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A History of the Harpsichord + CD [Hardcover]

Edward L. Kottick
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

May 21 2003

A History of the Harpsichord brings together for the first time more than 200 photographs, illustrations, and drawings of harpsichords in public museums and private collections throughout Europe the United States. Edward L. Kottick draws on his extensive technical knowledge and experience as a harpsichord builder to detail the changing design, structure, and acoustics of the instrument over six centuries.

Based on painstaking research, the book considers the place of the instrument in society and vividly describes the market forces that brought about changes in its form, decoration, and cultural importance. An accompanying CD
includes performances on several of the historical instruments described and illustrated in the volume, including a 1580 spinett virginal by Martin van der Biest and instruments built by Ruckers and Pleyel. The volume devotes attention to American harpsichord design as well as to present and future uses of the instrument.


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" ... full and detailed, the result of hard work, very wide reading and, as often in this area of study, personal experience as an instrument maker... A History of the Harpsichord can thus serve many purposes, for anyone from student players to museum curators."--Times Literary Supplement, 13 February 2004

About the Author

Instrument maker, scholar, researcher, author, and lecturer, musicologist Edward L. Kottick built his first harpsichord in 1963. He has investigated the instrument's acoustical properties as well as its historical aspects, and has published articles on the harpsichord in both scientific and scholarly journals.


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
WRITING CA. 1460, the cleric, astronomer, physician, and encyclopedist Paulus Paulirinus note, "The harpsichord is an instrument of wonderful sweetness for making music.... Read the first page
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Front Cover | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Superb May 31 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I waited with much anticipation for this book and I have not been disappointed. It has exceeded all my expectations, beautiful photography, scholarly content and an accompanying CD for dessert. Highly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little dull in places, but essential if you want to know this topic Oct. 13 2010
By 55anonymous55 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Many people will come to this book having read Frank Hubbard's extraordinary book _Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making_, by far the most influential work ever written in this area. Such readers will inevitably compare Kottick's book with Hubbard's. I think Kottick's is weaker in some ways and stronger in others.

To cover the weaknesses first: Kottick's writing cannot match the elegance and wit of Hubbard's, though it's fun to read the occasional excellent zingers Kottick slips in here and there. Kottick is not as terse as Hubbard and his book is a longer, slower read. There are many descriptions of individual instruments, which can get pretty tedious. Kottick also focuses too much, I feel, on the visual appearance of the instruments. In contrast, Hubbard is at his most gripping where he takes on what I take to be the essential research question: what exactly was it that the old builders were doing when they produced instruments of such excellent sound?

Turning to the pluses: it's been 45 years since Hubbard was published, and there's been a lot of research progress since then. Kottick is in the thick of this research and gives a careful, balanced picture that you would not get from just reading Hubbard. Most notably, Kottick present the case for an "International Style" of harpsichord building, a pattern that seems to have slipped under Hubbard's radar. Kottick also just has a lot more detail, and explains quite a few things of interest that Hubbard doesn't address.

I feel the best part of the book is the final two chapters on the 20th century harpsichord. Kottick knows this field very well--including many of the participants-- and he effectively applies his own experience as a builder and listener.

Curiously, the endnotes are often more interesting than the main text. I read them from start to finish, picking out the ones that had nice anecdotes.

The accompanying CD of sound examples from a variety of historical and modern harpsichords is very enjoyable and informative.

In sum: this book is something of a slog to get through, but if you are fan of harpsichords, a book you absolutely should read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, useful, beautiful June 20 2009
By Fernand Raynaud - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My daughter gave me this book for my birthday, and I am grateful. There are countless books on the history of [....]. Without delving into the relative merits of the many instances in the "history of the harpsichord" genus, the distinguishing feature of this one is that it's written by a very knowledgeable and practical man with the hands of a craftsman, the brain of an engineer, and the heart of a musician. Mr Kottick is also the heaven-sent author of "The Harpsichord Owner's Guide: A Manual for Buyers and Owners", which addresses the final chapter in the history of the harpsichord, namely the day you get one, and the trying days (and months) that follow. To this volume falls the responsibility of setting the stage, and it's very well done. As a coffee-table resident, it pleases; the color plates are wonderful. As narrative, it succeeds; I was moved to learn that Dr Hermann Poll, the plausible inventor of the harpsichord, was executed on "the wheel" at the age of 35, for having taken part in a conspiracy to poison (his) king Rupert, in clear violation of his Hippocratic oaf. It even corrals the clavichord into the fold. As a treatise it tickles; tantalizing controversies abound. The CD is great; it's not meant as a repertoire demo or entertainment, it specifically illustrates the sonic character of each typical harpsichord design, and is indispensable to grasping the range of available timbres. Where other authors insult the somewhat informed reader by reiterating, often inaccurately, and ad nauseam, how the harpsichord is not a struck instrument like the piano (or the kettle drum), but a plucked instrument wherein a plectrum plucks the string, Mr Kottick is not afraid to promptly move in past this level and discuss the detailed mechanics. This is the first such book in which the author, at every turn, anticipates my question: "yes, but HOW?". The little boxed asides in which a specific digression is pursued, are great. This is a recent book, and thus it is based on a far deeper and wider range of sources than the authors of the classics had at their disposal. Controversial issues that were once presented unilaterally are now part of a narrated dialectic, and Kottick is demonstrably well-qualified to do so. Of course, for the inveterate reader, classics such as Russel, and Hubbard, and Boalch, along with Zuckermann's "Modern Harpsichord", are musts, as are Couperin, Troeger, Schott et al. for the player, while Brauchli and Bavington are inevitable for the clavichordomaniac. But if you want to acquire the sort of hands-on sense of the harpsichord family that you might glean at the feet of a literate master builder, and a great story teller, with a realistic picture of how it actually does what it does, how it came to do it, and what can be done to it, and with it, as of 2009 there is no better single-source "tome de resistance" than Kottick's. A tad expensive, but at 550 pages, beautifully printed, it is highly recommended.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An endless row of types and builders not for reading from A to Z July 19 2008
By P. S. Gabler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Expectations were too high, because already in the first chapters I lost my way completely in an endless detailed haystack of information without brief outline. A lavishing row of different types of harpsichord and their builders pass by but that is not the way to read a book from A to Z. Ok I read it all but it was sometimes a burden. However it will be of value in the future because with the good index it is easy to find the quality facts of a harpsichord recording you just bought.
The cd included is a waste because potential readers will know the basic repertoire and will have it all in much better versions too. The many photos and hard cover makes it a luxe edition and I would have settled for less.
In short a nice reference book for looking up specific types of harpsichords occasionally but rather expensive to serve this purpose only.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musik March 23 2013
By Kaz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have loved harpsichord forever...(played when a kid), and this book is gorgeous as well as informative. Lovely to show people who don't know much about the instrument, pictures mean a thousand words.
10 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Superb May 31 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I waited with much anticipation for this book and I have not been disappointed. It has exceeded all my expectations, beautiful photography, scholarly content and an accompanying CD for dessert. Highly recommended.
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