Definition of harpsichord in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈhɑːpsɪkɔːd/


A keyboard instrument with horizontal strings which run perpendicular to the keyboard in a long tapering case, and are plucked by points of quill, leather, or plastic operated by depressing the keys. It is used chiefly in European classical music of the 16th to 18th centuries.
Example sentences
  • I plan to visit museums where there are early keyboard instruments, either harpsichords or clavichords.
  • Clavier or Klavier normally meant the clavichord, whereas the harpsichord was usually called Instrument or Cembalo.
  • Her harpsichord and clavichord playing has influenced her piano playing, for example.



Pronunciation: /ˈhɑːpsɪkɔːdɪst/
Example sentences
  • Ledbetter is a specialist in early music, a harpsichordist, historian and composer, with other writings including Harpsichord and Lute Music in 17 th-Century France and Continuo Playing According to Handel.
  • A child of Johann Sebastian's first marriage, he was universally recognised as being one of the greatest harpsichordists of all time.
  • Carl Philipp Emmanuel studied music only with his famous father, and he must have been a brilliant keyboard player; the future Frederick the Great chose the young man to be his harpsichordist, a post he held for almost 30 years.


Early 17th century: from obsolete French harpechorde, from late Latin harpa 'harp' + chorda 'string' (the insertion of the letter s being unexplained).

  • piano from mid 18th century:

    Before the mid 18th century the usual musical instrument in comfortable European households was the harpsichord. Its strings are plucked by quills, and the player has little or no control over the length of notes or volume. From the 18th century the pianoforte or fortepiano was developed, with strings struck by hammers, dampers to stop vibration when the keys are released and pedals to regulate the length and volume of notes. The names came from Italian piano ‘soft’ and forte ‘loud’, referring to the innovation of volume control. Soon the shortened form piano appeared, and nowadays pianoforte is a rather formal term for a piano, whereas fortepiano tends to refer to early forms of the instrument. The harpsichord (early 17th century) got its name from Late Latin harpa ‘harp’ and chorda ‘string’.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: harp¦si|chord

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.