John Challis (harpsichord)

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John Challis (1907–1974) was an American builder of harpsichords and clavichords.

His father Charles was a jeweler and watchmaker, who moved his family from South Lyon, Michigan to Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1919.

John attended Michigan Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University), where his interest in constructing keyboard instruments emerged.

He spent 4 years apprenticing with Arnold Dolmetsch in England, returning in 1930, when he set himself up building instruments in a 2-story space above a dress shop in Ypsilanti. At that time he was the only harpsichord maker in America. He later moved to Detroit. When his house was condemned to build the Chrysler Freeway, he moved to New York City.

As son of a jeweler, metal work is expected in Mr. Challis' instruments, and handmade brass hinges were a signature detail. His early instruments were traditionally constructed of traditional materials, but they evolved more radically than anyone else's. By the late 1950s his instruments still looked traditional from the outside, but the frame, wrestplank, soundboard and bridges were all aluminum, with only the outer case being wood. Of his soundboard construction, Mr. Challis said, "This is my only secret."[1]

These instruments had a clear and bright sound and stayed in tune through temperature and humidity changes. A Challis pedal harpsichord was used by E. Power Biggs on two Columbia Masterworks recordings of the music of J.S. Bach and Scott Joplin.

Other makers who worked/apprenticed in his shop: William Dowd, Frank Rutkowski, and Stewart Pollens.

  1. ^ Wolfgang Joachim Zuckerman, "The Modern Harpsichord", October House Inc., 1969, p.94

External links[edit]

  • Time Music: Man from Ypsilanti (Jan. 24, 1944).
  • Ann Arbor News Ypsilanti spawned a harpsichord expert.