Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Pedal Harpsichord

John Challis (American, South Lyon, Michigan 1907–1974 New York City)
New York, New York, United States
Wood, metal, various materials
Overall: 113 x 139.7 x 301 cm (44 1/2 x 55 x 118 1/2 in.) Harpsichord: 87 x 104.1 x 245.6 cm (34 1/4 x 41 x 96 11/16 in.) Pedal Unit: 26 x 139.7 x 301 cm (10 1/4 x 55 x 118 1/2 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Murtogh D. Guinness Bequest, 2003
Accession Number:
2003.377a, b
Not on view
Pedal harpsichords were used in the time of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), primarily as practice instruments for organists. The instrument included, in addition to the standard manual keyboards, an independent harpsichord operated by a pedal-board similar to an organ. No early pedal harpsichords survive.

Born in South Lyon, Michigan, John Challis was American's first native-born harpsichord maker. After apprenticing with Arnold Dolmetsch in England in 1926-30, he returned to the United States and set up shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, later moving to New York City. In 1960, organist E. Power Biggs approached Challis to construct a pedal harpsichord. Building upon years of research and experimentation, Challis produced a highly ambitious instrument similar to this one. Biggs, impressed with the results, used the instrument in a group of highly acclaimed recordings of organ works. Seven years later this more complex and decorative instrument was made at the request of Canadian organist Gordon Jeffery. Both instruments incorporated state-of-the-art construction techniques such as a lightweight (35 lb.) cast aluminum frame, a soundboard of honeycombed aluminum, and mechanical parts of a variety of metals and synthetic materials. Such innovations made the instruments extremely stable compared to traditionally constructed instruments, which need frequent tunings.

This instrument's 13 stops include sixteen-, eight- (x2), and four-foot choirs on the lower manual, eight- and four-foot choirs on the upper manual, and sixteen-, eight-, four-, and two-foot choirs on the pedal. There are lute stops on the upper, lower, and pedal eight-foot choirs. The enclosed pedal division features a Venetian swell. Stops are controlled by pedals, and handstops are also supplied for the manual keyboards. There are no couplers.
Marking: The maker's name, John Challis, is embossed and gilded on the nameboard of the two-manual harpsichord as well as on the pedal division.

Stamped on metal wrest plank "67-300".
Gordon Jeffery
Anthony Newman in J. S. Bach: Works for pedal harpsichord and organ. CD. Recording., Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004.

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