Original Instrument Report

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1773 Kirckman Single-manual harpsichord 63K jpeg
Single-manual harpsichord by Jacob & Abraham Kirckman, London 1773

SINGLE-MANUAL HARPSICHORD, Jacob and Abraham Kirckman, London 1773

Jacob Kirchmann (1710–1792) was born in Bischweiler near Strasbourg and went to England in the early 1730s to work with Tabel, anglicizing his family name. His earliest surviving instrument is a double-manual harpsichord dated 1744 believed to be now in private ownership. The latest surviving instrument signed with his own name is a double-manual harpsichord from 1772, now in the Horniman Museum and Library. In the same year as that instrument was built, Jacob took his nephew Abraham (1737–1794) into the business, and the instruments were signed with both their names from then until at least 1790. Abraham’s son Joseph (1763–1830) had joined the firm in 1789, and managed it from 1794. According to Harding’s research of the London trade directories, the business survived in various forms and was still active building pianos in 1896.

Further discussion
Boalch, Donald H Makers of the Harpsichord & Clavichord 1440–1840 Third Edition, Oxford 1995, pp103–108; 423–460
Clinkscale, Martha Novak Makers of the Piano 1700–1820 Oxford University Press, Oxford 1995, pp165–167
Clinkscale, Martha Novak Makers of the Piano Volume 2 1700–1820 Oxford University Press, Oxford 1999, pp210,211
Harding, Rosamond E M The Piano-Forte — Its History traced to the Great Exhibition of 1851 Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1933, p397
Mould, Charles The Development of the English Harpsichord with particular reference to the work of Kirkman Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Oxford 1976
Mould, Charles; Mole, Peter & Strange, Thomas Jacob Kirkman, Harpsichord Maker to Her Majesty Lulu, 2016

The nameboard batten is inscribed Jacobus et Abraham Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1773 and the soundboard contains the third type of rose used by Kirckman, a ø74mm gilt metal trophy of musical instruments reading from the keyboard and incorporating the initials I.K. The instrument was restored in 1971 by Dennis Woolley as noted in pencil on the outside faces of the top and bottom keys: Restored JULY 1971 by Dennis Woolley, Liss, Hants.

The five-octave keyboard has sixty notes FF,GG–f''' (ie without FF). The Stichmaß is 485mm. The lime keylevers are each numbered by hand in ink in front of the balance mortise. The keys are guided by front pins and are appreciably head-heavy. The balance rail and frontrail are oak. The ivory-covered naturals have 40mm heads with two score marks (one at the join, the other about 5mm in front) and 100–103mm tails. The moulded boxwood keyfronts and ivory covers make the natural heads 22mm deep. The beveled solid ebony sharps are 10–12mm wide, and 84–87mm in length. The sheepskin-covered keyend cloths appear to be original or at least early, with an additional interspersed layer of modern thin red cloth on some keys. One layer of original green woolly cloth remains on the frontrail, and another on the jackrail. All the other cloths were modern replacements including the cloth balance punchings.

1773 Kirckman 4⁠´ jack 42K jpeg
4⁠´ jack from the 1773 Kirckman

Disposition & Action
There are three registers: Front 8⁠´ ←, Back 8⁠´→ & 4⁠´ ←. There is no harp stop. (The information in Boalch 3 is erroneous and it was probably intended to mention machine stop instead.) In Mould’s alphanumeric coding system, this instrument is represented as 1284OOMO. The action is exceptionally well preserved. The pearwood jacks are original and retain their original tongues punched with curved mortises for quill and sprung with boar bristle. The tongues are made of holly except those of both unison choirs from the tenor up, which are of boxwood. All jacks have been stamped with the note number and choir number, the front 8⁠´ being register 1. All jacks have staples and the unison choir jacks have double damper slots. Two or three jacks are not original to this instrument, but are also by Kirckman: They also have stamped numbers. The registers were carefully and precisely made from single pieces of maple, controlled by an original and complete set of brass-knobbed iron hand-stops and by the machine-stop pedal which pivots on a bottom brace on the front left stand leg. There is no means of overriding the machine stop other than disconnecting it: In usual operation, all three choirs sound. As the pedal is depressed, the 4⁠´ is turned OFF, followed by the front 8⁠´, leaving only the back 8⁠´ sounding—assuming the latter’s stop lever is engaged. The hand-stops penetrate the nameboard and are arranged as follows:
      At the bass:   4⁠´ ←     At the treble:  Front 8⁠´ ← & Back 8⁠´→

During its 1971 restoration, the harpsichord was restrung in phosphor bronze and steel, fortunately retaining the original undrilled tuning pins. The 8⁠´ tuning pins measure around ø5.25mm and the 4⁠´ tuning pins around ø4.7mm. These modern strings were measured and the total tension calculated to be approximately 814kg at A415 pitch before being removed. A new stringing schedule was devized and the instrument restrung with Malcolm Rose yellow brass, and P-wire. The total tension was recalculated to be approximately 874kg at A415. Two tuning pins on the 4⁠´ choir (#10, #25) are carefully-made replacements from the 1970s. There is no evidence of string gauge numbers having been stamped on the nuts as often seen in Kirckman instruments. There are penciled gauge numbers on the soundboard near the 4⁠´ bridge for that choir. The 8⁠´ bridge pinning is staggered to allow more uniform string lengths for the same note of alternate choirs than if they were inline. The left-facing front 8⁠´ plucks the slightly longer string. The bridge is backpinned for the bottom three notes of the 4⁠´ choir (FF,GG,GG), and the bottom twenty-nine notes (FF,GG–b) of the 8⁠´ choirs. The 8⁠´ nut is pierced to allow the 4⁠´ strings (from c' up) to pass through it to reach their tuning pins.

The quarter-sawn spruce soundboard is 4mm thick at its visible front edge, and large areas have the distinctive “bear-claw” figuration. The bridges and nuts are beech. The oak wrestplank is veneered with mahogany, and the gap spanned by six maple gap spacers. With the exception of the spine, the oak case is veneered with crotch mahogany panels, separated by sycamore(?) stringing from the cross-banded mahogany. The three faces of the keywell are veneered likewise, but with burr walnut panels and walnut cross-banding. The nameboard batten is veneered in burr walnut. The lid and lid flaps are solid mahogany, the main lid a single plank. The bottom is softwood. The instrument retains its original brasswork, although a later lock has been added to the fallboard. A lid hook eye and the central nameboard thumbscrew were missing, along with all the escutcheons for the lid hinges on the spine. The instrument did not originally have a music desk: The present mahogany music desk, not shown in the photo above, dates from 1971. (Note that in the photo taken for the 2012 auction catalog, the music desk sled was incorrectly placed vertically, rather than sitting flat on top of the tuning pins.) The scantlings are 18–19mm on all case sides, including the unveneered spine. The harpsichord case without lid but including bottom mouldings (not on unveneered spine) measures 2208mm long, 929mm wide and 271mm in depth. The mahogany moulded square leg trestle stand with its pedal and wooden casters appears original to the instrument and supports the bottom of the harpsichord at 613mm above the floor.

The harpsichord was acquired by auction on July 12 2012 where it was lot 315 in Christie’s London sale UK95307, Works of Art from the Collection of The late Lord Forte & An Interior by Françoise de Pfyffer. I am grateful to my colleague Claire Hammett for alerting me to this sale, along with the condition report provided on my request by my colleague Miles Hellon, and the report by Mimi Waitzman which was commissioned by Christie’s. The provenance was noted in the auction catalog as “by repute the composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) and given in settlement of a debt to (by repute) Robert Finnie McEwen (1861–1926) and by family descent to his grandson Sir Robert Lindley McEwen of Marchmont and Bardrochat, 3rd Bt (1926–1980) and sold by his widow Lady Brigid McEwen of Marchmont and Bardrochat, Christie’s London, 17 November 1981, lot 54.” It is believed the owner from that time kept the instrument in Switzerland.

Biographer of Stanford, Jeremy Dibble, quotes a letter dated 1 February 1922 from Stanford in reduced circumstances to his patron McEwen, suggesting he might like to buy his harpsichord, which McEwen did [see below]. Further research is yet to determine when or from whom Stanford may have obtained his harpsichord. He was associated with John Alexander Fuller-Maitland (1856–1936) and William Barclay Squire (1855–1927) from their student days together at Cambridge: Those names are known as the editors of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1899. It would seem Stanford’s Kirckman harpsichord was a possession he held in high importance for many years, retaining it to near the end of his life and only reluctantly disposing of it to avert penury. He was writing the letter to McEwen away from his instrument because he misquoted the year and used the original family spelling of “Kirchmann” rather than the “Kirckman“ always used on their harpsichord nameboards.

1773 Kirckman nameboard inscription 57K jpeg
Inscription on the 1773 Kirckman nameboard batten

Opening concert & recording
The restored 1763 Kirckman debuted in a program of works by Locke, Purcell, Arne and Handel broadcast live by ABC Classic FM from Sydney’s City Recital Hall on Saturday November 9, 2013. On national tour for Musica Viva with Australian soprano Sara Macliver, Richard Egarr directed the Academy of Ancient Music from the harpsichord.

In August 2017, ABC Classics released Handel Great Suites, the debut solo album of Erin Helyard on the Kirckman.

1773 Kirckman nameboard inscription 43K jpeg
1773 Kirckman rose

Christie’s: Works of Art from the Collection of The late Lord Forte & An Interior by Françoise de Pfyffer, Thursday 12 July 2012, p161:

[Lot] *~315
The interior walnut crossbanded; the rose with King David between
the initials ‘I.K.’, inscribed [sic] ‘Abraham Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1773’
87in. (221cm.) long; 36¾˝ in (93.5cm.) wide
Compass: 5 octaves FF–f3 (no FF); three sets of strings and three
handstops: 4 foot, 8foot [sic]; the machine controlled by a pedal

£10,000–20,000                                        US$16,000–30,0000

By repute the composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) and
given in settlement of a debt to
(by repute) Robert Finnie McEwen (1861–1926) and by family
descent to his grandson
Sir Robert Lindley McEwen of Marchmont and Bardrochat, 3rd Bt
(1926–1980) and sold by his widow
Lady Brigid McEwen of Marchmont and Bardrochat, Christie’s
London, 17 November 1981, lot 54.

Donald H. Boalch, Makers of the Harpsichord & Clavichord, 1440–1840,
Oxford, 1974, p. 91.


Dibble, Jeremy, Charles Villiers Stanford: man and musician, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, p458:

By 1 February 1922 Stanford reported to McEwen that his royalties had slumped and that in order to generate some income he planned to sell some of his assets:

Forgive my worrying you! But—like everyone else—-I am pretty badly hit, and one of my stand bys, Royalty accounts, have slumped about £150,—a serious matter for me. They’ll get better again. Mean time I have two things which might be worth selling, and thereby I could tide over: 1. my harpsichord, a Jacob and Abraham Kirchmann of 1771 [sic], in perfect order and very pretty; 2. you might know of someone who would care to buy Herkomer's picture of C.V.S. done in 1883 (3/4 length). You have a far better thing: but someone might care for it; for the sake of the picture!

McEwen agreed to buy the harpsichord and it was later delivered to Marchmont House. As a token of his gratitude Stanford composed for his friend a setting of Ben Jonson’s ‘Queen and Huntress’ (famously set some years later by Britten in his Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings), but of a more substantial nature, he also offered him the autograph manuscript of the Fifth Symphony (which had recently been returned by the Carnegie Trust after publication) and in Malvern on 15 April he completed a short wedding anthem, ‘Veni, Creator Spiritus’ (which was published by Stainer & Bell) on McEwen’s request for the marriage of his daughter Katherine in July.


Boalch, Donald H, Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440–1840, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 3rd edition edited by Charles Mould 1995, pp444,445:

Type: Single-manual harpsichord.
Date: 1773.
Specification: 2x8⁠´, 1x4⁠´.
Additional features: Harp stop. [sic]
Compass: FF[sic]–f'''(A).
Number of roses: 1.
Previous history: Sir Chas. V. Stanford, who gave it to the present owner’s grandfather. Acquired by the present owner in 1970. Restored by Dennis Woolley in 1972 [sic], including flattening of buckled soundboard, replacing portions of 8⁠´ hitchpin rail, repairs to case and pedal mechanism, and restringing and revoicing.
Information supplied by: B2/ Woolley.
Boalch 3 number: KIRKMAN, J. and A. 1773(1).
Boalch 2 number: 52.


Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd Auction Catalogue: Printed Music & Fine Musical Instruments Tuesday 17 November 1981, unpaginated:

The Property of LADY McEWEN
[Lot] 54
A FINE SINGLE MANUAL HARPSICHORD by J. & A. Kirckman 1773, the nameboard
inscribed Jacobus et Abraham Kirckman Londini Fecerunt 1773; the mahogany
case partly crossbanded, with brass strap-hinges and hooks, the interior of cross-
banded walnut, the gilt metal rose with King David between the initials “IK”, on a
trestle stand, length 87in (221cm.), width 36¾in (93.4cm.)
Compass: 5 octaves; FF–f3 (no FF); three sets of strings and three handstops:
4 foot, 8 foot, 8 foot; the machine controlled by a pedal
It is believed that this instrument was given to Robert Finnie McEwen by the
composer Charles Villiers Stanford in payment of a debt
Cf. Boalch: Makers of the Harpsichord & Clavichord, p. 64

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) 17K jpeg
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924)


Boalch, Donald H, Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440–1840, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2nd edition 1974, p91:

No.: 52
G-D [Grove] (5 edn.) no.:
Date: 1773
Maker(s): J&A
Kbs.: 1
Past owners: Sir Chas. V. Stanford, who gave it to the present owner’s grandfather
Present owner: R. McEwen, Greenlaw, Berwicks. (1970)


Boalch, Donald H, Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord 1440–1840, New York: Macmillan Press, 1st edition 1956, p64:

No.: 52
G-D (5ed) no.:
Date: 1773
Maker(s): J&A
Kb(s): 1
Past owners: Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.
Present owner:
Remarks: See The Connoisseur, vol. 46, no. 181, London, September 1916.

Outline of Work

Grateful thanks to those who encouraged and assisted me: Richard Egarr, Claire Hammet, Miles Hellon, Charles Mould, Christopher Nobbs, Malcolm Rose & Mimi Waitzman (UK); Stephen Birkett (CA); Eddy Valk & Colin van der Lecq (AU).
Carey Beebe at the 1773 Kirckman harpsichord 77K jpeg

Fine tuning: Harpsichord maker Carey Beebe with the restored 1773 instrument
which was opened by Richard Egarr leading the Academy of Ancient Music in Sydney November 9, 2013.

See the interview by Nick Galvin which appeared on page 14
of The Sydney Morning Herald and on their website November 9.


Movie thumb 3K jpeg Movie 1K gif Single-manual harpsichord by Jacob and Abraham Kirckman, London 1773
Carey Beebe talks about his restoration of the 1773 Kirckman harpsichord.
Shot by Wolter Peeters for Fairfax Media.


National Trust logo 4K gif

2014 National Trust of Australia (NSW) Heritage Award (Conservation—Interiors & Objects)

See the item by Monica Heary which appeared on page 5
of St George & Sutherland Shire Leader on May 22 and on their website May 24 2014.


Handel Great Suites CD cover 39K jpeg
Handel Great Suites CD cover


1773 Kirckman 2014 postcard thumbnail 8K jpeg
Download postcard.


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