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Topic: GPO harpsichord dynamics

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  1. #1

    GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Is it just me, or does the GPO harpsichord not respond to velocity changes? Does a real harpsichord even respond to velocity changes? I just don't really know, 'cause I've never played one (although it's been one of my greatest dreams).
    I'm doing Handel's Water Music Suite experimenting with enseamble building, and I put the harpsichord in there, and it covered the entire orchestra! I had to go into the Kontakt player and lower the volume to be able to hear the other parts. Is this tampering with the natural volume of the harpsichord? Or would the harpsichord be that loud in a real orchestra?

    Thanx,
    Chris

  2. #2

    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    No, a real harpsichord does not respond to velocity.

  3. #3
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Quote Originally Posted by cptexas
    Is it just me, or does the GPO harpsichord not respond to velocity changes? Does a real harpsichord even respond to velocity changes? I just don't really know, 'cause I've never played one (although it's been one of my greatest dreams).
    I'm doing Handel's Water Music Suite experimenting with enseamble building, and I put the harpsichord in there, and it covered the entire orchestra! I had to go into the Kontakt player and lower the volume to be able to hear the other parts. Is this tampering with the natural volume of the harpsichord? Or would the harpsichord be that loud in a real orchestra?

    Thanx,
    Chris
    Harpsichords are essential monotone devices. Expression can be obtained by thicker/thinner chords,rhythms, doublings, two manuals. Their limited expressiveness is probably the chief reason for invention of the pianoforte.

    Richard

  4. #4

    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Dynamics on the harpsichord are achieved by switching from one manual to two. This cannont be done very quickly, and was not often asked for. I guess this is why the harpsichord was never a solo music.

    GPO does have the setting for one manual and two. It also has the "lute" setting. I do think the base volume of the harpsichord is way too loud, and should be adjusted. It is a very quiet instrument dynamically.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  5. #5

    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Quote Originally Posted by jesshmusic
    Dynamics on the harpsichord are achieved by switching from one manual to two. This cannont be done very quickly, and was not often asked for.
    Later harpsichords had pedals to couple manuals together, so you could do a rudimentary "volume change" just by pressing your foot down. Though, no, it wasn't often asked for. In addition to the things rwayland mentioned, the way in which you play it (arpeggiating chords versus striking all the notes therein simultaneously, playing more freely with the tempo, etc.) is how you suggest dynamics on a harpsichord.

    When you're playing multiple stops on a manual, or have two manuals coupled, they do respond slightly to velocity: if you depress a key slowly, the jacks rarely pluck both strings exactly simultaneously, so you get a very tiny echo effect. Not very audible in ensemble playing, though. (I wrote a CAL script to produce this effect in SONAR.)

    I guess this is why the harpsichord was never a solo music.
    Huh? There's plenty of solo harpsichord music out there.
    -- Jeff Lee
    Etiam singula minima maximi momenti est - Even the smallest detail is of the utmost importance

  6. #6

    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Quote Originally Posted by rwayland
    Harpsichords are essential monotone devices. Expression can be obtained by thicker/thinner chords,rhythms, doublings, two manuals. Their limited expressiveness is probably the chief reason for invention of the pianoforte.

    Richard
    Very interesting.
    I never thought of that.

    Thanks, guys!

    Reguards,
    Chris

  7. #7

    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Quote Originally Posted by jesshmusic
    I guess this is why the harpsichord was never a solo music.
    Not true. Bach alone wrote hundreds of solo pieces for harpsichord, and several concertos.
    Dan Powers
    www.danielpowers.info

    "It's easier to be a composer than it is to compose."
    --Ray Luke (1928-2010)

  8. #8
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    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Quote Originally Posted by danpowers
    Not true. Bach alone wrote hundreds of solo pieces for harpsichord, and several concertos.
    Scarlatti wrote over 500 sonatas for harpsichord!

    NDEE

  9. #9

    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Quote Originally Posted by cptexas
    Does a real harpsichord even respond to velocity changes? I just don't really know, 'cause I've never played one (although it's been one of my greatest dreams).
    I'm doing Handel's Water Music Suite experimenting with enseamble building, and I put the harpsichord in there, and it covered the entire orchestra! I had to go into the Kontakt player and lower the volume to be able to hear the other parts. Is this tampering with the natural volume of the harpsichord? Or would the harpsichord be that loud in a real orchestra?

    Thanx,
    Chris
    The harpsichord is a "chamber" instrument: you would not expect one to fill a concet hall, and certainly not to overpower a modern string section. You might be able to overpower a lute, a recorder, and one-key flute. If you're doing the Water Music with 45 oboes and 32 bassoons (plus brass, serpents, contrabassoon, and percussion), you would pretty much hear the harpsichord only when nothing else is playing

    The harpsichord does not respond to key velocity, so various tricks were devised to bring some variety into the sound. We have a "French" 8x8x4, which means it has 2 manuals and 3 sets of strings. "8" refers to the nominal register: this is the "regular" string set. The "4" set sounds an octave higher than the 8' set: playing the 8' and 4' together gives a kind of 12-string guitar effect. The two 8' sets sound subtly different because the jacks are in different locations: on the "front 8", the jacks are closer to the end of the string, making the timbre slightly brighter. On the "back 8", the jacks are closer to the middle of the string, making the timbre slightly mellower. (You can get the same effect on guitar, by changing the position at which you pick the string.) By flipping levers, one can play any set of strings individually, or in any combination. Sliding the top manual couples both manuals together, so you can play all three sets simultaneously. One of the 8' sets also has a "buff stop", which mutes the strings (and makes the sound die away very quickly, rather than sustaining). A one-bar rest would be plenty of time to move one or two of the levers.

    With all that, the instrument still does not have much dynamic range. You might get down to p by using one 8' manual with the buff stop, and you might get up to mf using 8x8x4 full out. During the Baroque, that was pretty much all you needed, and the style of music was to use terraced dynamics. The ability to crescendo and decrescendo was what made the fortepiano (and later the pianoforte) such an attractive alternative - to the extent that the dynamic feature was incorporated into the name of the instrument.

    Grant
    ==============================
    Grant Green ||| www.contrabass.com
    Sarrusophones and other seismic devices

  10. #10

    Re: GPO harpsichord dynamics

    Thanks for your insight, Grant.
    The harpsi wasn't part of the origional score anyway, so I might just not even include it. Although it does sound nice.
    Come to think of it, a lot of my boroque CDs don't follow the origional score. My Corelli 12 concerti grossi CD has a harpsi and a pipe organ when the original score calls for only strings. And my Water Music CD has trills and other embelishments that aren't written.

    Is this the boroque style? Somewhat improvised?

    Chris

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