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HISTORY AND ORIGINATORS OF KEYBOARD BAROQUE PERIOD Harpsichord Italian cembalo French clavecin stringed keyboard instrument in which the strings are plucked to produce sound It was developed in Europe in the 14th or 15th century and was widely used from the 16th to the early 19th century when it was superseded by the piano In the 20th century the harpsichord was revived for performance of music of the 16th 17th and 18th centuries as well as for new compositions The incisive sound quality of the plucked metal strings adds clarity to melodic lines The harpsichord is particularly effective in performing contrapuntal musicthat is music that consists of two or more melodies played at the same time such as that of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach Construction and Mechanism The harpsichord usually has a wing-shaped body or case like a grand piano however its proportions are narrower and longer and the case and its inner bracing are normally lighter Harpsichords have also been built in other shapes These include the virginal or virginals a small oblong instrument the spinet a small polygonal harpsichord and the less common clavicytherium an upright harpsichord From the 16th to 19th century the terms spinet and virginal were often used interchangeably and in England during that era any harpsichord was called a virginal Harpsichords of any shape have the same plucking mechanism For each string a small piece of material or plectrum is set in a thin slip of wood or jack which rests internally on the far end of the key When the front of the key is depressed the far end rises and the plectrum plucks the string The jack is pivoted so that when the key returns to rest position the plectrum slides by without striking
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