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Howard Mayer Brown

(Ger.)

Although it now has only the general meaning of ‘musical instrument’, the word ‘Instrument’ in German used to have the more specific meaning of ‘keyboard instrument’. To judge from the title-pages of late 16th-century German keyboard anthologies by Elias Nikolaus Ammerbach (1571, 1575 and 1583), Bernhard Schmid (1577) and others, ‘Instrument’ then meant ‘string keyboard instrument’ in opposition to organ; the volumes are said to be written in a tablature for ‘Orgel und Instrument’. This interpretation was confirmed by Praetorius, who wrote in Syntagma musicum, ii (2/1619), chap.37, that the Symphony – his collective name for harpsichord or clavicymbalum, virginal, spinet and the like – was generally called ‘Instrument’, a usage he criticized for its ambiguity. Like many other musical terms, however, the word meant various things at various times, and it was not always used consistently. In the 17th and 18th centuries, for example, ‘Instrument’ sometimes referred specifically to the clavichord. At least that conclusion seems warranted from the reference to ‘Instrument, Spinet oder Clavicymbel’ on the title-page of Benedict Schultheiss’s ...