Ottavini were also common later on in the early history of the harpsichord.The earliest complete harpsichords still preserved come from Italy, the oldest specimen being dated to 1521.The first step, taken in the mid-17th century, was to change the purpose of the second manual in two-manual instruments: whereas in the Flemish school this had been for allowing the player to transpose, the French makers used the second keyboard to permit rapid changes (i.e., while playing) between different choirs of strings; in other words, they were "expressive doubles".The French harpsichord reached its apogee in the 18th century, notably with the work of the Blanchet family and their successor Pascal Taskin.The New Grove summarizes the earliest historical traces of the harpsichord: "The earliest known reference to a harpsichord dates from 1397, when a jurist in Padua wrote that a certain Hermann Poll claimed to have invented an instrument called the 'clavicembalum'; Whoever invented the harpsichord did not have to proceed from scratch.The idea of controlling a musical instrument with a keyboard was already well worked out for the organ, an instrument that is far older than the harpsichord.
Since pitch range is linked to string length, an ottavino is one way of building a small instrument.
The insight needed to create the harpsichord was thus to find a way to pluck strings mechanically, in a way controlled by a keyboard.
The 14th century was a time in which advances in clockwork and other machinery were being made; hence the time may have been ripe for the invention of the harpsichord.
The earliest known image of a harpsichord, from the 1425 altarpiece of the cathedral in Minden, Germany.
The harpsichord is reversed in orientation in the original, not in the photograph. It is possible that the standard harpsichord mechanism, with jacks holding plectra mounted on retractable tongues, may only gradually have won out over alternatives.