The Museum's collection of musical instruments includes approximately five thousand examples from six continents and the Pacific Islands, dating from about 300 B.C. to the present. It illustrates the development of musical instruments from all cultures and eras. Selected for their technical and social importance as well as for their tonal and visual beauty, the instruments may be understood in a number of ways: as art objects, as ethnographic record, and as documents of the history of music and performance.
Posted: Monday, October 20, 2014
In honor of the 125th anniversary of the first gift of musical instruments to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Thomas J. Watson Library recently digitized the complete set of catalogues of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments. These catalogues, dating from 1888 through 1915, document the remarkable growth of this collection during its early years at the Met—growth which was almost entirely a result of the keen eye, strong social ties, and generous patronage of Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown.
Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2014
As of 1888, when Mary Elizabeth Brown was preparing her first catalog of the 270 instruments that would soon be gifted to the Metropolitan Museum, she had acquired approximately three dozen American instruments (some of which were collected through her family's network of missionaries). These examples came primarily from Sioux, Apache, and Pueblo peoples, with a few from Cuba, Mexico, Alaska, and Canada (which Brown referred to as "British America"). It appears to have been relatives in St. Paul, Minnesota, that put her in touch with agents and traders west of the Mississippi.
Posted: Monday, October 6, 2014
Institutions and individual collectors of musical instruments were active in Europe throughout the nineteenth century. Their interests and collections tended to represent national traditions, though most also had access to instruments from colonies and territories associated with their mother countries. However, it was extremely challenging for Europeans to obtain information and reliable sources for American instruments. The most recent publication from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs was dated 1860, as was the French Abbé Domenech's Seven Years' Residence in the Great Deserts of North America.
Posted: Monday, September 29, 2014
As September and National Piano Month come to an end, the Department of Musical Instruments wraps up its series of posts highlighting some of the most important pianos from The Metropolitan Museum of Art—home to one of the most comprehensive collections of historic pianos to be found anywhere in the world. After showcasing the work of Erard & Co., Joseph Böhm, Conrad Graf, Nunns & Clark, Johann Schmidt, and Carl Bechstein in previous installments, the celebration finishes with five final examples of pianos from the Museum's collection—including the oldest extant piano in the world.
Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014
In honor of National Piano Month, the Department of Musical Instruments continues its series of posts highlighting some of the most important, unusual, and visually interesting pianos from The Metropolitan Museum of Art—home to one of the most important and comprehensive collections of historic pianos to be found anywhere in the world. After exploring the craftsmanship of Erard & Co., Joseph Böhm, F. Beale & Co., John Geib and Son, and Conrad Graf in the first installment, the survey continues with five more examples of historic pianos from the Museum's collection.
Posted: Friday, September 19, 2014
The piano has been an integral part of Western music since the late eighteenth century. Although invented around the year 1700, it took several decades before the instrument had become a favorite of composers and performers alike. The piano underwent enormous change in its first 150 years, and the two regional schools of instrument makers—located in Vienna and London—gave musicians a large choice of pianos with differing tonal characteristics. Versions of the instrument eventually developed that were space-efficient, first the square piano and later the upright, which allowed it to find its way into middle-class homes.
Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2014
The Department of Musical Instruments continues to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the first gift of musical instruments from Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown, who over several decades built a collection of more than 3,300 instruments for the Museum. The collection she gave is named for her husband, John Crosby Brown, and still forms the majority of the Museum's departmental holdings.
Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014
Among the more distinguished benefactors of the Museum's collection of musical instruments was Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore (1840–1914), a leading figure in the Bengal Renaissance of the late nineteenth century, as well as an educator, patron of music, and musicologist. Tagore was born in 1840 in Calcutta, then the capital of British India, to a Brahmin family—wealthy merchants with lands formerly owned by ruling aristocrats, who were fluent in English and conversant with Western European knowledge. The British often conferred the aristocratic title of Raja on prominent citizens; Tagore's brother inherited the senior title Maharaja, and, in 1880, Tagore himself was titled Raja, though his family had no political authority.
Posted: Monday, August 11, 2014
The first time I heard the evocative sounds and exquisite poetry of classic Persian music, I was amazed by its simple and elegant beauty. I later learned the complexity and philosophical principals behind the music, and about the different genres and ancient regional traditions that still endure. After a trip to Iran to visit scholars, composers, instrument makers, and musicians, a friend introduced me to the music and life of the exceptional musician, jurist, and philosopher Nour Ali Elahi (1895–1974), also known as Ostad Elahi. The resulting new exhibition, The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi, examines Ostad's transformation of the art of tanbūr—his modifications to the instrument, its playing technique, and the elevation of its repertoire—as well as his innovative approach to the quest for self-knowledge and his personal transformation from a classical mystic to a modern jurist.
Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014
From 1889–1909 Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown was regarded as the authority in America on musical instruments from all over the world. By her death in 1918 she had lavished more than 3,300 instruments on The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her first gift, in 1889, consisted of 276 instruments—mostly objects from distant places and "savage and oriental" peoples, as she described them in the parlance of her day. By 1901 these instruments occupied five rooms, or ten percent of the total number of galleries in the Museum at the time. Brown called her collection, as an acknowledgement of its scope and in honor of her husband, "The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations."