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Musical Instruments

Appleton Pipe Organ

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.

Of Note

Listening to Paintings

Jayson Dobney, Associate Curator and Administrator, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is full of visual arts depicting people making music. These images of musicians can tell us much about musical life in the past, but what exactly was the experience of contemporary viewers when they saw these works? Certainly, familiarity with the instruments depicted would have evoked music in their minds. A modern example might be the use of a guitar in an ad for blue jeans and its ability to bring to mind a favorite rock anthem or country ballad.

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Of Note

Adding "Pearls" to the Musical Instrument Collection: Sarah Frishmuth, 1842–1926

Rebecca Lindsey, Visiting Committee Member, Department of Musical Instruments and Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It is well known that the Department of Musical Instruments benefitted in its early years from the work of one unusual nineteenth-century woman, Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown, who remains the largest donor in the department's history. Less well known, however, are the contributions of another important American woman collector of the time, Brown's near-contemporary, Sarah Sagehorn Frishmuth.

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Of Note

Fit for a King: An Ivory Clarinet by Charles Joseph Sax

Heike Fricke, Former Curatorial Fellow, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, December 8, 2014

The name Sax is usually connected to Adolphe Sax, the man who achieved immortality with the creation of the saxophone, an instrument he invented around 1840 and patented in 1846. An outstanding and rare example of an ivory clarinet in the Met's collection, however, draws our attention to Charles Joseph Sax, Adolphe's father.

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Of Note

Music of the Season

Jayson Dobney, Associate Curator and Administrator, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2014

This week marks the celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States, and one of the popular hymns that will be used in religious services marking the date is the hymn "Nun danket alle Got," or "Now Thank We All Our God." The words to this hymn were written around 1636 by the Lutheran minister Martin Rinkart (1586–1649) and set to the tune known as the "Leuthen Chorale," attributed to Johann Crüger and written around 1647. The melody was later set by Johann Sebastian Bach in several of his cantatas and by Felix Mendelssohn in his Second Symphony.

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Of Note

The Sax Family: Three Generations of Genius

Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, November 17, 2014

In honor of the bicentenary of the birth of instrument maker Adolphe Sax, the Department of Musical Instruments has opened Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation in gallery 682 of The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments. This new exhibition features some astounding instruments by the maker and his family, and traces the influence he had on other builders of musical instruments.

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Of Note

Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation

Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, November 3, 2014

November 6 marks the two-hundredth birthday of Adolphe Sax (1814–1894), and the Met will be celebrating the occasion with a special exhibition, Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation, which features instruments made by three generations of the Sax family. Rare saxophones, brass instruments, and even an exquisite ivory clarinet are among the twenty-six instruments selected to showcase the inventions and innovations of this extraordinary family. The exhibition opens with a free concert by internationally acclaimed saxophone soloist Paul Cohen at 2:30 pm this Wednesday, November 5, in The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments.

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Of Note

Digitizing Met History: The Crosby Brown Catalogues

Robyn Fleming, Assistant Museum Librarian, Thomas J. Watson Library

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.

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Of Note

The Challenges of Collecting North America, Continued: The Sioux and The Smithsonian

Sally B. Brown, Visiting Committee Co-chair, Department of Musical Instruments

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.

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Of Note

The Challenges of Collecting North America: Missionaries and Friends

Sally B. Brown, Visiting Committee Co-chair, Department of Musical Instruments

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.

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Of Note

Celebrating National Piano Month, Part Three

Jayson Dobney, Associate Curator and Administrator, Department of Musical Instruments

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.

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About this Blog

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. On this blog, curators and guests will share information about this extraordinary collection, its storied history, the department's public activities, and some of the audio and video recordings from our archives.