Technical Library

DECORATION IV: An Australian soundboard painting

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Australian Soundboard in progress 63K jpeg
Diana Ford and Carey Beebe with the soundboard in progress

An Australian soundboard…

While our native timbers can be very beautiful and useful for many purposes, they are not considered appropriate for the best harpsichords: Players demand that these be made using the traditional European woods. Of course, Australia has gum trees and kangaroos amongst its wealth of colorful flora and fauna. As the Flemish insisted on filling their soundboards with a profusion of flowers familiar to them, why shouldn’t a modern Antipodean harpsichord maker do likewise?

Our 2003 Ruckers Double harpsichord was not able to be decorated as it was being built because it was required for two performances by Les Arts Florissants for the opening of Singapore’s Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. It has been one of our most popular hire instruments since.

A recent project by Diana Ford has been the soundboard decoration of this instrument using Australian flowers and fruits rendered in the style of early Ioannes Ruckers. Several instruments survive from this period, including the 1612 Ruckers owned by Queen Elizabeth and kept at Fenton House in London. In this style, the profuse foliage is painted all the same color no matter what the flower, with black outlines, some centre veins and hatching. The rose is surrounded by a wreath of intertwined leaves with a few buds and flowers—just asking for the simple substitution of gum blossoms and nuts.

The Flemish butterfly already looks suspiciously Bogong moth-like, and there was no better bird than the Willy Wagtail for some of the dumb-looking originals.

Also characteristic of this style are the blue arabesque explosions from the scalloped borders, filling in the blank space between the floral motifs. These are individual and roughly symmetrical, and painted thickly to give a raised dimension to the board.

All the flowers chosen are found in various parts of Australia, and many will already be familiar to foreigners. All are endemic, except the weed Tradescantia albiflora which originated in South America. The Australian soundboard layout can be compared to the photo of our 1988 Flemish Double decorated by Diana in the original early Ioannes Ruckers style.

After several weeks research, the strings were removed in early January 2008 and Diana completed the soundboard in her Southern Highlands studio in three weeks. The strings were replaced in time for a tour to Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney with violinist Nigel Kennedy and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, running through early February.

The success of this decoration led to a second Australian soundboard on the Ruckers Double for Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in 2010, followed by another commision for Diana’s school Pymble Ladies’ College.


Australian Soundboard 112K jpeg
1 Billardiera heterophylla Bluebell creeper
2 Crowea saligna Willow-leaved crowea
3 Gymnostachys anceps Settler’s flax
4 Ceratopetalum gummiferum New South Wales Christmas bush
5 Anigozanthos manglesii Red and green kangaroo paw
6 Patersonia glabrata Leafy purple-flag
7 Wahlenbergia gloriosa Royal bluebell
8 Burchardia umbellata Milkmaids
9 Callistemon salignus Willow bottlebrush
10 Acacia verniciflua Varnish wattle
11 Blandfordia grandiflora Large Christmas bells
12 Crinum flaccidum Darling lily
13 Rhipidura leucophrys Willie wagtail
14 Acacia longifolia Sydney golden wattle
15 Syzygium oleosum Blue lilly pilly
16 Actinotus helianthi Flannel flower
17 Grevillea alpina Mountain grevillea
18 Tradescantia albiflora White-flowered wandering Jew
19 Thelymitra venosa Blue-veined sun orchid
20 Hakea bakeriana [no common name]
21 Swainsona formosa Sturt’s desert pea
22 Ptilotus exaltatus Pink mulla mulla
23 Acacia implexa Hickory wattle
24 Corymbia calophylla Gum
25 Cymbidium sp Orchid
26 Callistemon linearis Narrow-leafed bottlebrush
27 Syzygium leuhmannii Lilly pilly
28 Podolepis jaceoides Showy Podolepis
29 Exocarpus latifolius Native cherry
30 Corymbia calophylla Gum (nuts)
31 Telopea speciosissima New South Wales waratah

Many thanks to Dr Nicholas Lander, Principal Research Scientist at the Western Australian Herbarium, for suggesting corrections to the botanical nomenclature.
Nicholas is also a keen musician, and has been running the Recorder Home Page for many years.

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