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Harpsichord Ruckers-Taskin

chordophone

This sumptuous two-manual harpsichord, (inv. 3848) corresponds to the one described in the Parisian notice sheet Affiches, annonces et avis divers of 23 January 1777. It was then put up for sale by the "sieur de la Chevardière, maître de musique" for the astronomical sum of "260 louis" to be paid in cash. In 1885, the instrument was exhibited at the International Inventions Exhibition in London. Considered to have belonged to Queen Marie-Antoinette, it was presented there as a harpsichord from the most famous dynasty of harpsichord makers, the Antwerp Ruckers. However, this prestigious ancestry has been undermined by a recent study which has indisputably demonstrated that the instrument was French rather than Antwerp .

Built around 1695, it was originally equipped with three rows of strings (2x8', 1x4'), three stops and two 55-note keyboards (G1, A1 - d3). Its case, placed on a gilded oak stand in the Louis XIV style, is decorated with battle scenes commemorating the conquests of the King of France. It shows the capture of the cities of Oudenaarde, Leau, Kortrijk, Charleroi, ... while the inner side of the lid shows a group of horsemen hunting in a hilly landscape. This exceptional decoration is the work of two French masters: Jean-Baptiste Martin (Paris 1659-1735), known as Martin des Batailles, and Pierre-Denis Martin (1663-1742).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the centuries, the instrument was subject to numerous modifications. Around 1750, it underwent a first reworking during which the range of each of its keyboards was increased to 58 notes (F1 - d3). It is also likely at this time that the instrument was intentionally falsified in order to appear to be a Ruckers harpsichord: the original soundboard was replaced by an assembly of planks from an old virginal and an old harpsichord, and it was adorned with floral and fruit motifs borrowed from the Ruckers repertoire : tulips, snake’s head  fritillary, blueberries, narcissus, bellflowers, strawberry blossoms, pansies, lilies, roses and lilies of the valley are thus mixed with a few cherries, plums, peaches, strawberries and acorns. In addition, a little below the false Ruckers rose, two large radishes are added - the patterns carefully masking the disparate assembly of the planks. 

 

The instrument was modified again in 1774, this time by the famous harpsichord maker and keeper of musical instruments for the King of France, Pascal Taskin (Liege 1723 - Paris 1793). In order to "modernise" the instrument, its compass was extended to five full octaves (61 notes, F1 - f3) in accordance with contemporary instruments. In addition he reinforced the spine, replaced the soundboard barring and case framing, added a row of jacks with leather plectra and six knee-levers to operate the different stops.

But in 1905, when the harpsichord was enjoying a renaissance in France, the Parisian harpsichord maker Louis Tomasini, who wished to restore the instrument to a state closer to the original, removed some of Pascal Taskin's interventions, notably the knee-levers, which he replaced with two stop-levers placed on either side of the wrestplank.

The last intervention on the instrument was carried out by Frank Hubbard in Boston between 1951 and 1957. The American maker replaced a row of jacks as well as the plectra and some tongues. He consolidated the soundboard, replaced the bottom and added a lower-case moulding.

 

Despite all these interventions, the instrument remains one of the jewels of the MIM collection! In 1996, thanks to funding from the Fondation Roi Baudouin, it underwent a meticulous restoration, involving the treatment of the supports and the painted panels, in order to restore it to its full lustre.

Pascale Vandervellen