Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday Uplift - Glass Kabob

Many lovely ideas and thoughts are often lost in time, including a number of wonderfully innovative approaches to music. Fortunately for you and me, one that has survived, though not exactly robustly. is the Armonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. While in England, he attended a concert given on wine glasses, and the lovely sound apparently spurred Franklin's wonderful brain to invent the Armonica.

The Armonia is one of the group of musical instruments known as "idiophones," which is simply an instrument which creates sound primarily by way of the instrument vibrating itself, without the use of strings or membranes. The Armonica is a set of graduated bowls with holes and corks in the center, mounted on a horizontal spindle, rotated by a fly wheel and a foot pedal. Moistened fingers rub the edges to produce the haunting sound.

The Armonica quickly gained widespread acceptance amongst European royalty and the upper classes; Marie Antoinette had lessons as a child, and Dr. Mesmer, the famous hypnotist, used it to put his patients into a deeper trance. More than 100 composers composed works for the glass Armonica, including Mozart, Hasse, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Beethoven, Donizetti, Richard Strauss. One of the best known pieces that was written for the Armonica is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker. His first draft called for "Glass Armonica," but he changed it to the newly-invented Celesta before the work's premiere performance in 1892. Saint-Saƫns also used this percussive instrument in his "Carnaval des animaux" (in movements 7 and 14).

By the mid-1800's, it suddenly lost its popularity, and gradually vanished. Superstitious rumors ran wild. Armonicas were said to drive performers mad, and evoke spirits of the dead because of its eerie and haunting sound. There was a rebirth of interest in 1982 through the efforts of the late master glass blower named Gerhard Finkenbeiner, of Waltham, Massachusetts, and more recently, because of the increased accesibility of information via the Internet, the Armonica has reached into the 21st century.

If you'd like to try playing the Armonica there is a virtual version here.

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