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John Challis Concert Harpsichord

 

St. Paul’s is blessed to have an historic Concert harpsichord made in the 1950s by John Challis of Detroit.  It is a grand instrument: two keyboards with a range of five octaves, four sets of strings, two of regular pitch, one an octave higher and another an octave lower, seven pedals, and a steel frame to keep it in tune.  Most harpsichords do no have this.  It was given to St. Paul’s as a gift in 1997 from the estate of Alice Lungershausen, the official harpsichordist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

"The Harpsichord" by John Challis

 

The harpsichord was the instrument par excellence of the 17th and 18th centuries for concert, accompaniment, or for additional color in the orchestra.  Its varieties of tone quality, its speed of action, its abundant wealth of expression, made it the recognized keyboard instrument in the musical world.  The principle of its action is that of strings plucked by a most ingeniously arranged plectrum or finger of leather (or quill).  The result is a rarely beautiful shimmering quality of tone.  Harpsichords are made with two keyboards and with as many as four different sets of strings, each with a different quality of tone (two tuned to the regular pitch, one octave higher, and one octave lower).   The different sets of strings are brought into used by pedal switch, acting somewhat like the stops of the Oregon, place at the immediate command of the player great variety of shading.   This gives a characteristic richness so necessary for the performance of such works of Bach as: the “Italian Concerto”, the Toccatas, Suites, and Partitas.