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Virtual Tour of
"Beethoven & Berlioz, Paris & Vienna:
Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution & Romance

Glass Armonica, France, ca. 1785

NMM 6208.  Glass armonica, France, ca. 1785

NMM 6208.  Glass armonica, France, ca. 1785. Ex coll.: Wolfgang Ruf, Emmetten, Switzerland. Rawlins Fund, 1999.

Crank on the side of the Museum's glass armonica

As the popularity of playing musical glasses increased during the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and inventor, designed a more utilitarian version of the fashionable instrument--the armonica. He had a glassblower make him a set of 36 hemispherical bowls, graduated in size, with a hole in the middle so that they could be placed in a row on a horizontal iron spindle and rotated by a treadle mechanism like that of old-fashioned sewing machines. The Museum's example, designed for use in an aristocratic household staffed by servants, is equipped with a crank rather than a treadle, to rotate the spindle.

Glass armonica shown in playing position.

The player touches the glass rims with moistened fingers to create the instrument's distinctively ethereal, ringing sound.

Back view of glass armonica

Most of the surviving glass armonicas were built in Germany or Bohemia during the first half of the 19th century. The Museum's armonica, shown here from the back, is one of the earliest examples, built in France about 1785.

Source:  André P. Larson, Beethoven & Berlioz, Paris & Vienna: Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution & Romance 1789-1848, with essay by John Koster, exhibition catalog, Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, September 12-November 2, 2003 (Vermillion: National Music Museum 2003), pp. 22 and 81.

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Most recent update: February 26, 2014

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