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harpsichord Joannes Couchet, Antwerp, 1646

chordophone

It was in 1626 that Joannes Couchet (Antwerp, 2 February 1615 - 2 April 1655), grandson of the famous harpsichord maker Hans Ruckers, began as an apprentice in the workshop of his uncle Joannes Ruckers. Sixteen years later, he became a master and was admitted to the famous Guild of St. Luke, a professional organization grouping, in addition to artists and artisans, harpsichord makers. When Joannes Ruckers died in 1642, his Jodenstraat workshop passed to Joannes Couchet whose outstanding skills meant that he had little difficulty in retaining the previously acquired renown or the international clientele. We know that the French composer and harpsichordist Jacques Champion de Chambonnières possessed two harpsichords signed by Couchet, instruments he was extremely satisfied with. Frequently mentioned in official records between 1646 and 1653, Couchet also undertook alongside his instrument making several restorations and tunings of organs in Antwerp churches, including the Onze Lieve Vrouw cathedral. The instrument maker died on 2 April 1655. Symbolizing his career as much as his talent, the coffin in which he is buried is shaped like a harpsichord.

Grafdicht

In dese kromme kist rust Ian Couchet; met reden:

Sij beeldt syn ambacht uijt en past neet op syn' leden;

De korst na de Pasteij. Dan, leser, weet daer bij,

Hy light niet op syn' rugg, maer op syn'slincke zij.

 Constantijn Huygens

 

Epitaph

In this bent box reposes Jan Couchet; and with reason:

It testifies to his craft and perfectly accommodates his limbs;

Like the crust on the pie. Know also, reader,

He does not rest on his back, but on his left side.

Only a few rare instruments signed by Joannes Couchet are preserved in the world. The mim harpsichord, dated 1646 (inv. M276), attests to the exceptional sound quality of his instruments built in the long tradition of the Ruckers. Featuring two keyboards, it has the disposition 2 x 8', 1 x 4' and four registers. The instrument shows evidence of enlargement, probably carried out in the eighteenth century, whereby the range of the two keyboards was extended (G1/B1 - f3). This so-called "ravalement" involved considerable work, including amongst others, adding a piece of wood to the frame in order to increase the width of the keyboard, extending the trestles, the soundboard and guides as well as the addition of strings and jacks. We also notice that the instrument's two keyboards were aligned: originally it was a transposing harpsichord. The case would originally have been richly decorated but unfortunately the exterior was covered with a uniform layer of colour, while the lid was adorned with a still life and a hunting scene. In contrast, the decoration of the soundboard is original: like all Flemish harpsichords, it is painted in distemper with flowers, fruit and birds. In the centre, a gilded lead rosette represents an angel playing the harp, with on either side, the initials I.C.

Media
Images: 
harpsichord Joannes Couchet, M276
keyboard and signature of M276
Den Haag, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KA XLc, 1655, fo.8a.
M276's lid interior