The Harpsichord Master
This little advertisement appeared in the London newspaper The Post Boy, 21-23 October 1697. It is actually a transcription of the title page of a collection of keyboard pieces called The Harpsichord Master by Mr Henry Purcell and others, published in that year. It was the first of a series of instructional books published by John Walsh, and his successors, to meet a growing demand from the public as the harpsichord became more and more popular as an instrument. During this time the harpsichord underwent considerable development and became one of the most important European instruments eventually evolving into the pianoforte. Often it is only the advertisements like the one above that give evidence of the existence of these books.
|Image: Mr H. Purcells new sebell. From: The harpsichord master. London: I. Walsh, 1697. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.
You can view a digitised version of The Harpsichord Master on Kura Heritage Collections Online.
|Image: Cover. The harpsichord master. London: I. Walsh, 1697. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.
Subsequent to the Auckland Public Library’s unique discovery, a new edition of the book was compiled by Petre and published in 1980. In his introduction, Petre describes the first piece in The Harpsichord Master as one of the most interesting because it appears to have Purcell’s own fingerings which are quite different to current practice. Also, there are quite a number of annotations throughout the book which all have some sort of nautical association. It seems natural to think that one of the book’s owners had a strong connection to the sea. Perhaps the notes and tunes were added on board ship at some time?
In 2018 maestro Peter Watts gave a live performance of The Harpsichord Master as part of the Central City Library's Heritage Concerts – Spring Series. Peter performed on his own harpsichord and talked about the instrument, its development and The Harpsichord Master. Listen to recordings from the concert here.
Peter’s instrument was made in Wellington and is a copy, by Zuckerman, of an early 17th century Flemish single manual harpsichord after the design of Ruckers. Andreas Ruckers, based in Antwerp, was one of the most important Flemish harpsichord makers.
Further readingReal Gold: treasures of Auckland City Libraries/ by Iain Sharp; Auckland University Press, 2007
The Harpsichord Master: containing plain and easy instructions for learners on ye spinet or harpsichord / written by ye late famous Mr H. Purcell……./printed and sold by Walsh and Hare 1697
The Harpsichord Master: containing plain and easy instructions for learners on ye spinet or harpsichord / written by ye late famous Mr H. Purcell……./ Price Milburn Music, 1980
Author: Marilyn Portman, Heritage Librarian Music