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Of Note

Finding a Permanent Home for the "King": Laurence Witten, an Ideal Collector

Claire Givens, Trustee, National Music Museum

Posted: Monday, August 31, 2015

The National Music Museum, located on the campus of the University of South Dakota, is home to the Andrea Amati cello known as the "King," on loan to the Metropolitan Museum through September 8. The instrument was acquired in 1984 by the then-director of the museum, Dr. André Larson, as part of the extensive collection of Laurence Witten (1926–1995). The purchase of this collection and its display were made possible by Robert and Marjorie Rawlins, alumni of the university, and as such, this collection is now referred to as "The Witten-Rawlins Collection of Stringed Instruments."

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Of Note

At Home with the "King"

Joshua Koestenbaum, Associate Principal Cello, Ruth and John Huss Chair, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

Posted: Monday, August 17, 2015

In July 2005 I was invited to the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota, to play Andrea Amati's "King" cello, now on view at the Met through September 8. The demonstration was to be a part of the conference "The Secrets, Lives, and Violins of the Great Cremona Makers, 1505–1744"—a four-day event devoted to the life and work of Andrea Amati, who standardized the form of the modern violin, and the other great Cremonese makers who followed him. I was thrilled and very grateful to be asked to see, touch, and play this original, Platonic Ideal of the cello—future examples being instantiations of this divine form.

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Of Note

Giving Voice to Times Both Past and Future

Kevin Sherwin, Guitarist

Posted: Monday, August 10, 2015

For the June gallery concert at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I had the privilege of performing on a 1953 Ignacio Fleta guitar from the Museum's collection. To me, it was quite a revelation. I realized on my way to the first session with the instrument that I hadn't spent a lot of time playing a guitar made before 1980, so I knew I was in for something really special.

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Of Note

The "King" Is in the Details: Recreating the Lost Decorations

Matthew Zeller, Organologist and Musicologist

Posted: Monday, August 3, 2015

The "King" cello, on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the National Music Museum through September 8, is a rare surviving example from the decorated set of instruments made in the mid-sixteenth century by Andrea Amati and presented to King Charles IX of France. The "King" has been reduced in size from a large basso, or bass violin, to a modern-day cello. Without this reduction in size, the "King" may have been neglected or lost to time as many other fine instruments have been, and we would be at a loss without its incomparable beauty.

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Of Note

Emanuel Winternitz and the Museum's Member Concerts

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

Posted: Monday, July 27, 2015

Beginning in the early 1940s, the Met became home to a remarkable series of free concerts performed on many of the finest instruments in the Museum's collection. The concerts came about thanks to the efforts of the first curator of the Department of Musical Instruments, Emanuel Winternitz, who believed that the instrument collection needed to be heard as well as seen in order to be fully appreciated. While the use of musical instruments has always been an important part of understanding and interpreting them as art objects at the Metropolitan Museum, the philosophy of the time was much more liberal than today's conservation-minded approach. The concerts began in early 1943 and continued for more than a decade until the creation of a Department of Auditorium Events (later Concerts and Lectures), which gradually replaced the Winternitz-era scholarly programming with more mainstream attractions for which it could charge admission.

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Of Note

Taking a Closer Look at the Amati "King" Cello

Andrew Dipper, Consultant Conservator, Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments

Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Decorated instruments in the violin family such as Andrea Amati's "King" cello were usually made in sets or consorts, and were intended as diplomatic gifts to celebrate important state occasions. Because of this, the decorated Amati instruments were limited in number and are now extremely rare to see outside of museums and private collections. Luckily for visitors to the Met, the "King" cello, the world's oldest surviving cello, is now on view through September 8, 2015, in The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments, on loan from the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota.

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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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Of Note

An Unusual Irish Piano

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

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.

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Of Note

Leader of the Band

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

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.

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Of Note

Grammy Winners at the Met

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

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.

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Of Note

A Harmonious Ensemble: Rediscovering the Department of Musical Instruments

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

Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Today the Department of Musical Instruments celebrates its storied history with the launch of A Harmonious Ensemble: Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum, 1884–2014—a comprehensive account of the people, performances, and instruments that have made the department what it is today. This digital publication includes audio and video material dating back to the 1940s, many images of the instruments and the people who have shaped the collection, and original documents never before seen by the public. It is intended as a resource for those interested in the department and its activities, and will also be available, without media files, in a searchable, printable format at a later date.

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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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Of Note

Celebrating National Piano Month, Part Two

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

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.

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Of Note

Celebrating National Piano Month, Part One

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

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.

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Of Note

Anton Bruckner and the Brown Family

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

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.

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Of Note

Raja Tagore: Renaissance Man of Indian Music

Rebecca Lindsey, Visiting Committee Member, Department of Musical Instruments and Department of Islamic Art; and Allen Roda, Former Jane and Morgan Whitney Research Fellow, Department of Musical Instruments

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.

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Of Note

Exploring The Sacred Lute

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

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.

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Of Note

Missionaries Making Music: Building Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown's Collection

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

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."

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Of Note

Recent Acquisition: An Early American Banjo

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

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A recent acquisition that has been installed in gallery 684 is an early American banjo. This antebellum instrument was made by William Esperance Boucher, Jr., the earliest professional maker of the instrument and an innovative craftsman. Born in Germany, Boucher immigrated to Baltimore, where he sold a wide assortment of musical items and was known as a maker of both drums and banjos. Boucher helped to standardize many features of the banjo, and is credited as the first to use metal rods that allowed the player to adjust the tension on the skin head—a feature that he likely borrowed from some drum makers who were beginning to tension drums in this manner.

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Of Note

Accompaniment to Daily Life: The Syrian Tibia

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

Posted: Monday, July 14, 2014

An extraordinarily early and rare wind instrument in the Museum's collection is a tibia from the ancient Mediterranean world. Music was abundant in the Roman Republic, to which Syria was annexed as a province, and the tibia, a double-reed instrument, accompanied many events in Etruscan and Roman daily life. Its ubiquitous depictions in mosaics, pottery, and sarcophagi portray tibia players in wedding processions, entertaining at formal meals, and providing music for laborers. Ovid wrote that the tibia "sang" in temples, at gaming events, and during funeral rites. Both Ovid and Livy recounted a legendary strike by tibia players, which underscores the instrument's great importance.

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Of Note

Instruments of Macabre Origin

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

Posted: Monday, July 7, 2014

A highly unusual musical instrument in the Museum's collection is a lyre fashioned from a human skull. Although the piece has not been exhibited since before 1980, it gained fame in Jerzy Kosinski's 1982 best-selling novel Pinball—a rock 'n' roll mystery written for George Harrison—and perennially draws attention.

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Of Note

A Patriotic Drum, for the Fourth of July

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

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014

The side drum is probably the instrument most associated with important civic and patriotic holidays in the United States, including the Fourth of July. While drums of all types have been regularly employed to rouse the spirits of armies heading into battle, or to strike fear into their opponents, their most important function in warfare was as signal instruments that conveyed commands to dispersed troops. The side drum—named as such because it hangs on a sling to the player's side—was an important part of European military life from the fifteenth century through the nineteenth century, and is still used for ceremonial functions today. Throughout colonial times and the Federal period in the United States, the instrument was a common sight in towns and villages, as it was used to sound the alarm and to summon members of the local militia for mutual defense.

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Of Note

Delicate, Quiet Beauty: The Viola da Gamba

Elizabeth Weinfield, Editorial Associate, Online Publications, Digital Media Department

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014

There aren't many things in this world more exquisite, beautiful, or noble than the viola da gamba. As a practitioner of the instrument myself, I hold a strong bias, but let's be honest: Who could refrain from pausing in front of the cases of viols on display beside the Michele Todini harpsichord on a walk through The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments?

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Of Note

Drums Fit for a King

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

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2014

Every year in June, a royal military event known as "Trooping the Colours" is held in London. The event is an official celebration of the monarch's birthday, even though their birthday could actually be any other time of year. Among the many formal displays of pageantry that occur during that celebration is a review of the Household Guard Regiments. On that occasion, the drummers of the Household Cavalry bands use special silver kettledrums—extraordinary instruments have been a part of the court's pomp and circumstance since the nineteenth century. The drums used in London are closely related to a pair of silver kettledrums that are a part of the Department of Musical Instruments' collection here at the Met.

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Of Note

Frances Morris and The Crosby Brown Collection

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

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Frances Morris (1866–1955) was not only the first woman to work as a professional at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, but she was also, effectively, the first curator of the Museum's collection of musical instruments. The daughter of a minister and raised in New York, little is known of her early life and education, and there is no evidence that she had any professional degrees or musical training.

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Of Note

Conserving an Early Twentieth-Century Afghani Rubāb

Jennifer Schnitker, Graduate Intern, Department of Objects Conservation; Fellow, Winterthur Museum/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation

Posted: Tuesday, May 20, 2014

One of the recent musical instruments conserved at the Met is a twentieth-century Afghani rubāb, a short-necked lute known as the national instrument of Afghanistan. A plucked instrument, the rubāb is used in art, popular, and regional music, both as a solo instrument and as part of small musical ensembles. Prior to being displayed in The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments, this object needed treatment due to losses of inlay from the fingerboard and pegbox. Additionally, this presented a good opportunity to evaluate the condition of the rawhide resonator, as this material can become more brittle over time.

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Of Note

Kalimba, or the "Thumb Piano"

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

Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014

In conjunction with the exhibition Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C. F. Martin, on view through December 7, the Department of Musical Instruments is presenting a series of monthly concerts on Friday evenings in the Museum's Charles Engelhard Court. The next concert in this series will be held on May 16, featuring the guitarist, composer, and instrument designer Trevor Gordon Hall.

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Of Note

The Met's Mighty Pipe Organ

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

Posted: Monday, May 5, 2014

One of the frequently asked questions by visitors to The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments is whether the large organ that presides over the equestrian court is ever played. The answer, in fact, is yes—the beautiful instrument with gold-leaf façade pipes in a fifteen-foot-tall Greek Revival–style case is used several times a year in demonstrations and concerts for the public, and can also be heard on a variety of commercially available recordings.

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Of Note

The New York City Workshop of C. F. Martin

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

Posted: Monday, April 28, 2014

The exhibition Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C. F. Martin, on view through December 7, brings together more guitars by Christian Frederick Martin (1796–1873) than have ever been publicly exhibited before. Among the many treasures that can be seen in this exhibit is the earliest known guitar built by Martin. The instrument (above) was built around 1834, at which point Martin was working in his New York City workshop at 196 Hudson Street, an area of the city now known as Tribeca, near the Holland Tunnel. In that shop he repaired instruments, sold musical items that he imported from Germany, and both built and sold his own guitars.

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Of Note

David Mannes and the Great Hall Concerts

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

Posted: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

David Mannes (1866–1969) was a violinist, famed conductor, and one of the most important music educators in the United States, best known for the Manhattan music school he founded in 1916 which today is Mannes College The New School of Music. Though never a Museum employee, Mannes began the distinguished history of musical performances at the Met. He conducted at the Museum for more than forty years, and for thirty years led regular free concerts that The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin described in 1949 as having "America's largest indoor audiences." Particularly during the 1930s, when the Museum had no curator knowledgeable about instruments, Mannes also advised on the acquisition of instruments and their care.

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Of Note

The Sound of Holy Week

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

Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bells have been used in the Latin Mass of the Roman Catholic Church since at least the eighth century. A tradition developed of setting aside the bells during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, as their ringing was considered too joyous for such a somber time of the liturgical year and the bells were said to have flown to Rome. When the bells were not in use, they were replaced by a cog rattle—a noisemaker that produces a loud rattling sound when whirled around by its handle. This tradition still continues in certain Latin American countries.

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Of Note

Ravi Shankar: Ambassador of Hindustani Music

Allen Roda, Former Jane and Morgan Whitney Research Fellow, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014

Happy birthday to Pandit Ravi Shankar—the legendary sitarist widely known to have played a pivotal role in spreading appreciation for Hindustani classical music throughout the world, as well as for teaching Beatles guitarist George Harrison to play the instrument.

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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.