The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument that was invented in the late fourteenth century and remained popular right up to the end of the eighteenth century, when it was superseded by the piano. Many of the classical piano pieces we know today were originally composed for the harpsichord.
As well as being a musical instrument, a number of these harpsichords are also highly decorative – and were prized not only as a musical instrument but also for their ornamental value, gracing the drawing rooms, salons and concert halls of the time.
The harpsichord produces sound by plucking the strings with a plectrum when a key is pressed. This plectrum is usually made out of quill, although sometimes a type of plastic is now substituted. In historical times, leather was also occasionally used. Because of the nature of this plucking mechanism the harpsichord can’t create loud and soft sounds in the way the piano does by pressing harder on the keys; instead the instruments have several different sets of strings that can be combined in different ways to vary the sound, which is usually done by moving metal levers or handstops. The keys of the instruments are made from a variety of materials – some are stained wood, others bone or ivory.