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NMM 3328. Harpsichord by Joseph Kirckman, London, 1798

NMM 3328.  Harpsichord by Joseph Kirckman, London, 1798

NMM 3328. Harpsichord by Joseph Kirckman, London, 1798. Double manual, FF-f3 (5 octaves); 2 x 8', 1 x 4', lute, buff. Six hand stops. Two pedals:  machine stop, Venetian swell (louvers closed in image above). Rawlins Fund, 1983.


History and Description

Click on any image on this page to see a larger image.

Front view
Venetian swell louvers open

View of keyboards

Venetian swell louvers open

This two-manual harpsichord is one of the last made by the Kirckman firm, which, alongside the rival Shudi-Broadwood firm, dominated English harpsichord making for most of the eighteenth century. Joseph Kirckman, head of the firm from about 1790, was the grand nephew of its founder, Jacob Kirckman, an Alsatian cabinetmaker of Swiss extraction, who, along with Burkat Shudi, had learned the trade from Hermann Tabel, himself an immigrant to London from the Low Countries. Shortly after Tabel’s death in 1738, Kirckman married his widow, thereby gaining possession of the master’s stock and business.

Venetian swell louvers open

Maker's Name

In design, construction, and disposition, the Kirckman harpsichord of 1798 is of the standard English model, already to be found in a surviving Tabel harpsichord made in 1721. It has the typical two-manual disposition of five-octave FF-f3 compass (61 notes), lower manual with 8’ and 4’ registers, a "dogleg" 8’ shared by both keyboards, a nasal ("lute") 8’ on the upper, and a buff stop to the lower-manual 8’.

In addition, there are two pedals:  a machine stop and a Venetian swell. The first, as it is pressed down, turns off the 4’ and dogleg 8’ registers while the lower-manual solo 8’ remains in the on position and the upper-manual nasal 8’ is engaged.

Machine Stop Mechanism

Machine stop mechanism

Venetian Swell

With the swell pedal, the player can control the volume by opening and closing a set of louvers over the soundboard. This instrument, with its palette of color much wider than that offered by the typical French or Italian harpsichord, epitomizes the bold, rich tone for which English harpsichords have long been noted.

Venetian swell louvers open

Venetian swell louvers open

Top:  Venetian swell louvers closed
Bottom:  Louvers open


Audio Excerpts

Click on links below to hear Luisa Morales play the NMM's Kirckman harpsichord. These excerpts are from her CD, Soler and Scarlatti in London:  A Selection of Blended Sonatas.

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757):  Sonata in D Major, K. 96
Antonio Soler (1729-1783):  Sonata in D minor, R. 15
Scarlatti:  Sonata in E Major, K. 380
Soler:  Sonata in Dorian Mode, R. 49

Literature:  Richard Buchmayer, "Cembalo oder Pianoforte?," Bach-Jahrbuch (1908), pp. 64-93 (especially p. 65).

"Important Acquisitions of 1983 Await New Galleries," Shrine to Music Museum Newsletter, Vol. XI, No. 2 (January 1984), pp. 1-3.

André P. Larson, The National Music Museum: A Pictorial Souvenir (Vermillion: National Music Museum, 1988), p. 44.

Darcy Kuronen, "Keyboard Instruments at The Shrine to Music Museum," Early Keyboard Studies Newsletter, Vol. VI, No. 1 (October 1991), p. 7.

Donald H. Boalch, Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440-1840. Third edition, edited by Charles Mould (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 457.

Luisa Morales, Soler and Scarlatti in London: A Selection of Blended Sonatas (Almeria, Spain:  FIMTE, 2006). CD.

Charles Mould, "Kirkman (Kirckman)," The Harpsichord and Clavichord: an Encyclopedia, Igor Kipnis, editor (New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 292.

John Koster, "Traditional Iberian Harpsichord Making in its European Context," Galpin Society Journal 61 (2008), pp. 24, 67.

Michael Latcham, "The Instrument of Many Colours Made by Tadeo Tornel in Murcia, 1777," in Domenico Scarlatti en España / Domenico Scarlatti in Spain, Luisa Morales, ed. (Garrucha, Almería, Spain: Asociación Cultural LEAL, 2009), pp. 241-297 (especially fig. 2).

Helen Cripe, Thomas Jefferson and Music, Revised Edition (Monticello: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2009).

Darryl Martin, "The Native Tradition in Transition: English Hrpsichords circa 1680-1725," in John Koster, ed.,  Aspects of Harpsichord Making in the British Isles (The Historical Harpsichord, Vol. 5; Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2009), pp. 1-115, specifically pp. 13 and 15.

Susanne Skyrm, ed., with assistance from Calvert Johnston and John Koster, Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Spanish Keyboard Music for Organ, Piano, Harpsichord, or Clavichord (Colfax, North Carolina: Wayne Leupold Editions, 2010), p. xi.

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Divided E-flat key