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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2015
Dublin had a flourishing music scene in the eighteenth century. The city had two cathedrals, St. Patrick's and Christ Church, that both employed a retinue of full-time professional musicians. In addition, a state orchestra was also maintained to provide music for civic occasions. Musicians were attracted to Dublin for these positions and found ample additional opportunities for music making in the numerous concert halls and theaters across the city. Dublin even attracted George Frederick Handel, who visited in 1741 and 1742, and premiered the Messiah there on April 13, 1742.
Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2015
This lavishly embellished cornet evinces the instrument's position as the most popular brass instrument of virtuoso soloists and band leaders throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The cornet first appeared in Paris in the 1820s and incorporated valves, invented only a few years earlier, into its design. This enabled the instrument to be played chromatically and with a strong, even tone throughout its entire range—a marked contrast to the natural trumpets and keyed bugles in use at the time.
Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2015
This Sunday, February 8, marks the presentation of the fifty-seventh Grammy Awards. Although the ceremony is taking place in Los Angeles this year, here in New York, displayed among the treasures housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, are instruments once played by famous and influential musicians who have received or were nominated for Grammys during their careers.