Editor’s Note: The article which follows, from a Harvard Musical Association Bulletin of April, 1946 should be of interest to votaries of the Boston Early Music Festival. If readers know the whereabouts of the cited instruments and collections please respond by blogging.
It appears, from research by the writer, that there was only one harpsichord in Boston in 1885 in playable condition. It was the property of Mr. Morris Steinert, founder of the house of M. Steinert and Sons. Mr. B. J. Lang, who did much for enlarging the horizon of music in Boston, organized a festival for the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bach, born March 21, 1685. In Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” there is the need of a harpsichord, and Mr. Steinert’s instrument was played by Mr. Lang. This was probably the first time for a period of sixty years that a harpsichord had been used in a public concert in Boston.It is interesting to know how little the compilers of the Comprehensive Dictionary, published in 1871, knew relative to the harpsichord. They give the meaning of the word harpsichord: “A keyed instrument, or harp, strung with wire.” That of the virginal is worse: “A musical instrument.” These definitions show the lack of knowledge relative to the instruments because of their rarity. In 1884 there was probably only one harpsichord in the United States in playable condition, and only one player who knew how to use it properly relative to tone colors and the proper touch for the keys and that was Mr. Morris Steinert. At this time of writing (1946), there are fourteen professional harpsichordists in the United States. There is also a maker of harpsichords whose instruments are as splendid in qualities of tone as the best instruments made by the famous makers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and their volume is considerably larger, a virtue needed in these years of large halls.