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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.