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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

The "Number One Bill Clinton" Tenor Saxophone

Deborah Check Reeves, Curator of Education and Woodwinds, Associate Professor of Music, National Music Museum, University of South Dakota

Posted: Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It started as a design idea back in December 1992, and in May 1994 that idea blossomed into an Oval Office presentation of the "Number One Bill Clinton" tenor saxophone to the instrument's presidential namesake.

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Of Note

Building a Family Dynasty: Three Generations of Amati Luthiers

Philip J. Kass, Independent Scholar

Posted: Monday, June 22, 2015

The subject of exactly who was the "inventor" of the violin has swirled around the history of the craft of violin making for generations. While it may never be answered, what is indisputable is that Andrea Amati of Cremona created a style, design, and method of construction that was innovative, widely admired, and imitated throughout Europe in his lifetime, and thus it was Amati who established what the violin would become and what musicians all know and love to this day.

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Of Note

Now on View: Andrea Amati's "King" Cello, on Loan from the National Music Museum

Arian Sheets, Curator of Stringed Instruments, National Music Museum

Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2015

For centuries, the Amati name has been lauded in connection with the violins, violas, and cellos produced by the family's four generations of instrument makers in the Tuscan city of Cremona. The early history of Cremonese lutherie is shrouded in mystery, but the survival of around two dozen instruments by Andrea Amati (ca. 1505–1577) is a testament to both the astonishingly high quality of violin making in Cremona, and also to the extent to which these instruments were treasured, repaired, and modified for players and collectors for five centuries. The "King" cello by Andrea Amati, painted with the armorials and mottos of King Charles IX of France (1550–1574), reflects a long history of fine European musical instruments of noble provenance. Now in the permanent collection of the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota, the "King" cello has been graciously loaned to the Met for display in The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments from June 11 through September 8, 2015.

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Of Note

The Many Sounds of Stone

Ken Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stone is far from the first thing that springs to mind as one considers the materials needed for a musical instrument to make a pleasing sound, yet in many parts of the world this rigid element is often included in instrument making. On May 29, Glenn Kotche and Third Coast Percussion will perform a new composition inspired by one such instrument in the Museum's collection: the William Till rock harmonicon, made around 1880.

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Of Note

Investigating an Appalachian Treasure

Jake Meserve Blount, Former Intern, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, May 18, 2015

On a recent morning I sat down with a number of journal articles and folders in preparation for the cataloging of the Met's collection of Appalachian dulcimers. I tapped my foot along to the locomotive beat of the old-time fiddle tune "Sugar Hill" as it drifted over from my computer speakers a few feet away, and leafed idly through one particular folder which contained all known information and correspondence relating to the best-documented of the Museum's dulcimers: 89.4.988.

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Of Note

Happy Birthday, Johannes

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

Posted: Thursday, May 7, 2015

The German composer Johannes Brahms was born on May 7, 1833, in the city of Hamburg. In addition to being a virtuosic pianist, Brahms also composed for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles of various combinations, and solo instruments. He was friends with many of the leading musicians of the nineteenth century, and was particularly close to composer Clara Schumann and to Joseph Joachim, the famed violinist to whom Brahms dedicated many of his works for that instrument.

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Of Note

A New Department: Emanuel Winternitz's Early Years at the Met

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

Posted: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In 1949 the Department of Musical Instruments and Concerts (as it was initially known) became the Museum's thirteenth curatorial department. The person responsible for this event, Dr. Emanuel Winternitz, was named curator. Winternitz was hired in 1941 and in the nick of time, as the Museum was then deeply invested in a plan to deaccession all but four of the more than four thousand instruments in its collection.

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Of Note

On Acquiring a Rare Early Seventeenth-Century Koto

Ken Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, April 13, 2015

One of the most exquisite acquisitions made by the Department of Musical Instruments in the last decade was a spectacular koto, or long zither, from early seventeenth-century Japan. In addition to the instrument itself are many components, including an early nineteenth-century lacquered storage box, an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century silk brocade wrapping, and thirteen silver-tipped and -lined bridges. Each component is expertly decorated, and the process of exhibiting and photographing the beauty of these pieces is complicated. A stop-action video taken after a 2013 photo session reveals the various elements involved in packing the koto for transportation.

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Of Note

The Magnificent Contrabass Saxophone

Dr. Paul M. Cohen, Guest Blogger

Posted: Monday, April 6, 2015

Hyperbole takes a back seat when it comes to the contrabass saxophone. Exaggeration and overstatement mean little when cast in the shadow of this gentle giant. Its stature defies description, while imposing a commanding presence that cannot be ignored. No, it does not leap tall buildings in a single bound, but it could stand in as one—looming at six feet, seven inches in height but of such graceful proportions as to invite warm and, at times, affectionate sentiment. It draws as much attention to itself tonally as it does visually. The resonance and depth of sound, floor-board rattling power, and deep range of this instrument (its lowest-sounding note is the lowest C-sharp on the piano) inescapably makes its presence known.

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Of Note

Stradivari and the Transformation of Tradition

Jayson Dobney, Associate Curator and Administrator, Department of Musical Instruments; and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, March 23, 2015

In the modern orchestra, wind instruments made before the twentieth century are considered to be outmoded and unusable. Technical developments such as valves and keys were so fundamental that nearly all were replaced by newer models. By contrast, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century string instruments, particularly violins by the famous Cremonese maker Antonio Stradivari, remain sought after by leading performers. Subtle alterations have enabled these violins to stay in use, even as performance spaces grew larger and compositions pushed instruments to their technical capacity, demanding a larger sound and a greater compass of notes.

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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.