short keys dates back to the 15th century. In general, the colors were reversed to ours. The long keys were black usually made of ebony and the short keys were light usually made of ivory or white bone covering wood. When those materials were not used, Boxwood was used for the lighter keys and the black keys were ebony or rosewood stained with iron dissolved in acid. In the 18th century fashion changed and dictated the long keys be white and the short keys be black. The edges and the fronts of the keys had a variety of decorations that captured my interest as I focused on them. Just enjoy the pictures below and the variation on this theme!
Have you ever heard JS Bach played on the instruments of his time, harpsichords and clavichords? If not, it just be worth your time to listen! A number of modern day performers play these instruments. Look for Trevor Pinnock, Pierre Hanti, Roberty Woolley on Amazon.