Ruckers transposer 1




The "Stichting Hanze Clavecimbel" (foundation of the "Hanseatic Harpsichord") has had a so-called transposition harpsichord be rebuilt. It is well known that this specific type of harpsichord was used by generations of leading composers and musicians throughout the former Hanseatic region during the seventeenth century. And that the instrument was in use at several European courts. Moreover, it was the official so-called 'city-harpsichord' of at least two Dutch cities, Amsterdam and Utrecht. Its specific kind of  sound, as well as its specific way of playing, has until now been more or less a bit of a mystery. By recreating this once very popular and important musical tool, at last all theories regarding the original use of this type of harpsichord can be investigated. But more importantly and intriguingly, finally  a sound from the past, which at the time would have been recognized by all, will resonate once again.

Furthermore, the foundation wants to use the harpsichord in an educational capacity. This will happen by placing it at the disposal of conservatories, both in the Netherlands and other countries. Other than that, the harpsichord will be used for concerts, lecture-recitals and recordings.




This community was founded in 1356 in Lübeck, and a great number of cities throughout the northern part of Europe became members of this union. These cities are situated in modern Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, the Baltic, Russia, Great-Britain and France. Its goals were primarily to further and secure free and safe trading routes in this vast area. Its economical influence was immense and prolonged until approximately 1700. Until this day, in many cities the proud architectural evidence of its success can still be found. 

Besides this mercantile association, there was a lively cultural exchange: Jan Pieterszn. Sweelinck (who was born in the Hanseatic city of Deventer in 1562 and in later life became organist in the Hanseatic city Amsterdam) was sometimes known as "the maker of organists", because he educated lots of important German composers/organists;


Jacob Praetorius (who in turn became Matthias Weckmann's tutor)


Paul Siefert


Heinrich Scheidemann


Samuel Scheidt


Melchior Schildt


For example, there is a direct connection between Sweelinck's pupil Scheidemann through his students Jan Adam Reincken and Dietrich Buxtehude to the young Johann Sebastian Bach.


Within these cities the organ was the most important keyboard-instrument. There was however a blooming cultural, and more specifically, musical life amongst the citizens. Wealthy merchants would call upon musicians and thereby add to the splendidness of feasts, official dinners, weddings and the like. In that way, they contributed much to the esteem a city was held in. 




Jan Pietersz. Sweelinck (1562-1621) is universally acknowledged to be the greatest composer the Netherlands ever had. Nevertheless, until recently a complete recording of his magnificent vocal works was lacking. His works for keyboard do enjoy a certain familiarity amongst musiclovers. But generally, indeed mostly, the harpsichords used for playing compositions by him and his contemporaries are instruments that Sweelinck himself would not have known…

One of the very few journeys he ever made, as far as we know, was to the Hanseatic city of Antwerp. There he collected a harpsichord that had been ordered by the municipality of Amsterdam. Allthough the instrument didn't survive the ages, the recently rediscovered lid did, and is currently on display at the Rijksmuseum. Many details surrounding the lost harpsichord strongly suggest it was built by one of the members of the Ruckers family. For sure however, it was the famous and enigmatic transposing harpsichord.


The very fact that Sweelinck went to Antwerp is remarkable, not only because there were some harpsichordbuilders in Amsterdam itself. Indeed, in very close proximity of the Oude kerk were he resided over the organ, the instrument builder Artus Gheerdinck had his workshop. But it is all the more remarkable if we understand that at the time the Netherlands were in the midst of a long and violent war of independence. In the midst of hardship, Sweelinck, who wasn't even allowed to accompany the congregation during worship, was sent by the calvinistic city council to the catholic arch-enemy in Antwerp. It shows that only the very best was considered to be good enough for the self-confident burghers.     




This family of harpsichordmakers made numerous instruments of different sizes, pitches and forms. During their lifetime the very name 'Ruckers' began to be synonymous for the word 'quality' as far as harpsichords are considered. At the end of the seventeenth, and throughout the eighteenth century, their work was adapted to changing musical demands. And so they were enlarged, rebuilt, got expanded new keyboards, were re-strung, etc. And of course got an up-to-date physical appearance. Some of these sumptuous and lavish decorated instruments can still be found in museums throughout the world.


The brand 'Ruckers' was such that it was specified in advertisements and newspapers when one was being sold. In that way, sellers could be sure the harpsichord would not only get first-rate attention from the public. But it can also be shown that any instrument carrying the name 'Ruckers' would fetch much higher prices than newer specimens by other builders.