15th Century Clavicytherium

Clavicytherium by Matthias Griewisch - Photo: André Wagenzik
Description: 
The earliest historical keyboard instrument in any collection.
Model: 
Anonymous, built around 1480 in the South German town of Ulm, today in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London.

This clavicytherium is the oldest keyboard instrument that survives in any collection. Strung in gut and plucked with natural quill it is more a mechanized harp to be used at home while the church was cold or there was nobody there to operate the bellows. Also, the absence of dampers in the jacks and the therefore longer ring in the sound reminds about an early harp.

In the 15th century for the first time we find fabulous music for keyboard instruments: Codex Faenza, Buxheim Organ Book, and later intavolations of Josquin's music. On this instrument these pieces sound very convincing as chamber music if one doesn't have the luxury of a late medieval organ.
 

As a harpist, I played this early repertoire, especially the Codex Faenza, on my Gothic instrument for decades until this little clavicytherium came into my life. And it is great fun to see were the instruments parted from each other and more idiomatic harp and keyboard repertoires developed, making the most out of the different qualities of each instrument.

Clavicytherium by Matthias Griewisch - Photo: André Wagenzik
Clavicytherium by Matthias Griewisch - Photo: André Wagenzik
Clavicytherium by Matthias Griewisch - Photo: André Wagenzik
Clavicytherium by Matthias Griewisch - Photo: André Wagenzik
Clavicytherium by Matthias Griewisch - Photo: André Wagenzik