Organological basis for the development of keyboard technique from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries with an emphasis on Johann Sebastian Bach
Estrada Elizarraras, Jose Erasmo
MetadataShow full item record
Historical keyboard instruments have for many years been a valuable source of information regarding historical building techniques and performance practices. However, almost no attention has been paid to the evidence of wear present on these instruments. This physical trace documents the form in which an instrument has been used throughout time. Of particular interest is the evidence of wear found on the surface of the keys. An analysis of this physical trace might provide insight into a number of aspects which have defined the manner in which performers have approached their instruments. A survey of historical keyboard playing practices will help to visualise in a broader form the mechanical reasons behind the impact of the fingers on the surface of the key. However, it is important to consider that while the process behind the appearance of a trace of wear is primarily of a mechanical nature, the fact that both instrument and the performer‘s body are cultural objects calls for an examination of a number of issues which seem to influence the form in which the mechanical action is applied. Two important routes are thus taken in this study before the trace of wear is examined. First, a number of uses of the hand and the fingers seem to have originated in the interaction between the performer and the earliest keyboard designs that the medieval organ displayed. An analysis of these uses served as a starting point for the study here of a number of playing practices which remained in currency for long periods. Second, the forms in which the instrument is built and the body operates at it are the result of the socio-cultural and historico-geographical conditions in which both are submerged. Particular attention is thus given here to the potential effect the performer‘s socio-cultural background had on the mechanical action he or she was to use when performing. An experimental clavichord, whose tops were designed to reveal patterns of abrasion more rapidly than those commonly used to cover the keys, was used to aid in an examination of the particular effect of the fingers on the surface of the key. In this form, specific information concerning the various stages of the abrasion caused by the finger‘s contact with the surface of the keys could be gathered. The worn keys of this instrument also provided a much needed reference point to which historical traces of wear could be compared. This helped to establish a number of potential finger actions that might have been responsible for the traces of wear on some historical instruments. A reconstruction of J.S. Bach‘s playing approach was adopted for playing on the experimental clavichord. At the same time, a number of socio-cultural aspects which might have defined Bach‘s approach to the instrument were explored. In this form, a broader picture could be offered which is not limited to an understanding of the most likely mechanical causes behind the origin of the trace of wear.