Today I received a piece of mystery mail that had been sent to me from a publishing house in Manhattan. I don’t know who arranged for this special 100th issue of Granta sent to me, but I thank him or her, as inside it I found an utterly captivating little ode by James Fenton called ‘On Buying a Clavichord.’ A pre-cursor to the piano we know today, the clavichord was barely as loud as the human voice. It was infinitely sensitive to the player’s touch…when a key was pressed, it engaged the string directly and could be gently manipulated to extract a range of pitch modulations and vibratos – which is utterly unlike a piano, where a pressing a key simply clunks a wooden hammer that in turn strikes the string – all that can be varied is the intensity of the hammer-smack. Bach’s favoured instrument was the clavichord. Witnesses observed that his body barely moved whilst playing it (‘only the first joints of the fingers were in motion.’) While reading Fenton’s piece I felt such a consonace with my own deep and sometimes mysterious bond with the lap steel guitar. From the moment I sat down to play one, the particular character of its voicings and the physical mechanics of its expressiveness… just suited my nature. The bond is inexpressible. Fenton’s piece concludes with a quote by an imprisoned poet-musician who was an ‘one of the most ardent and romantic defenders of the clavichord’: “Ah! Do not lament the thundering of the harpsichord. Look, your clavichord breathes as sweetly as your heart.”

(Sent from my mobile phone.)