ASA 130th Meeting - St. Louis, MO - 1995 Nov 27 .. Dec 01

4pMU1. Early Flemish harpsichord string scalings and their acoustical implications.

John Koster

The Shrine to Music Museum, Univ. of South Dakota, 414 E. Clark St., Vermillion, SD 57069

Measurements of string lengths and diameters in historical harpsichords such as those made by the Ruckers family, active in Antwerp from 1579 to the 1680s, are commonly used to calculate: (1) the pitch at which they were intended to be tuned, based on the assumption that strings were stressed to the practical limits of their tensile strength; and (2) the resulting tensions. Consideration of early music theory and workshop design practices have led to the proposal of alternative assumptions that some pre-Ruckers' makers employed shorter string lengths. With other variables remaining constant, higher calculated coefficients of inharmonicity result. The strings, however, were probably thinner, therefore resulting in inharmonicities similar to those of Ruckers' instruments. Further, coupling with sympathetically vibrating generally undamped strings of the earliest harpsichords might have reduced the theoretically calculated inharmonicities of the upper partials of bass and tenor strings. Other aspects to consider in light of early instrument makers' use of traditional geometrical methods of design include: (1) the Ruckers' slight lengthening of virginal (rectangular harpsichord) E, F-sharp, and G-sharp strings intended to be tuned in meantone temperament, in which these pitches are flatter than in equal temperament; and (2) the development of reasonable plucking points.