Most musical instruments have less definite birth dates. The clavichord probably developed from precursors like the monochord and the psaltery sometime in the fifteenth century, but no one knows exactly how. Bernard Brauchli's The Clavichord (Cambridge) exhaustively charts the instrument's four-century career until its decline, in the mid-nineteenth century, when its extreme quietness put it at a disadvantage against the early piano. While music historians tend to dismiss the clavichord as a curio, Brauchli shows that it was crucial to music-making in intimate domestic settings and capable of expressive effects, like vibrato, impossible on other keyboard instruments.
A domestic ethos of a rather different kind influenced the rise of the Victorian reed organs celebrated in Manufacturing the Muse, by Dennis G. Waring (Wesleyan). Cheaper than a piano, these parlor organs appealed to the aspirations of the growing American middle class. Waring focusses on the Estey company of Vermont, whose instruments graced hundreds of thousands of drawing rooms, parlors, and churches. An accompanying CD showcases a dozen surviving instruments warbling such Victorian favorites as "Oh! Susanna" and "The Last Rose of Summer."(Leo Carey)