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Since I began building instruments in 1971- 1972, I have made more than 467 instruments for professional musicians and serious amateurs alike. In all that time, I have received only half a handful of thoughtful well considered critiques about my instruments. That makes a review written to me recently by Jan Katzschke of Dreseden, Germany all the more interesting. As most of my readers already know, I base my work exclusively on aesthetic and musical principles that I submit myself to and apply as faithfully as possible. The less of my self I interject into the business of making an instrument the better. This review, see below, is an affirmation that my decision to govern my instrument making behavior according to these principles was not made in vain.
What's new here should be obvious. I switched servers in order to have a more elegant look to my website and more importantly to make it easier and more efficient to change or add the information I wish to post here for your pleasure and information.
The newest addition to my website, however, besides the website itself is the Violins page where you can read about my "parallel" recording made using 11 of my violins, including a viola and a cello. I had the recording made professionally so nothing in the presentation of these instruments would be lacking. Since I have explained in great detail the idea of the recording project, putting it together and pulling it off on the Violins page, I won't waste time here going over it again. My main purpose for making this recording at this time is to be able to compare what my violins are sounding like in relation to the really great violins made by Stradivari and Guarneri, among others. It has always been my view that one can only improve quality by sensing relative levels of difference between things of high quality and those of lesser quality. In other words, you can only improve what you know needs improvement. To do this you have to compare, evaluate, and invent ways of creating the improvement. The key to success is to have zero ego investment in the quality of your work. I need to hear from those who visit my site what they think needs improvement and what will bring that about.
It's time to sing your harpsichords praise...
The resonance, bloom, transparence, dynamic ... of the instrument is uniquely rich. The touch is absolutely delightful, like moving my hands in warm water. The dynamic is absolutley amazing, if I want to emphasize a single tone or theme of a middle part of the score, only the intention is enough to make the instrument immediately react dynamically. I know this partially from other instruments, but this one is far beyond everything I know elsewhere. Every single tone is singing to a maximum degree.
Last weekend I played the first three concerts on the Taskin and the result was absolutely amazing and in a degree unexpected for me. For the first time in my life in making chamber music, I did not have the feeling that the fundamental of the harpsichord feels completely gone from the perspective of the player as soon as other instruments join in. In 3 different concert rooms (small village church, acoustically "dry" modern chamber music hall, bigger church with rich delay of the room) the feeling while playing never changed. The sound stayed completey resonant all the time.
The Bloom is incredible and the tone is incredibly focused as well. I never have experienced something of that degree before. Every single tone appears multi-dimensional, the fundamental develops absolutely rich as well as the overtones, and this gives a feeling of constant complexity and wideness. The second concert (modern chamber music hall) was visited by a solo flutist of one of our philharmonic orchestras who is also a renowned music academy teacher; she is a highly sensitive musician and immediately realized the quality of the harpsichord's sound. She said that you get the feeling to be right in the middle of the instrument independently where you were sitting in the room, that you are completely surrounded and interpenetrated by the sound. The presence was always the same and highly intense.
All listeners of the concerts who talked to me afterwards said that they never have heard a harpsichord like this before (I even was a bit jealous, because usually people tell me that they did not expect such a good sounding way of harpsichord playing, but now no one was talking about my playing any more but only about your instrument ... ;) One of the concerts was visited by a friend who is very musical, but usually quite cynical avoiding to express many emotions. After the concert he could not stop saying how deeply moved he was. That for me was the strongest and most unexpected reaction.
So, your Taskin has proved to be outstanding not only at home, and I simply want to thank you again that you made such a wonderful sounding instrument for me. I feel to be a blessed donee!!!!
April 25, 2015
Now you are able to view my recently posted "Opus List" by scrolling to the last entry on the ABOUT KEITH HILL page. Most of these harpsichords, clavichords, violins, guitars, and fortepianos continue to serve music as I intended them so to do when I made them. My chiefest aim has always been to build sounds that inspire a way of playing that deeply moves and excites listeners. This aim can be realized only by acoustical work of the highest quality. I define quality as anything that makes my instruments more like the antique instruments.
Now that I have achieved my personal goal of a reliable mastery over sound, I am able to produce the kind of sound I could only dream of 40 years ago. It is that skill and understanding that I am able to bring to each and every instrument I make. It is this skill and understanding which makes my instruments unique in our time. That is what I have to offer.
The photograph below is of a 1769 Taskin model harpsichord I built and decorated for myself in 2000, which recently sold to the University of Western Australia in Perth. The following performance is of my brother, Robert Hill, playing the first concert on that instrument in Perth.
Here is a Sound Sample Bach's Sarabande in d minor from Robert Hill’s transcription from the solo violin Partita.
The cardinal signs of a Hill instrument are: powerful tone, gorgeously vocal trebles, solid and resonant basses, beauty of tone color, intensely musical behavior of sound, flexibility of touch and color, and a singing and affectively "loaded" tone.
Here is a Sound Sample of Bach's Fugue from his solo concerto in a minor played by Elizabeth Farr on my most recent 16' Harpsichord.
The next Sound Sample is from CPE Bach's concerto for piano and harpsichord played on one of my Cristofori Pianos and one of my Taskin Harpsichords.
Why are these traits necessary? It is obvious that players and composers in the 18th century demanded instruments possessing these qualities to be made so that they would aesthetically support their musical conceptions and intentions. How do we know this? CPE Bach states explicitly in his Versuch to "Play from the Soul, not like a trained bird...endeavor to avoid everything mechanical and slavish". J.J.Quantz in his treatise, On Playing the Flute, explains to musicians that "musical execution may be compared with the delivery of an orator..." and that musicians and orators should aim "to make themselves masters of the hearts of their listeners, to arouse or still their passions, and to transport them now to this sentiment, now to that".
Pictured below are photos of the 1658 de Zentis harpsichord, which I restored in 2004 and which now resides at the Piccola Academy in Montisi, Italy, and of my most recent Italian Harpsichord- a copy of the de Zentis of 1658. Below the photos are sound samples, of the harpsichords pictured, played by Pamela Ruiter Feenstra, Martha Folts, and Elizabeth Farr, and Leonardo Garcia-Alarcon.
Italian Harpsichord after the G. de Zentis of 1658 made by Keith Hill Opus 407 in 2008
I understand that they meant these things literally, rather than hopefully. Therefore, I build my instruments with the sole aim of creating sounds which enhance and support (meaning: to make reasonable, logical, and beautiful) a highly expressive, highly flexible, highly affective, highly inflected, powerfully communicative, yet balanced style of playing. Playing that is, in a word, soulful.
Until I built this 6 Octave Cristofori Fortepiano, no one had ever attempted to take Cristofori's design to its maximum limits. It is double strung in Brass. The two pedals work the Dampers and the Una chord keyboard shift. This piano is my Opus 363 made in 2003 and finally completed and sold in 2007 to the Technical University in Trondheim, Norway. The recordings below were made by Marianne Ploger on this piano just before it was shipped to Norway.
My goal now is to do everything in my power to encourage a return again to a sane, meaningful, highly expressive, masterful way of playing great music and creating great art. It is to this end that my instrument making is dedicated.
I have posted an article I wrote some years ago titled "The Art of Listening" in which I explain my understanding of the nature of what it means to listen...not merely hear. You can read this article by clicking on the ARTICLES button under the main heading of this page and selecting the specific page. I wrote "The Art of Listening" as a chapter in my "Treatise on the True Art of Musical Instrument Making" but was told that my view on the business of listening had no place in my Treatise, so I removed it even though I disagreed with the few readers who thought it best not to reveal how I listen. I hope you enjoy reading it and that it reveals something that will help you improve your own skill of listening.