There is a widespread belief that the harpsichord's mechanical equipment makes it difficult to play dynamic nuances. Recent studies show, however, that volume differences can be produced on elaborate harpsichords by means of touch technique, at least in comparisons of single notes. The aim of this study was to prove this for more complex, polyphonic pieces too. Excerpts from a recording by Giulia Nuti (2014) on an anonymous harpsichord, lavishly restored by Taskin in 1788, were used. At the same time, it was investigated whether the common expectation that no dynamic differences are to be expected from a harpsichord influenced the perception of loudness. In two experiments, it was shown that listeners could reliably distinguish between pieces with and without dynamics. This suggests that volume can indeed be varied by touch technique on harpsichords of comparable construction. However, it also became apparent that the expectations had a significant influence on the perception of volume. The results contribute to a broader understanding of historical performance practice.

Project title

Biases in the Perception of Dynamics in Harpsichord Performance


Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Scuola universitaria professionale della Svizzera italiana (SUPSI) und MARCS Institute, University of Western Sydney, Australia.

Project duration

September 2014 – May 2015

Project team

Prof. Dr. Michael Bühler (Kalaidos FH), Giulia Nuti (SUPSI), Dr. Jennifer MacRitchie (University of Western Sydney, Australia)

Head of Kalaidos University of Music
Prof. Dr. Michael Bühler

Prof. Dr. Michael Bühler

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