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Reflecting on our 50th

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by Diane Hubbard
Diane HubbardIn painting, sculpture, belles-lettres, and in music, we have all witnessed styles fall in and out of favor with irreverence. As I look back on our demi-century of harpsichord manufacture I ponder the changes in artistic taste as they evolved sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly, but never irreversibly.

The artisan industry of musical instrument making was never immune to stylistic change. We are most aware of this capriciousness when we consider performance practice. In the fifty years of Hubbard activity we have seen "period" orchestras ascend from the back rooms of local early music societies to their now seemingly permanent position on the world musical stage.

English Bentside SpinetWithin the Hubbard workshop the trickle down effect of stylistic change is evident in our order books. Throughout the 50's a French double-manual harpsichord was considered a novelty, and English instruments were all the rage. At the very least, one's instrument had to look like 18th century English furniture regardless of its inner soul.

Flemish SingleDuring the 60's, after restoring his own 1584 Moermans harpsichord to playing condition and introducing this design to his customers, Frank Hubbard's order book was filled with nothing but Flemish instruments. I remember so clearly when we met in 1963, Frank was years behind in deliveries of Flemish instruments and convinced he would meet his maker before completing them all.

The magnificent Hemsch HarpsichordIn 1966-67 Frank was invited to establish a restoration workshop for the collection of musical instruments at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris. There he examined several new French designs and soon was keen to offer these to his customers. Simultaneously, the restoration of the Boston Museum's magnificent Henry Hemsch harpsichord (1736?) was underway in our Waltham shop. The timing was propitious. Upon his return to the U.S., Frank appealed to those on the waiting list to change their Flemish orders to the "new" French design. Some did, some didn't, but the rest is history. French doubles proliferated.

By the time Hendrik Broekman returned to the Hubbard shop after Frank's death in 1976, the 18th century French double had become the most ubiquitous design for modern copies used on the concert stage and in the living room. It was now Hendrik's turn to wax wistful about stimulating orders for German and English instruments so that we could hear the sonorities Bach and Handel might have heard when they sat down for the first time at a new instrument by a native maker.

German Double HarpsichordIf the concept of the Hubbard & Broekman German double was born in that instant it was more than a decade before the first German harpsichord left the workshop in 1989. You may remember that during the 60's to wish for a large German style harpsichord was considered poor taste. Clearly, today our outlook has changed. We are very enthusiastic about our Hass instruments with their exceptional brilliance and their ability to execute the clearest articulations. So much so that Hendrik, not one to be taken in by fads, has abandoned his Franco/Flemish double and is building himself a new love . . . a magnificent Hass. Fickle? Perhaps, but I don't believe so.

Remarkably, we have endured 50 years in this field. How it will evolve in the next millennium is unpredictable. The only sure thing is that artistic taste and styles will continue to change and that Hubbard Harpsichords will be there acting in the dual role of preserver of the past and innovator for the future.

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