New York Metropolitan Museum – Musical Instruments

THERE are various collections in the Museum which it has not been convenient or analogous to consider in the foregoing chapters, but which by reason of their importance and value must not be passed by. We will first discuss the MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.

The broad conception which the Metropolitan Museum has of Art is demonstrated in the admission of this section, which properly might be considered to be an adjunct to a national conservatory of music. Nevertheless, the sister-art of Music is treated here to the extent of the formation of a collection which is the largest of its kind in the world, possibly with the exception of the one attached to the Brussels Conservatory, in Belgium. An early gift from Mr. Joseph W. Drexel of harpsichords, mandolins, violins and other stringed instruments, brought to the Museum the Collection gathered by Mrs. John Crosby Brown. Later additions have completed the survey, so that at the present we may view the entire range of sound producers — the primitive musical instruments of barbarous and semi-savage races, as well as the instruments used in every continent, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and America.

It is impossible to give in this volume an extensive description of this section of the Museum’s treasures. It must suffice to point out the various subdivisions of this vast subject, which are all illustrated by characteristic specimens.

Turning first our attention to the instruments used in Europe from the earliest time to the present day we find these systematically divided. And first we note the Stringed Instruments without a keyboard. Those with open plucked strings are shown in the different styles of Harp; those with the strings over a sound-box are represented by the Maudolin, Guitar and Nofre (lute). The instrument in which the strings were struck by two small hammers, held in either hand was the Dulcimer, the parent of the Clavichord, called in Germany the Hackbret, and in France Tympanum.

The Viola, the Vielle, and Hurdy-Gurdy had the strings bowed—the hurdy-gurdy by a wheel passing over the strings. The entire family of the Violins belongs to this section, in which the gracefully shaped Violes d’ Amour, and the Viola di Bordone will attract attention.

Among the stringed instruments with a keyboard we find again first those with plucked strings, the Psaltery, Spinet, Virginal and Harpsichord. Those with struck strings are the Clavichord and the Piano. The bowed strings are found in the Claviole.

The next section comprises the Wind Instruments — first those without a keyboard. The Whistles comprise the Galoubet, Flute Douce, Flageolet, Ocarina and Transverse Flute. The Reeds, both beating and free, are represented by the Chalumeau, last used by Gluck, to be succeeded by the Clarinet, established by Mozart. The Saxophone, the Bassoon, the Piccolo and the various Bagpipes, including the French Musette du Nivernais, belong here. The Oboe is an instrument with double reeds.

The instruments with cup-mouthpieces include the Trumpets, Helicons and Horns.

To the Wind Instruments with a keyboard be-long the Melodeon, Seraphine, Harmoniphon and Organ; and to the automatic ones the Barrel-organ and the Serinette.

Next come the instruments with vibrating membranes — Drums, Mirliton, Flute Eunuque and Tambourines ; and then the sonorous substances — Musical Glasses, Glass Harmonica, Xylophone, Castanets and Bells.

This classification according to musical standards may in a measure be followed also in the instruments of the other countries. There we will find, however, for anthropological reasons certain classes much extended and others less numerously represented. Strange forms of the instruments will often add to the interest.

An historical group, including some prehistoric instruments, and exhibits illustrating the construction of the principal forms of instruments follow; and the whole is rounded out by a most complete and valuable collection of musicians’ portraits.