Tribute to a noble profession

I started my day with a sad news. In the mailbox, a grey envelop. For a second, I was scared. Grey envelops never bring good news. I looked at the stamp. It came from a place which did not remind me of someone in particular. I opened it. And it was indeed not good. The kind man who had fabricated my harpsichord passed away a few days ago, at the age of 66. I was affected by the news.

I always have a deep admiration for these string-instrument makers. There is something very special about this profession. It has more to do with a passion for music than to make money. Besides, they are so rare.

Early December last year, when I was looking to purchase a harpsichord, I hardly found ten of them in all over the country. Then I went to this atelier, the closest to my city. That Saturday afternoon was heaven for me. The atelier was in an old house near the station. Mr. Käppeli (the manufacturer’s name) lives in the house and made it his atelier apparently. Three entire floors with harpsichords. He showed and explained to me each of them. He had let me try each one. All were made by his own hands. The one of the Italian period, painted in a beautiful dark red, produced a warm sound, yet the clavier was hard to play. The British harpsichord, in a pastel green, with flowers inside as ornaments, was distinguished. Its sound was languishing, like the voice of mermaids, sitting on some rocks, far away in the ocean. The French one, I remember, was smaller, with double keyboards, gave a pompous, slightly acute sound. They were all marvelous. My favorite was the one in the attic, not yet finished. A well-known harpsichord concert performer had ordered it. He said it would take him some more months to complete the work. Everything was hand-made. Each tiny piece, each string delicately posed. I just wonder if finally he had had enough time to finish it. Six months had gone by.

I chose a small spinet, which is manufactured exactly the same way as a harpsichord but much smaller. I did not have enough money  to buy the “real” harpsichord and it was also a matter of space for my flat. But I was happy with my choice because it was a good deal for a beginner. The sound was perfect. My teacher told me to always choose a hard clavier, which I did. A harpsichord needs as much care as a human being. Special attention is involved. The room must be humid by 50% so during the winter, a humidifier is required. No direct light should be on the instrument. But it was a real pleasure and it was my Christmas present. My spinet weighted around 60 pounds. I remember I helped Mr. Käppeli carrying it up to my flat on the second floor. He showed me how to tune it. I did not know that harpsichords have the same mechanic as guitars.

Today my spinet is orphan. I have discovered the most wonderful instrument. It has a special meaning to me because  when I am sad and lonely, my only remedy to that is practicing, playing hours and hours and it is the only moment I forget all sorrows.

When I started harpsichord after twenty years of piano and was completely carried away, my stepfather said to me: “It suits you well, I think, because this instrument is distant, cold, in a strange and noble way. The piano is more warmhearted. Harpsichord is like a silent movie and piano the one with dialogs. It suits you because you are cold and distant. You never let them out, your emotions, right?”.

I took the day off, practiced Bach the whole morning. Sorrows could not escape. I kept it all inside. My stepfather was right.

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