The cultural history of keyboard instruments as field of research

Aurelius Belz (Mainz 1959), trained in harpsichord and piano making, passed the Masters Exam in 1987, degree in Fine Arts from the Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg, dissertation in 1998 entitled: “The instrument of the lady. Painted harpsichords of three centuries” Internship at the Russell Collection for early keyboard instruments in Edinburg, as well as at the Musée Instrumental du Conservatoire National supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris. Management of the piano workshops Jecklin and Musik-Hug in Bülach. Executive degree in Business Administration in Zurich. Since January 2017 active member of the International Society for Musical Theological Bach Research / University of Music, Würzburg.

In crafts as in science, only the processing object determines what tools properly have to be used

Following this principle while exploring historical keyboard instruments, I'm conducted solely by the given information content. The construction as such requires the tools of an instrument maker, the coat of arms of the owner the tools of an historian and heraldist and the painting and all decorative elements the perspective of an art historian. Needless to say, what background to all this a representation of Trinity demands.

Already in my dissertation, I trod interdisciplinary terrain, occupying myself with paintings on keyboard instruments. My study is entitled: "The instrument of the lady. Painted harpsichords of three centuries", was released in 1996 in Bamberg and gives information about the gender-specific allocation of the instruments - not only of the virginal - about the influence of religion and the church, about the special position of the instruments in the cultural history of furniture and establishes a connection between the dresses of musicians and the instrument decors. In this way, I found the reason why the classical grand piano is of black color. The stage does not only call for the acoustic- but also for the optical synergy-perception of pianist and instrument, and the traditional dress of the pianist is the tailcoat, in analogy to the harpsichord and the robes of the Lady.

For a scientist it is not at all common to present research results also in the form of poems (Tastengedichte) and a narration (Die Geschichte des Keyboards). It is simply a requirement of our time to leave the much-maligned ivory tower to reach the people. In particular in the world of museums, the term customer orientation was a foreign word for decades.

Cultural heritage requires networked thinking and access receives, who is also interested in the mindset and customs of the relevant era. The number-symbolism of the Middle Ages is for me an important key for understanding.

An unexpected discovery

In addition, the symbolism of the Western tonal system in particular required the formulation of a mode of how science is to deal with creeds of such magnitude: The solution consists in maintaining the appreciation even when the factual circumstances prove to be rationally absurd, because it is acting about the appreciation of people, especially those who think differently. The fact that the way of thinking of the church father Aurelius Augustine, reflected in Western music, provides generally valid clues for this is the actual hidden treasure - the ethical content added to all the beauty of the theory of harmony, which was adopted by the Greeks, because Harmonia was the goddess of harmony. The simple statement that loving one's enemy leads to peace is universally valid and non-denominational. Since then, the practice of music has been exemplary for harmonious coexistence, as demonstrated by Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra - with Arabic and Israeli musicians using a tonal system full of Christian symbolism. In a similar way, cultural studies is able to make its contribution to intercultural understanding. It is a special case that the historical sciences can identify with this research subject without self-abandonment, as it provides the basis for freedom and diversity of opinion.

About the meaning of my reconstructions

The reconstructions are primarily evidence of an scientific debate in-depth.

The drawing by Arnaut de Zwolle and the Klavizitherium in the Royal College of Music have a special religious reference in common, to which the manufacturers drew attention in a particularly visible way. While only the drawing of Arnaut's instrument has survived, the clavizitherium is in such a deplorable condition that its original appearance can only be reconstructed. Fortunately there were numerous useful clues for this. Regardless of many questions that arise from the work and for which the reconstructions serve more as a stimulus, one thing becomes clear: music and theology are not alien to one another in the Occident and so the reconstructions represent a connection that has hitherto been completely ignored and finds its continuation in our sound system. The clavizitherium in particular is an object of devotion and the height and nature of the associated bench make it probable that it was used while kneeling. Both the devotional candle and the three-dimensional representation of Christ on the Mount of Olives speak for this attitude: MUSICA DONUM DEI. The coat of arms of an abbess fits into this context.

Especially with Arnaut we have to do with the peculiarity that long before Bartolomeo Cristofori he depicts a hammer mechanism for the first time - which Konstantin Restle drew attention to as early as 1991 - which the author implemented as part of his reconstruction. The character of the sound is similar to that of a clavichord, however, as a result of the release, a vibrato cannot be realized. Another special feature is the intermediate board - the fundus inferiorem - which reduces the case volume and makes the sound even more ascetic.

The overall aim is to sensitize eyes and ears to the expressiveness of contemporary documents.