J A Hass, Hamburg, 1763
Gifted in 1964
Musical Instrument Collection: MIMEd 4322

This clavichord is a symbol of the height of domestic opulence in 18th-century Hamburg. The clavichord is a quiet instrument but extremely expressive. It therefore suits small spaces and personal, intimate performances.

Hamburg was an independent city-state and member of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe. A melting pot for materials and cultural influence coming in on ships from all over the world, it had a wealthy middle class of merchants. These factors seeded a flourishing musical scene, including instrument making.

Johann Hass and his father Hieronymus are amongst the most skilled and careful craftsmen, their instruments displaying impeccable workmanship and attention to detail, even inside where no-one would see it. The choice of materials in this instrument, including ivory, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and kingwood, would not be acceptable today. This instrument, gifted by Raymond Russell, facilitates important discussions around material choice, conservation, and decoration as well as performance practice, musical contexts and craft skills.

Raymond Russell (1922-64) was born to an aristocratic family related to the Dukes of Bedford and spent his teenage years at Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, now a National Trust property. His mother Maud, an heiress of German descent, was an avid supporter of the arts and a society hostess, her acquaintances and close friends including artists Henri Matisse and Rex Whistler, the photographer Cecil Beaton and the author Ian Fleming.

Raymond seems to have inherited his mother’s eye for art and passion for collecting: he was clearly drawn to top quality instruments and became a recognised expert in this field. His instruments comprise one of the world’s most important collections of its type, covering the most important schools of harpsichord and clavichord building.

Raymond had the idea of giving his collection to a British university where it would form an active study collection for players and musicologists. He was having discussions with the then Reid Professor of Music, Sidney Newman, at the time of his tragically early death. Maud decided to honour Raymond’s wishes and gave 19 instruments to the University in 1964. Two further instruments – the 1755 Kirkman harpsichord which was apparently Raymond’s favourite, and the opulent Goermans / Taskin harpsichord – were added to the collection through purchase in the 1970s. To this day, players and musicologists travel from all over the world to visit the Russell Collection.

Listen to this instrument:

Story by Dr Jenny Nex, Curator, Musical Instrument Collection