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NMM 3327.    Harpsichord by Jacques Germain, Paris, 1785.
Rawlins fund, 1983.

NMM 3327.  Harpsichord by Jacques Germain, Paris, 1785.

This harpsichord features the standard late-18th-century French disposition: two manuals with compass FF to f3; lower manual with quilled 8', a peau de buffle 8' (plucking the same set of strings as the quilled 8'), and 4'; upper manual with 8'; buff to the upper 8'; and shove coupler. Presumably, the registers were originally controlled by genouillères (knee pommels). The keyboard naturals are made of ebony, while the sharps consist of hardwood stained black and covered with bone slips. Although the instrument was unsympathetically rebuilt in the early 1950s, these alterations were reversed by Hugh Gough, from whom the NMM acquired the instrument in 1983. The soundboard, with its beautiful original decorative painting, is in an excellent state of preservation, as are the keyboards and the major components of the case. The Louis XV-style case is original, while the painted decoration on the case exterior and interior of the lid is an early-twentieth-century "enhancement." Most importantly, the instrument retains the superb, refined tone that is so characteristic of the 18th-century French harpsichord (go to audio excerpt).

Plan View

Plan view of Germain harpsichord

Click on plan view to see larger image.

Jacques Germain was born in Paris about 1740, the son of Jean Germain, the harpsichord maker of Flemish origin who was originally known as Joannes Goermans. Jacques was received into the guild as a master in 1766. His workshop was located on the rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain des Près, and his apartment, in the rue des Saints Pères. According to Colombe Samoyaut-Verlet (Les Facteurs de Clavecins Parisiens, Paris: 1966), the inventory of Germain's effects after his death (1789) mentions that he kept three cabriolets (small, two-wheeled, horse-drawn carriages), an unusual luxury for a harpsichord maker. The inventory of his papers shows that his clientele was aristocratic.

Only two harpsichords are known to survive from the Jacques Germain workshop--this example, and one in a private collection in Paris. The Germain family, along with the Blanchet-Taskin and Hemsch families, seem to have been among the finest and most successful 18th-century Parisian builders. This harpsichord is one of the latest surviving examples of historical French harpsichord making, which ceased a few years later with the social upheaval of the Revolution and the widespread acceptance of the grand piano.

The original 18th-century soundboard decoration is in unusually fine condition. The painter has been identified by Sheridan Germann as the Earlier Taskin Painter, in her article, "Monsieur Doublet and his Confrères, the Harpsichord Decorators of Paris," in Early Music (April 1981).

Close-up of rose

Click on image above to see a larger image.

Audio Excerpt

Arthur Haas playing the Germain harpsichord

Click on link to hear an excerpt of Jean-Baptitse Forqueray's (1699-1782), Cinquième Suite: La Rameau, played on this harpsichord by Arthur Haas (left). Additional excerpts from recordings made on this harpsichord can be accessed on the web pages listed below.

CDs featuring the Germain harpsichord, available from the Museum's Gift Shop, include:

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