Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Musical Instrument Museum, Part 19

The next few exhibits at MIM were not tied to any region or country. Pictured here is a magnificent harpsichord. You'll probably recall that this instrument looks somewhat like a piano but plucks the strings rather than striking them. The harpsichord was widely used in Renaissance and Baroque music. During the late 18th century it gradually disappeared from the musical scene with the rise of the piano. But in the 20th century it made a resurgence, used in historically informed performance of older music, in new (contemporary) compositions and in popular culture.

This harpsichord was made around 1890 by Leopoldo Franciolini, who was a notorious Florentine antique dealer and instrument forger. He created this example by piecing together various parts from 17th- and 18th-century instruments.

Even if he scavenged other instruments, he obviously made good choices of what to keep — such as these wonderful sculptured legs in a Grecian style.

This is also a harpsichord albeit a modern (1979) replica of the oldest extant keyboard instrument, a southern German clavicytherium which dates to 1480. The original is no longer in playing condition, as you may have guessed.

This instrument is a glockenspiel. You may be more familiar with the type that uses metal bars — often seen in marching bands. This one uses bell shaped saucers which are stuck when a key is pressed.

This particular instrument was made in 1822 re-purposing the casework from an 18th-century English harpsichord.

Here we see a mechanical-action pipe organ of modern manufacture. All exterior and interior mechanical and tone-producing portions are visible. It has some 183 pipes — the air is driven into the pipes from the bellows that can be seen in the bottom of the case.

This is a "Style 1200" 3-manual reed organ build by Mason & Hamlin. By the 1870s, this firm was the largest and most important reed-organ manufacturer.

Such organs use metal reeds to produce the notes instead of pipes as in a pipe organ. The former were considered a smaller and less expensive alternative to the latter. In fact, they work on the same principle as a harmonica or accordion.

This keyboard reminds me of the organ that my grandmother used to play at Showell Methodist Church, in the small town where she lived and I was born (I was actually born in her house, not in a hospital).

The theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact from the player. It is named after its Russian inventor, Professor Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas which sense the position of the player's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other, so it can be played without being touched. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

Click here to see the inventor playing his creation. You will recognize its sound used in many scary movies.

The Moog synthesizer began to gain wider attention in the music industry after it was demonstrated at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. The commercial breakthrough of a Moog recording was made by Wendy Carlos in the 1968 record Switched-On Bach, which became one of the highest-selling classical music recordings of its era.

The success of Switched-On Bach sparked a slew of other synthesizer records in the late 1960s to mid 1970s. In 1974 the German electronic group Kraftwerk further popularized the sound of the synthesizer with their landmark album Autobahn, which used several types of synthesizer including a Minimoog. German-based Italian producer-composer Giorgio Moroder helped to shape the development of disco music.

Next we encounter a replica Martin Guitar construction/repair shop. Martin is highly regarded for its steel-string guitars, and is a leading mass manufacturer of flattop acoustics with models that retail for thousands of dollars and vintage instruments that often fetch six figures at resale.

Throughout its history, the company has been run by the Martin family. The current chairman and CEO, C.F. 'Chris' Martin IV, is the great-great-great-grandson of the founder. Many characteristic features of the modern flattop steel strung acoustic guitar were first introduced by the firm. Influential innovations include the Dreadnought body style and scalloped bracing.

Nearby is a mock up of a Steinway piano assembly line plus videos of the real thing. Founder and German immigrant, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg's dedication was: "To build the best piano possible". He established at his company three basic principles: "Build to a standard, not a price", "Make no compromise in quality", and "Strive always to improve the instrument". Research and inventions by the company have earned it so far around 130 patents, a greater number than any other piano company.

Good thinking during the design phase of MIM to include a theater. They regularly feature artists here — unfortunately, MIM is a bit of a drive from my home so I have not yet made the trek for a performance.

This brings us to the end of this journey around the world in music. Fittingly, MIM features a wonderful world-map mosaic made of different types of stone embedded in the floor below the huge spiral staircase. I hope you have enjoyed seeing the huge variety of ways that humans have devised to make music. You may recall in the first LAHP issue introducing MIM to you, I wrote "The message is that every human culture has formed some type of music either via voice or via musical instruments. The conclusion, they suggest, is that music is embedded in the brain — although the reason for that connection is open to speculation." I have seen overwhelming evidence to support that contention.

I hope you will be able to visit MIM and enjoy its exhibits in person. It is AWESOME!

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com