Rucker’s Musical Ruckus

[Two-manual harpsichord by Andreas Ruckers, Antwerp (ca 1628) inscribed Joannes Ruckers]

The Ruckers family were harpsichord and virginal makers from Antwerp in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Their influence stretched well into the 18th C and to the harpsichord revival of the 20th C. The Ruckers family contributed immeasurably to the harpsichord’s technical development, pioneering the addition of a second manual. The quality of their instruments is such that the Ruckers name is as important to early keyboard instruments as that of ‘Stradivarius’, to the violin family.

Head of the family, Hans Ruckers (1540s–1598) was born in Mechelen. Hans Ruckers became a member of the Guild of St Luke in 1579, and a citizen of Antwerp in 1594. He signed his instruments by working his initials into the rose. Two of his 11 children (Johannes and Andreas) became harpsichord makers and his daughter Catharina married into the instrument-making Couchet family, ensuring a strong continuation of both dynasties where her son Joannes continued in the family craft.

  • Existing examples of Hans’ instruments include virginals from the 1580s and 1590s now in Berlin, Bruges, New York, Paris and Yale University. He was also an organ builder and was known to have worked on the organs of Jacobskerk and Antwerp Cathedral.

Joannes Ruckers (15 January 1578 – 29 September 1642) was the first son of Hans to become a harpsichord and organ maker. He lived his life in Antwerp where he and his brother Andreas (30 August 1579 – after 1645) became partners in the business upon their father’s death.

In 1608 after Andreas sold his share of the family business, brother Joannes became the sole owner. Johannes joined the Guild of St Luke in 1611. He engraved ‘IR’ into the rose of his instruments, rather than his father’s ‘HR’. His nephew Joannes Couchet joined his workshop around 1627, taking it over after Johannes Ruckers death in 1642.

  • Around 35 examples of Joannes’ instruments are in existence today.
  • Likewise, Andreas surviving instruments are dated from 1607 to 1644 and are in collections all over the world.

Decoration of an instrument was as careful and elaborate as its construction. The rose in the soundboard is surrounded by a painted wreath of flowers and other flora and fauna in tempera. The roses used by all members of the Ruckers family show an angel playing a harp, with the initials of the builder on each side of it. The date was found either on the soundboard or the wrest plank.

  •  And if I played it now, what a ruckus it would make!

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