Home Page for

James S. Nicolson

Harpsichordist, virginalist, teacher and instrument broker

dedicated to the promotion of music of an earlier time

through performance, education, and the availability

of superb keyboard instruments


Double Virginal


During the time known to us as the High Renaissance, a number of musical instruments, especially keyboard instruments, developed into spectacularly successful forms for enjoyment within a flourishing musical culture. A particularly beloved example was the Flemish virginal, or muselaar, a true member of the harpsichord family, quite rare today, but found everywhere in Europe and used until about 1650. These rectangular instruments, built primarily in Antwerp, richly decorated and endowed with enormous resonance, offered delight for the eye as well as the ear. The virginal, with its own characteristic sound, and with its tuning system employing pure thirds, producing sweet consonances and biting dissonances, is ideal for the music of the day from such composers as Cabezón, Frescobaldi, Byrd, Sweelinck and others.


The instrument played by James Nicolson, inspired by an original of 1620, was built by Lynette Tsiang of Somerville, Massachusetts. It is, correctly speaking, called a double virginal, because it contains in a hidden compartment a smaller, octave higher virginal, which can be played alone or coupled together with the larger instrument to provide a greater range of sonorities for the listener. Of these Mother and Child instruments, a Flemish invention of the late 16th Century, fourteen known examples survive, and James Nicolson is probably the only harpsichordist today who regularly concertizes with such an instrument.


To hear and see a portion of William Byrd's Lord Willobies welcome home being played on this instrument, click here.


To see a recent photo of James Nicolson, click here.


To read a bio of James Nicolson, click here.


To contact James S. Nicolson, or to inquire about an instrument, kindly send an e-mail to: