the guillotine harpsichord

tobias schmidt (1768) was a german harpsichord maker, well, he also build the first guillotine. as he had achieved high skills in the making of harpsichords, then he could apply this knowledge to the construction of the first guillotine. both instruments have a lot in common, one was intended to relief those sentenced to death, the other to relief those sentenced to life. also they both can be seen as two different ways of getting in contact with god.

charles-henri sanson was a french executioner, that was the family business, and he kept the tradition. his brother executed maria antonietta, and he himself executed king luis XVI. only buffoons and executioners had the rare privilege of killing kings as a job without being dismembered by horses in the public square. when he was asked if he could sleep after having executed almost 3.000 people during his career, he answered “if emperors, kings and dictators can sleep well, why should’t an executioner?”. when he was not at work, or repairing the tools he used for it (repair and replacement costs where prohibitive “an unfair burden” over his shoulders, he commented once), he was devoted, as it couldn’t be otherwise, to the other logical passion of an executioner: music. he played violin and cello. that’s where our two histories meet, he was a close-long-term-friend of tobias schmidt.

i can imagine both at the atelier of the latter, discussing about the convenience of changing small degrees the angle of the neck of the cello, to give more tension to the strings, and therefore increase the poor loudness of the instrument. changing from this subject to another related to the operation of this or that mechanism of the guillotine. “you know? sometimes my clients get in panic, they make very unpredictable movements during the procedures. i think more than perfectioning the blade, we should focus on the holding device of the neck. by the way, the material of my cello string tensors right on the neck, seems to suffer due to the increased tension, should you try a different wood kind?”.

the hidden passion of tobias schmidt was building the ultimate harpsichord-guillotine, an instrument mixing both, to the delight of kings. their majesties would capture the most talented harpsichord players, and would make them play for them “the last piece of your life”. letting as a last wish for the musician to choose what to play. the harpsichord would have a mechanism that would detect the dominant seventh chord of the second repetition of the piece, cutting the head of the performer just right before resolution of the cadence, being the sound of his head falling down the “final resolution chord on the tonic”.

[applauses of the king]

About david fernández

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One Response to the guillotine harpsichord

  1. Pingback: histórias | simãoforte

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