Ammer was one of several German manufacturers of mass-produced harpsichords, or Serien Instrumente. Founded in 1927 and located in Eisenberg, in what later became East Germany, Ammer harpsichords were found throughout Eastern Europe. They can be heard on nearly all of the Supraphon recordings by Zuzana Růžičková and Josef Hála, as well as early Hungaroton recordings by János Sebestyén. The Austrian harpsichordist Isolde Ahlgrimm used two early Ammers, one from 1937, the other from 1941, to record her Bach edition for Philips. In 1974, under the direction of Jürgen Ammer, the company began building instruments based on historical models at a new workshop in Leipzig. The firm closed in 1988, although Jürgen Ammer continues to build historical instruments at his workshop in Schauenburg.
Robert Goble, builder of harpsichords and clavichords, worked with Arnold Dolmetsch for twelve years before setting up his own workshop in Oxford, England in 1937. His instruments, known for their quality and reliability, were found throughout Europe. George Malcolm claimed it as his favorite harpsichord and used it for many recordings, including a solo Bach recital and series of Bach concertos for EMI, as well as his Decca recording of concertos by J. C. Bach and Haydn. Other notable recordings include Raymond Leppard's complete traversal of Bach's harpsichord concertos for Philips and Genoveva Gálvez's many solo recordings for the Spanish label Hispavox, including the first integral set of Soler's quintets. The Goble workshop continues to operate today, offering historical instruments.
From SVERIGES RADIO János Sebestyén, harpsichord
Thomas Goff (1898-1975) was a London builder of clavichords and harpsichords. He built only one type of harpsichord: a large two-manual instrument, elaborately veneered, with a complicated action that offered the performer some control over dynamics through the use of pedals. Goff sold few or these instruments, preferring to keep them as rentals. The Goff harpsichord, with its unique and immediately identifiable sound, became well-known through Thurston Dart's many L'Oiseau-Lyre recordings, Valda Aveling's famous Scarlatti recital for RCA, and George Malcolm's popular Decca recordings. Composed specifically for Goff harpsichords, Malcolm's Variations on a Theme by Mozart was often performed at the annual concerts of music for four harpsichords held at London's Royal Festival Hall during the 1950s and 60s.
The German piano firm of J. C. Neupert began building harpsichords in 1906, eventually becoming the most ubiquitous of the Serien instrument manufacturers. Their harpsichords were found everywhere and were played, at some point, by nearly every harpsichordist active during the 20th century revival of the instrument. Even performers now long associated with historic instruments, such as Gustav Leonhardt and Huguette Dreyfus, took their turn. Notable recordings of Neuperts include Ralph Kirkpatrick's 1950s Bach series for Archiv and Karl Richter's many recordings for both Archiv and Telefunken. For Erato, Zuzana Růžičková and Luciano Sgrizzi made several recordings on Neuperts, as did Robert Veyron-Lacroix, who used them for his second traversal of the Bach harpsichord concertos in 1968. Located in Bamberg, Neupert still offers their Serien instruments, although they now focus on historical models.
From ERATO STU 70448 Robert Veyron-Lacroix, Anne-Marie Beckensteiner, Laurence Boulay & Hans Goverts, harpsichords
Jean-François Paillard Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jean-François Paillard Robert Veyron-Lacroix, harpsichord
From HARMONIA MUNDI HMO 30791 Huguette Dreyfus, harpsichord
The French piano manufacturer Pleyel began building harpsichords in the late 1880s, but it was not until their association with the legendary Wanda Landowska in the early 20th century that their harpsichords became famous. Landowska worked with the Pleyel engineers to produce a unique harpsichord that met her specifications, and this is the instrument used throughout her career for concerts and recordings. Her students were expected to follow her example, resulting in many recordings on Pleyel harpsichords by both Ruggero Gerlin and Isabel Nef for the newly founded L'Oiseau-Lyre label. In the United States, Sylvia Marlowe recorded on a Pleyel for Capitol and Rafael Puyana for Mercury. The instrument was also used by musicians outside of Landowska's circle, particularly in France. Examples include Robert Veyron-Lacroix's 1958 traversal of Bach's harpsichord concertos for Erato, and a number of solo and ensemble recordings by Anne-Marie Beckensteiner, former wife of conductor Jean-François Paillard.
From MNEMOSYNE MN 6 Irma Rogell, harpsichord
Martin Sassmann spent the war years as a Messerschmitt pilot before beginning work for Neupert in 1948. He started his own workshop in 1955, finally settling in Hückeswagen, Germany in 1966. His early instruments were of the Serien style, but by the late 1960s he began moving toward a more historical design, continuing on this path until the company closed sometime after 2000. Heinz Jansen's Südwest-Tonstudio in Stuttgart, responsible for hundreds of recordings released by the Vox label, seems to have owned a Sassmann instrument, which can be heard on many of their recordings, including Martin Galling's complete edition of Bach's solo harpsichord music.
From VOX/TURNABOUT TV-S 34325 János Sebestyén, harpsichord Hungarian Chamber Orchestra directed by Vilmos Tátrai
The Sperrhake workshop in Passau, Germany was at one time the largest producer of Serien style instruments. Its founder, Kurt Sperrhake, built pianos and sold Ammer harpsichords before starting his own company in 1948. At its height, the workshop employed 60 people and the instruments received widespread distribution, thanks to a successful network of agents. Apparently, Sperrhake never made the transition to historical instruments before the workshop closed. Parts and information for their instruments are still available from Neupert. Despite their widespread use, Sperrhakes have not fared as well on recordings. For the Erato label, Zuzana Růžičková recorded Bach's English Suites, Luciano Sgrizzi made four recordings devoted to Handel and Scarlatti, and Elisabeth Chojnacka recorded contemporary works in addition to Soler. In Hungary, Sperrhakes were available in most of the important musical institutions during the 1970s, resulting in many recordings by János Sebestyén for Hungaroton and Hungarian Radio.
From ERATO STU 71163 Elisabeth Chojnacka, harpsichord
Wittmayer was yet another prolific producer of Serien style instruments. Founded by Kurt Wittmayer and located in Wolfratshausen, Germany, his workshop began producing instruments based of historical models by the late 1960s after some experimentation with electrical internal amplification. The most famous recorded example of a Wittmayer is undoubtedly Glenn Gould's Handel suites for CBS, his only commercial recording on harpsichord. In the United States, Malcolm Hamilton was apparently devoted to his 1962 "Bach" model, using it to record Scarlatti and Handel for Delos, Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier for Everest and C. P. E. Bach concertos for Nonesuch. In Switzerland, Isolde Ahlgrimm made a series of Bach recordings for Belvedere.
From NONESUCH D 79015 Malcolm Hamilton, harpsichord Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra conducted by Gerard Schwarz
T W O A M E R I C A N B U I L D E R S
John Challis (1907-1974) was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan. After spending four years with Arnold Dolmetsch in Surrey, England, he opened his own workshop in 1930, establishing himself as the only American builder of harpsichords at that time. Working first in his hometown, he later relocated to Detroit, then finally New York City. He was innovative in his techniques, using a cast aluminum frame, metal soundboard and rubber jacks. While not always pleasing to purists, his instruments were widely admired for their craftsmanship and played by prominent American harpsichordists, including Ralph Kirkpatrick and Sylvia Marlowe. Fernando Valenti, famous for his Scarlatti performances, played a Challis for much of his career and on dozens of recordings for Westminster and other labels. Organist E. Power Biggs made several popular recordings for CBS on a Challis pedal harpsichord, playing everything from Bach to Joplin.
From DECCA 710130 Sylvia Marlowe, harpsichord
Baroque Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Saidenberg
Recorded circa 1966
E. Power Biggs
Christopher D. Lewis
Eric Herz (1919-2002) was born in Cologne, Germany. He played flute with the Israel Philharmonic before moving to the United States, where he spent two years working with Frank Hubbard and William Dowd. In 1953 he set up his own workshop in Harvard, Massachusetts, later moving to Cambridge. His instruments were loosely based on North European harpsichords, with the unique innovation of incorporating fiberglass into the case and soundboard. He retired in 1995. Like Challis, his instruments had a reputation for excellent craftsmanship. Joseph Payne made several popular recordings for Vox using Herz harpsichords. Other harpsichordists who recorded on Herz instruments include Irma Rogell, Gerald Ranck and Anthony Newman.