The VIRGINALS or VIRGINAL is a keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family. It was popular in Europe during the late Renaissance and early baroque periods.
* 1 Description * 2 Mechanism * 3 Etymology * 4 History
* 5 Types
* 5.1 Spinet virginals * 5.2 Muselars * 5.3 Ottavini * 5.4 Double virginals
* 6 Compass and pitch * 7 Decoration * 8 Composers and collections of works * 9 Further reading * 10 Notes * 11 References * 12 External links
A virginal is a smaller and simpler rectangular form of the harpsichord with only one string per note running more or less parallel to the keyboard on the long side of the case. Many, if not most, of the instruments were constructed without legs, and would be placed on a table for playing. Later models were built with their own stands.
The mechanism of the virginals is identical to the harpsichord 's, in that its wire strings are plucked by plectra mounted in jacks. Its case, however, is rectangular, and the single choir of strings—one per note—runs roughly parallel to the keyboard. The strings are plucked either at one end, as with the harpsichord, or, in the case of the muselar, nearer the middle, producing a richer, flute -like tone.
The origin of the name is obscure. It may derive from the
In England, during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras , any stringed
keyboard instrument was often described as a virginals, and could
equally apply to a harpsichord or possibly even a clavichord or spinet
. Thus, the masterworks of
Like the harpsichord , the virginals has its origins in the medieval psaltery to which a keyboard was applied, probably in the 15th century. The first mention of the word is in Paulus Paulirinus of Prague's (1413–1471) Tractatus de musica of around 1460 where he writes: The virginal is an instrument in the shape of a clavichord, having metal strings which give it the timbre of a clavicembalo. It has 32 courses of strings set in motion by striking the fingers on projecting keys, giving a dulcet tone in both whole and half steps. It is called a virginal because, like a virgin, it sounds with a gentle and undisturbed voice. The OED records its first mention in English in 1530, when King Henry VIII purchased five instruments so named. Small early virginals were played either in the lap, or more commonly, rested on a table, but nearly all later examples were provided with their own stands.
The heyday of the virginals was the latter half of the 16th century to the later 17th century until the high baroque period when it was eclipsed in England by the bentside spinet and in Germany by the clavichord .
An Italian spinetta or virginals after Alessandro Bertolotti, c. 1586, provided with a false outer case. Note the projecting keyboard, unlike the inset Flemish examples.
Spinet virginals (not to be confused with the spinet ) were made
principally in Italy (Italian: spinetta), England and
Woman at a muselar, by
Muselars (also muselaar) were made only in northern Europe. Here, the keyboard is placed right of centre and the strings are plucked about one-third the way along their sounding length. This gives a warm, rich, resonant sound, with a strong fundamental and weak overtones. However, this comes at a price: the jacks and keys for the left hand are inevitably placed in the middle of the instrument's soundboard , with the result that any mechanical noise from these is amplified. In addition to mechanical noise, from the string vibrating against the descending plectrum , the central plucking point in the bass makes repetition difficult, because the motion of the still-sounding string interferes with the ability of the plectrum to connect again. An 18th-century commentator (Van Blankenberg, 1739) wrote that muselars "grunt in the bass like young pigs". Thus the muselar was better suited to chord -and-melody music without complex left hand parts. The muselar could also be provided with a stop called the harpichordium (also arpichordium), which consists of lead hooks being lightly applied against the ends of the bass strings in such a manner that the string vibrating against the hook produces a buzzing, snarling sound.
Muselars were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries and their ubiquity has been compared to that of the upright piano in the early 20th century, but like other types of virginals they fell out of use in the 18th century.
Both Italian and northern schools produced a miniature virginals called the ottavino. Ottavini were pitched an octave higher than the larger instrument. In the Flemish tradition these were often – perhaps always – sold together with a large virginals, to which the ottavino could be coupled (see DOUBLE VIRGINALS below). In the Italian tradition, an ottavino was usually a separate instrument of its own, being fitted in its own outer case, just like larger Italian instruments. 1689 Menegoni Ottavino from the Hans Adler keyboard collection.
The Flemish school , in particular the
Ruckers family, produced a
special type of virginals known as Mother and Child (moeder und kind).
This consisted of two instruments in one: a normal virginals (either
spinet or muselar) with one (say) 6′ register, and an ottavino with
one 3′ register. The smaller ottavino was stored (rather like a
drawer) under the soundboard next to the keyboard of the larger
instrument, and could be withdrawn and played as a separate keyboard
instrument. However, the two instruments could also be coupled
together, the ottavino being placed over the strings of the larger
virginals (once the jackrail was removed), so that the jacks of the
latter passed through a slot in the bottom of the ottavino. The jacks
of the larger instrument now activated the keys of the ottavino, so
that both instruments sounded simultaneously, giving a more brilliant
Among the instruments in the inventory of
Henry VIII of England
COMPASS AND PITCH
The keyboard compass of most virginals was C2/E2 to C6 (45 notes, 4 octaves), which allowed the performance of the music contemporarily available for the instruments. The lower octave was tuned to a short octave , so that the bottom E sounded C2, the bottom F♯ sounded D2, and the bottom G♯ sounded E2, thus making use of nominal keys that were rarely used in the contemporary repertory. Some Italian models ranged from C2 to F6 (54 notes, 4 1⁄2 octaves).
Whilst many early virginals throughout Europe were left in plain wood, they were soon provided with rich decoration, which may have contributed to the survival of many such instruments. From mouldings on case edges, jackrails and namebattens to adornment with ivory , mother-of-pearl , marble , agate , tortoiseshell or semi-precious stones , not to mention intricate painting, no expense was spared by those who could afford it.
Most Flemish virginals had their soundboards painted with flowers, fruit, birds, caterpillars, moths and even cooked prawns, all within blue scalloped borders and intricate blue arabesques . Many of these motifs appear to be resurrection symbols (Germann, p. 28). Natural keys were normally covered in bone, and sharps were of oak or, less commonly, chestnut. The case exteriors were usually marbled, whilst the inside was decorated with elaborate block-printed papers. Occasionally the inside of the lid bore a decorative scene; more often it was covered with block-printed papers embellished with a Latin motto , usually connected with morality or music. Mottos could also be applied to the keywell batten. Some typical mottos include:
* SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MVNDI (Thus passes the glory of the world) * MVSICA DVLCE LABORVM LEVAMEN (Music is the sweet solace of labour) * MVSICA DONVM DEI (Music is the gift of God)
The Dutch artist
There was no such "standard decoration" for Italian virginals. Where there was an outer case, it was often this that was decorated, leaving the actual instrument plain (typically for Venetian virginals). Cases could be decorated with paintings of grotesques , classical scenes, or marquetry , but soundboards were rarely painted. Keytops could be of plain boxwood , or lavishly decorated (as was often the case in northern Italy) with ivory, ebony , mother-of-pearl or tortoiseshell among other materials.
Traditionally, the soundboards of both northern and Italian virginals were pierced with a rose , sometimes two or three in early days. The rose had no acoustic function, and was purely decorative. Although these were a throwback to the rose in the medieval lute , they were never carved integrally as part of the soundboard. In Italian instruments they were usually constructed by combining multiple layers of pierced parchment , so that the final result looked like a gothic rose window , or an inverted wedding cake . In Flemish instruments, the rose was usually cast from lead and gilded, and usually incorporated the maker's initials.
COMPOSERS AND COLLECTIONS OF WORKS
As has been noted above, the word virginals could be applied to any
stringed keyboard instrument, and since there was very rarely any
indication of instrumentation on musical scores in the heyday of the
virginals, there are hardly any compositions that can be said to be
specifically for that instrument. Indeed, nearly all the keyboard
music of the renaissance sounds equally well on harpsichord,
virginals, clavichord or organ, and it is doubtful if any composer had
a particular instrument in mind when writing keyboard scores. A list
of composers for writing for the virginals (among other instruments)
may be found under virginalist . Although the "virginalist school"
usually refers to English composers, it would not be incorrect to use
the word in connection with some continental keyboard composers of the
period, such as
Out of the some dozen so-called English "virginal books" (see below), only Elizabeth Roger\'s Virginal Book actually bears the word in its original title: the other collections were attributed the name by music scholars in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries.
A selection of English "virginal books" includes:
* The Mulliner Book * The Dublin Virginal Manuscript * Elizabeth Roger\'s Virginal Book * Fitzwilliam Virginal Book * My Ladye Nevells Booke * Clement Matchett\'s Virginal Book * Parthenia * Priscilla Bunbury\'s Virginal Book * Will Forster\'s Virginal Book * Anne Cromwell\'s Virginal Book
* Germann, Sheridan, " Harpsichord Decoration – A Conspectus" In The Historical Harpsichord, vol. IV. General Editor: Howard Schott. Pendragon Press, Hillsdale, NY, 2002. ISBN 0-945193-75-0 * Hubbard, Frank, Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making, 2nd ed., Harvard University Press, 1967. ISBN 0-674-88845-6 * Kottick, Edward, A History of the Harpsichord, Indiana University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-253-34166-3 * O'Brien, Grant, Ruckers: A Harpsichord and Virginal Building Tradition, Cambridge University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-521-06682-2 * Rueger, Christoph, Musical Instruments and Their Decoration, Seven Hills Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1986. ISBN 0-911403-17-5 * Russell, Raymond, The Harpsichord and Clavichord: an introductory study, 2nd ed., London : Faber and Faber, 1973. ISBN 0-571-04795-5 * Yorke, James, Keyboard Instruments at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1986. ISBN 0-948107-04-9
* Double virginal by Hans Ruckers, 1581
* Spinetta or virginal, Venice, 1540
* Double virginal by Ludovicus Growelus, ca. 1600
* ^ The plural form may be used to refer to a single instrument.
* ^ Vermeer: Painting of \'Lady Seated at the Virginals\'. * ^ "A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals