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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

A New Department: Emanuel Winternitz's Early Years at the Met

Rebecca Lindsey, Visiting Committee Member, Department of Musical Instruments and Department of Islamic Art

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.

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Of Note

On Acquiring a Rare Early Seventeenth-Century Koto

Ken Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments

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.

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Of Note

The Magnificent Contrabass Saxophone

Dr. Paul M. Cohen, Guest Blogger

Posted: Monday, April 6, 2015

Hyperbole takes a back seat when it comes to the contrabass saxophone. Exaggeration and overstatement mean little when cast in the shadow of this gentle giant. Its stature defies description, while imposing a commanding presence that cannot be ignored. No, it does not leap tall buildings in a single bound, but it could stand in as one—looming at six feet, seven inches in height but of such graceful proportions as to invite warm and, at times, affectionate sentiment. It draws as much attention to itself tonally as it does visually. The resonance and depth of sound, floor-board rattling power, and deep range of this instrument (its lowest-sounding note is the lowest C-sharp on the piano) inescapably makes its presence known.

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Of Note

Stradivari and the Transformation of Tradition

Jayson Dobney, Associate Curator and Administrator, Department of Musical Instruments; and Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, March 23, 2015

In the modern orchestra, wind instruments made before the twentieth century are considered to be outmoded and unusable. Technical developments such as valves and keys were so fundamental that nearly all were replaced by newer models. By contrast, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century string instruments, particularly violins by the famous Cremonese maker Antonio Stradivari, remain sought after by leading performers. Subtle alterations have enabled these violins to stay in use, even as performance spaces grew larger and compositions pushed instruments to their technical capacity, demanding a larger sound and a greater compass of notes.

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Of Note

An Unusual Irish Piano

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

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2015

Dublin had a flourishing music scene in the eighteenth century. The city had two cathedrals, St. Patrick's and Christ Church, that both employed a retinue of full-time professional musicians. In addition, a state orchestra was also maintained to provide music for civic occasions. Musicians were attracted to Dublin for these positions and found ample additional opportunities for music making in the numerous concert halls and theaters across the city. Dublin even attracted George Frederick Handel, who visited in 1741 and 1742, and premiered the Messiah there on April 13, 1742.

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Of Note

Leader of the Band

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

Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2015

This lavishly embellished cornet evinces the instrument's position as the most popular brass instrument of virtuoso soloists and band leaders throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The cornet first appeared in Paris in the 1820s and incorporated valves, invented only a few years earlier, into its design. This enabled the instrument to be played chromatically and with a strong, even tone throughout its entire range—a marked contrast to the natural trumpets and keyed bugles in use at the time.

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Of Note

Grammy Winners at the Met

Ken Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2015

This Sunday, February 8, marks the presentation of the fifty-seventh Grammy Awards. Although the ceremony is taking place in Los Angeles this year, here in New York, displayed among the treasures housed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, are instruments once played by famous and influential musicians who have received or were nominated for Grammys during their careers.

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Of Note

A Harmonious Ensemble: Rediscovering the Department of Musical Instruments

Rebecca Lindsey, Visiting Committee Member, Department of Musical Instruments and Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Today the Department of Musical Instruments celebrates its storied history with the launch of A Harmonious Ensemble: Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum, 1884–2014—a comprehensive account of the people, performances, and instruments that have made the department what it is today. This digital publication includes audio and video material dating back to the 1940s, many images of the instruments and the people who have shaped the collection, and original documents never before seen by the public. It is intended as a resource for those interested in the department and its activities, and will also be available, without media files, in a searchable, printable format at a later date.

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Of Note

Listening to Paintings

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

Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is full of visual arts depicting people making music. These images of musicians can tell us much about musical life in the past, but what exactly was the experience of contemporary viewers when they saw these works? Certainly, familiarity with the instruments depicted would have evoked music in their minds. A modern example might be the use of a guitar in an ad for blue jeans and its ability to bring to mind a favorite rock anthem or country ballad.

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Of Note

Adding "Pearls" to the Musical Instrument Collection: Sarah Frishmuth, 1842–1926

Rebecca Lindsey, Visiting Committee Member, Department of Musical Instruments and Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It is well known that the Department of Musical Instruments benefitted in its early years from the work of one unusual nineteenth-century woman, Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown, who remains the largest donor in the department's history. Less well known, however, are the contributions of another important American woman collector of the time, Brown's near-contemporary, Sarah Sagehorn Frishmuth.

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Of Note

Fit for a King: An Ivory Clarinet by Charles Joseph Sax

Heike Fricke, Former Curatorial Fellow, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, December 8, 2014

The name Sax is usually connected to Adolphe Sax, the man who achieved immortality with the creation of the saxophone, an instrument he invented around 1840 and patented in 1846. An outstanding and rare example of an ivory clarinet in the Met's collection, however, draws our attention to Charles Joseph Sax, Adolphe's father.

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Of Note

Music of the Season

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

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2014

This week marks the celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States, and one of the popular hymns that will be used in religious services marking the date is the hymn "Nun danket alle Got," or "Now Thank We All Our God." The words to this hymn were written around 1636 by the Lutheran minister Martin Rinkart (1586–1649) and set to the tune known as the "Leuthen Chorale," attributed to Johann Crüger and written around 1647. The melody was later set by Johann Sebastian Bach in several of his cantatas and by Felix Mendelssohn in his Second Symphony.

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Of Note

The Sax Family: Three Generations of Genius

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

Posted: Monday, November 17, 2014

In honor of the bicentenary of the birth of instrument maker Adolphe Sax, the Department of Musical Instruments has opened Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation in gallery 682 of The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments. This new exhibition features some astounding instruments by the maker and his family, and traces the influence he had on other builders of musical instruments.

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Of Note

Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation

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

Posted: Monday, November 3, 2014

November 6 marks the two-hundredth birthday of Adolphe Sax (1814–1894), and the Met will be celebrating the occasion with a special exhibition, Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation, which features instruments made by three generations of the Sax family. Rare saxophones, brass instruments, and even an exquisite ivory clarinet are among the twenty-six instruments selected to showcase the inventions and innovations of this extraordinary family. The exhibition opens with a free concert by internationally acclaimed saxophone soloist Paul Cohen at 2:30 pm this Wednesday, November 5, in The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments.

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Of Note

Digitizing Met History: The Crosby Brown Catalogues

Robyn Fleming, Assistant Museum Librarian, Thomas J. Watson Library

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2014

In honor of the 125th anniversary of the first gift of musical instruments to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Thomas J. Watson Library recently digitized the complete set of catalogues of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments. These catalogues, dating from 1888 through 1915, document the remarkable growth of this collection during its early years at the Met—growth which was almost entirely a result of the keen eye, strong social ties, and generous patronage of Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown.

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Of Note

The Challenges of Collecting North America, Continued: The Sioux and The Smithsonian

Sally B. Brown, Visiting Committee Co-chair, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2014

As of 1888, when Mary Elizabeth Brown was preparing her first catalog of the 270 instruments that would soon be gifted to the Metropolitan Museum, she had acquired approximately three dozen American instruments (some of which were collected through her family's network of missionaries). These examples came primarily from Sioux, Apache, and Pueblo peoples, with a few from Cuba, Mexico, Alaska, and Canada (which Brown referred to as "British America"). It appears to have been relatives in St. Paul, Minnesota, that put her in touch with agents and traders west of the Mississippi.

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Of Note

The Challenges of Collecting North America: Missionaries and Friends

Sally B. Brown, Visiting Committee Co-chair, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, October 6, 2014

Institutions and individual collectors of musical instruments were active in Europe throughout the nineteenth century. Their interests and collections tended to represent national traditions, though most also had access to instruments from colonies and territories associated with their mother countries. However, it was extremely challenging for Europeans to obtain information and reliable sources for American instruments. The most recent publication from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs was dated 1860, as was the French Abbé Domenech's Seven Years' Residence in the Great Deserts of North America.

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Of Note

Celebrating National Piano Month, Part Three

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

Posted: Monday, September 29, 2014

As September and National Piano Month come to an end, the Department of Musical Instruments wraps up its series of posts highlighting some of the most important pianos from The Metropolitan Museum of Art—home to one of the most comprehensive collections of historic pianos to be found anywhere in the world. After showcasing the work of Erard & Co., Joseph Böhm, Conrad Graf, Nunns & Clark, Johann Schmidt, and Carl Bechstein in previous installments, the celebration finishes with five final examples of pianos from the Museum's collection—including the oldest extant piano in the world.

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Of Note

Celebrating National Piano Month, Part Two

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

Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In honor of National Piano Month, the Department of Musical Instruments continues its series of posts highlighting some of the most important, unusual, and visually interesting pianos from The Metropolitan Museum of Art—home to one of the most important and comprehensive collections of historic pianos to be found anywhere in the world. After exploring the craftsmanship of Erard & Co., Joseph Böhm, F. Beale & Co., John Geib and Son, and Conrad Graf in the first installment, the survey continues with five more examples of historic pianos from the Museum's collection.

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Of Note

Celebrating National Piano Month, Part One

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

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2014

The piano has been an integral part of Western music since the late eighteenth century. Although invented around the year 1700, it took several decades before the instrument had become a favorite of composers and performers alike. The piano underwent enormous change in its first 150 years, and the two regional schools of instrument makers—located in Vienna and London—gave musicians a large choice of pianos with differing tonal characteristics. Versions of the instrument eventually developed that were space-efficient, first the square piano and later the upright, which allowed it to find its way into middle-class homes.

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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.