Alastair McAllister

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Alastair McAllister at work

Alastair McAllister (born Mildura, 3 August 1942) is an Australian harpsichord builder known for his historical integrity, design and workmanship, and for producing modern copies of instruments that closely match their prototypes in sound and touch. At the age of 15, he became inspired by the Baroque after hearing the music of Domenico Scarlatti.[1] Working closely with his colleague, Mars McMillan, he founded Harpsichord Makers of Melbourne in 1967, in the inner-Melbourne suburb of Clifton Hill,[2] and by the early 1970s he had become a full-time harpsichord builder. McAllister and his colleagues have created instruments patterned after the work of Henri Hemsch, Burkhardt Schudi, Johannes Daniel Dulcken, the Ruckers family, Christian Zell and Johann Heinrich Harrass, among others, and he has trained or influenced Australian builders such as Marc Nobel, Andrew Bernard, Alan Todd, Jean-Louis Cocquillat, and Richard Schaumloeffel.

McAllister has worked closely with the firm of Zuckermann Harpsichords International (Stonington, Connecticut, US), and with Hubbard Harpsichords, including a month-long residency in 1989 at the firm's headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts. Since 1990, he has carried out his craft from a studio within the Community Work Society Co-operative Ltd, alongside a group of heritage artisans in the Melbourne suburb of Preston.[3][4] McAllister has worked closely with leading Australian and New Zealand harpsichordists[5] as well as performers from Europe and the North America. These include Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman, Bob van Asperen, Anthony Jennings, Peter Watchorn,[6] Christopher Hogwood, Roger Heagney,[7] Christiane Jaccotet, Colin Tilney, Davitt Moroney, and Bart van Oort. Since 1990, McAllister has served as the keyboard consultant to the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra,[8] and has built a two-manual French instrument for its artistic director, Paul Dyer.[9] McAllister harpsichords are owned by such ensembles as The Sydney Consort,[10] and harpsichordists Peter Watchorn, Paul Dyer, Elizabeth Anderson, and Roger Heagney.

A McAllister harpsichord, combined here with a pedal harpsichord (blue case) by Hubbard & Broekman

McAllister has been at the forefront of harpsichord research and, with Andrew Bernard, proposed a unified theory of harpsichord scaling and geometry that accounts for the diverse pitches for which harpsichords were designed, linking this information to surviving string gauges and tuning forks. He was the first to demonstrate that stringing the early 20th century Pleyel harpsichord with classical wire and installing quill or delrin plectra yields a significant improvement in quality.[11] In collaboration with Peter Watchorn, McAllister researched the surviving instruments by Hans Moermans "The Younger" of Antwerp, resulting in the creation of the first modern copies of his surviving 1642 double; one of these copies by McAllister is now owned by the Melbourne Recital Centre in the Southbank precinct.

In 2012, McAllister published three books; with Talking Harpsichords sharing his ruminations on a harpsichord-making career.[12]


  • Talking Harpsichords (2012)
  • Snippets about John Bull (2012)
  • Sonnets and Sundries (2012)


  1. ^ Handmade musical gem from a Preston workshop", The Age, 19 January 2010
  2. ^ PDF file from the University of Melbourne collections: "Meredith Moon, a former senior lecturer in the [University of Melbourne's] Faculty of Music [and] a pioneer of early instruments in Australia ... shared his knowledge of instrument building with a group of enthusiastic young harpsichord lovers: Mars McMillan, Alistair McAllister and Marc Nobel, who became known as the ‘Clifton Hill School’ of harpsichord makers."
  3. ^ Worco website, accessed 19 May 2010
  4. ^ "ABC Radio interview". 19 January 2010. Archived from the original on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  5. ^ "Plenty of bite in Anderson's Bach". 12 September 1996. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  6. ^ "Musica Omnia web-page". 25 October 2011. Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  7. ^ Category: Park Blog (1 January 2011). "Photo gallery, Roger Heagney". Archived from the original on 16 July 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  8. ^ "PDF file, ABC Classics ''The four seasons''" (PDF). Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  9. ^   (14 February 2005). "Our harpsichord hits a high note". Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  10. ^ "Monika Kornel, harpsichordist". Archived from the original on 23 June 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
  11. ^ Peter Watchorn, Isolde Ahlgrimm, Vienna and the Early Music Revival, Ashgate, Burlington Vermont; Aldershot, UK; 2007, p. 106
  12. ^ "Alastair McAllister Harpsichords". Alastair McAllister Harpsichords website. Archived from the original on 3 February 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2013.

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