clavichord (klăvˈĭkôrd) [key], keyboard musical instrument invented in the Middle Ages. It consists of a small rectangular wooden box, placed upon a table or on legs, containing a sounding board and a set of strings. Keys cause the strings to be struck with small wedges of metal called tangents, which not only set the string into vibration but determine its vibrating length by means of a sort of fretting. Thus one string suffices for about four keys. Early in the 18th cent., clavichords were built with a string for each key; such instruments were more expensive and harder to tune, but gradually supplanted the older ones. The clavichord was musically important from the 16th until the end of the 18th cent. when the pianoforte replaced it. The most notable composer to write expressly for it was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
See P. James, Early Keyboard Instruments (1930); D. Matthews, ed., Keyboard Music (1972).
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