From Zuckermann Harpsichords: The Pleyel Kit



Pleyel Harpsichord, 1928 (photo: courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

At the recent Boston Early Music Festival, a friend handed me a curious advertisement for a harpsichord I’d thought was no longer being built—in fact, for many decades.

The ad, as it turned out, was an anonymous parody about a fictional instrument (Pleyel) offered by a distinguished American builder of early keyboards (Zuckermann). To my knowledge, the builder has never made such an offering available.

Below is the complete ad. (My apologies to those who won’t get the joke(s) as this is mainly intended for those who are connected to or have an interest in harpsichord-building.)

From Zuckermann Harpsichords: The Pleyel Kit

To complete our line of historical harpsichords, Zuckermann now offers an instrument that faithfully reproduces one of the soi-disant glories from the early period of the harpsichord revival. By its association with Wanda Landowska, the Clavecin Pleyel with sixteen foot is easily the most famous and influential of the initial attempts at reconstruction. It is also the ideal instrument for the multifarious repertory written in this century by composers who did not really know what the harpsichord is all about. Pleyel long ago halted production and originals are rare; we offer a careful reproduction of a grand modèle made in 1937 and played on by Madame herself.

We have been careful to make this as exact a replication as possible. Although plans were stolen from Maison Pleyel in 1974, we have not felt ready until now to make the instrument available. Certain compromises were considered (were the fine-tuning chevilles d’Alibert really necessary?), but all were rejected. Just as certain seemingly inconvenient  features in the construction of early keyboards are inescapably part of the instrument, so the manifold complexities of the Pleyel contribute to it as an experience. Thus, we have retained the fine-tuning devices, the overhead dampers, the many adjustments and construction screws, and the negative-action pedals.

For some builders, casting the iron frame may present difficulties. A mold and crucible are provided as part of the kit, together with directions for improvising a modest blast-furnace in the average basement or garage. For those who would prefer a pre-finished frame, an arrangement has been made with General Motors to provide completed frames at additional cost. All parts necessary to the kit are provided, together with a detailed, step-by-step instruction book as well as a separate volume on the art of voicing leather, including guidance on how much to stanch the flow of blood.

Traditionally, the Pleyel is veneered, and directions and materials are included in the kit for a red mahogany veneer. For those who prefer a more contemporary look for what is, after all, a contemporary instrument, chrome plating can be applied at our workshop to the pre-fitted case parts.

We feel that an instrument should be used to play the music designed for it. However, for those who want to recapture that “thirties feel” in playing baroque music on the Zuckermann Pleyel, a CD of carefully edited 78-rpm surface noise (with pauses at four-minute intervals to “change sides”) is obtainable through us or directly from ABC’s Sounds of Technology Series, Stereo ABC-7SB2941-78.

Prices and options:

Basic kit: $14,840.00
Chrome plating: 3,000.00
Completed iron frame: 2,500.00
Case completed and veneered,
soundboard installed, strung, and action set up: 32,050.00
As preceding, fully voiced in leather: 33,950.00
Completed instrument: 35,500.00

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