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Musical Instruments

Appleton Pipe Organ

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.

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, 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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Of Note

Happy Birthday to Papa Haydn, Father of the String Quartet

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

Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014

Lovers of chamber music have good reason to raise a cheer on March 31, which marks the 282nd birthday of composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), who is often referred to as the "Father of the String Quartet."

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Of Note

The "Lovely Sound" as Symbol of Nineteenth-Century Multiculturalism

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

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014

The sūr pyār is a novelty instrument comprising three different musical instruments—tāmbūra, esrāj, and sitār—joined together at the base and peg box. Each separate component provides a distinct function in North Indian classical music: the tāmbūra is present in nearly every concert or recording, providing a constant drone in the background that serves as a tonal reference for the melodic instruments; the esrāj is very similar to other bowed instruments from North India, like the sarangī, in its ability to mimic the human voice, and is often used as accompaniment to a vocalist or as a solo instrument; and the sitār—perhaps the most iconic musical instrument of India thanks to Pandit Ravi Shankar—is a solo melodic instrument that is fretted and plucked with a plectrum, or mizrāb, attached to the musician's fingertip.

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Of Note

Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian

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

Posted: Friday, March 21, 2014

On March 21, 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a musical family in Eisenach, Germany. Depending on the source, the date of his birth is listed as either March 21, on the old Julian calendar that was still in use where Bach was born, or March 31, the date on the new Gregorian calendar that is currently the standard.

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Of Note

A Portable Irish Harp

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

Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014

Musical instruments have the power to transcend their roles as performance objects to become symbols of love, war, ritual, identity, and even politics. In Ireland, for instance, the harp has been an important emblem of national identity for more than eight hundred years. The harp was used during the Middle Ages to accompany epic tales for entertainment, as well as to impart history. Later, traveling musicians moved about the country and used the instrument to impart news, share songs, and tell stories.

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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.