B Trasuntinus, 1574
Gifted in 2005
Musical Instrument Collection: MIMEd 4471

The single-manual harpsichord by Trasuntinus is the oldest playable keyboard instrument in the collection. Gifted by J Rodger Mirrey, it was probably made in Venice and in many respects is typical of 16th- and 17th-century instruments made on the Italian peninsula: it has very thin case sides; it sits within an outer protective case (this one a modern replacement); and has a long, slender shape to its tail.

It originally had two sets of strings tuned an octave apart, giving it a rich tone but, like most instruments of this period, was modified when musical tastes changed to have two sets of strings at the same pitch. Inside, one can see where the many tiny holes that used to hold the pins that held the ends of the strings have been painstakingly filled. The natural notes on the keyboard are made from boxwood and the accidentals from ebony – the instrument was made before the convention of using ivory for the natural notes became widespread.

J Rodger Mirrey (1919-2007) and his wife Lynne donated their collection of 23 keyboard instruments in 2005. Known as the Rodger Mirrey Collection, it includes significant examples including early clavichords, 16th- and 17th-century Italian harpsichords and early eighteenth-century British harpsichords, all rare items today.

Rodger was born in County Durham in a family with Scottish connections. As a child, he was influenced by hearing Wanda Landowska play the harpsichord and an Arnold Dolmetsch clavichord. This experience led to him beginning to collect instruments in the 1950s, starting with square pianos.

Rodger considered following his father into engineering but instead settled on a career in medicine, initially in internal medicine but soon moving to psychiatry. It was in this sphere that he met Lynne, who worked in occupational therapy. Rodger and Lynne were always generous, welcoming visitors to their home in Surrey and later in London, to study and play the instruments. Their gift enhanced still further the world-renowned keyboard instrument collection held by the University of Edinburgh.

Listen to this instrument:

Story by Dr Jenny Nex, Curator, Musical Instrument Collection