Historical Keyboard Collection
The Beethoven Center uses its keyboard collection to demonstrate the fundamental differences between the three most common keyboard instruments of the 18th and 19th centuries--the clavichord, the harpsichord, and the fortepiano--in comparison with the modern piano.
The two primary keyboard instruments of the Baroque period (1600-1750) were the harpsichord and clavichord. The harpsichord makes sound when a key is depressed which then plucks a string. Because of this plucking mechanism, no gradations of loud and soft were available to harpsichord players, although they can add an entire set of string if they desire more sound (similar to a stop on an organ). The clavichord makes sound when a key is despressed which directly touches the string. Because of its mechanism, the clavichord can play both at soft and medium-soft levels. However, it always remains a quiet and intimate instrument. Because the clavichord is too soft for large rooms or ensemble playing and the harpsichord is only able to sound at one dynamic level, the pianoforte was invented in the year 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Florence. However, it took until the 1770s and 1780s for the instrument to become popular and widely used. By the 1790s the instrument had become somewhat standardized throughout Western Europe, although individual builders often took different approaches in regard to action and use of pedals. The frame of the instrument was still the same as that of the harpsichord, but the strings were struck with hammers covered with leather. The fortepiano's hammers allowed players to stike the strings with varying force to produce both loud ("forte") or soft ("piano") tones (thus the name, "fortepiano" or "pianoforte").
The Beethoven Center owns four historical keyboard instruments, including three fortepianos and a clavichord. A harpsichord is also currently on loan from David Wendel. All four instruments are currently on exhibit in the Beethoven Center. The Center also owns a Steinway M for use in the Schiro Program Room.
Find out about mini-concerts featuring the historical keyboards.