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Harpsichord (Italian cembalo; French clavecin), stringed keyboard instrument in which the strings are plucked to produce sound. It was developed in Europe in the 14th or 15th century and was widely used from the 16th to the early 19th century, when it was superseded by the piano. In the 20th century the harpsichord was revived for performance of music of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, as well as for new compositions. The incisive sound quality of the plucked metal strings adds clarity to melodic lines. The harpsichord is particularly effective in performing contrapuntal music—that is, music that consists of two or more melodies played at the same time, such as that of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Construction and Mechanism The harpsichord usually has a wing-shaped body, or case, like a grand piano; however, its proportions are narrower and longer, and the case and its inner bracing are normally lighter. Harpsichords have also been built in other shapes. These include the virginal, or virginals, a small oblong instrument; the spinet, a small polygonal harpsichord; and the less common clavicytherium, an upright harpsichord. From the 16th to 19th century the terms spinet and virginal were often used interchangeably, and in England during that era any harpsichord was called a virginal. Harpsichords of any shape have the same plucking mechanism. For each string a small piece of material, or plectrum, is set in a thin slip of wood, or “jack,” which rests internally on the far end of the key. When the front of the key is depressed, the far end rises, and the plectrum plucks the string. The jack is pivoted so that, when the key returns to rest position, the plectrum slides by without striking the string. Since the volume and tone of the sound produced by the plucking mechanism remain constant regardless of the forcefulness of the keystroke, various methods have been developed to alter the harpsichord's sound. Many harpsichords have two strings for each key, with a row of jacks for each set of strings. Stops, or registers, allow the player to move unwanted sets of jacks slightly out of reach of the strings, thus making possible different volumes and combinations of tone colors. One set of strings may sound an octave above normal pitch. Some 18th-century German harpsichords had a set of strings so...

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...18th-century instruments, often incorporating the best of the 19th-century innovations. Electronic Organs Electronic and electric organs, developed in the 20th century, are not organs in the strict sense, for they do not produce sound by air vibrating in a pipe; rather, they are instruments in their own right. One kind, invented in 1935 by an American, Laurens Hammond, utilizes electrical circuits and amplifiers to produce and enlarge the sound. Another kind uses electronic devices such as vacuum tubes. Although such instruments are often designed to imitate the tone qualities of pipe organs, they are frequently criticized for a pinched or artificial-seeming sound. Electronic organs were widely used in the rock bands of the 1960s and after. In such bands, which use extensive electrical sound amplification and manipulation, the distinctive qualities of electronic-organ sound are exploited for their own sake. Reed Organs Keyboard instruments in which the wind supply is directed toward free metal reeds like those of a harmonica or accordion are called reed organs. They include the melodeon, developed in the United States about 1825, and the harmonium, developed in Germany about 1810.
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