The Pleyel Harpsichords

Pleyel-Harpsichord
rafael-puyana.jpgRafael Puyana

When looking at musical life today and considering that numerous ensembles in the past decades have dedicated themselves to historical performance practice, one might well think that the quest for authentic sound is connected with stereophony. That people were trying to revive the original way of playing and attempting to achieve the ideal sound of the old masters is, however, offered by the harpsichords made by the Pleyel firm more than 100 years ago.

The results of extensive studies carried out on museum exhibits, combined with a profound knowledge of modern piano making, all went into the development of these large instruments. Keyboard experts at first regarded an early model, which the French company presented at the World Exhibition in 1889, as a curiosity. However, when the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska performed on an instrument constructed by them to her specifications – two metres long and with six manuals – at the Bach Festival in Breslau in 1912, the audience was amazed. The grandiose sound of the large harpsichord with its metal case inspired instrument makers all over the world to use the Pleyel instruments as a model for their own.

Although further research made in the second half of the 20th century resulted in the construction of softer-sounding wooden-case models, it did not stop de Falla, Poulenc and Distler from composing modern works for the Pleyel harpsichord.

Just how brilliant 17th-century keyboard music can sound on a Pleyel harpsichord is well demonstrated by the present recording. Rafael Puyana, who studied for many years with Landowska, has set down a grand example of historical performance practice and research into sound.

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