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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2014
The Department of Musical Instruments continues to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the first gift of musical instruments from Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown, who over several decades built a collection of more than 3,300 instruments for the Museum. The collection she gave is named for her husband, John Crosby Brown, and still forms the majority of the Museum's departmental holdings.
Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014
Among the more distinguished benefactors of the Museum's collection of musical instruments was Raja Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore (1840–1914), a leading figure in the Bengal Renaissance of the late nineteenth century, as well as an educator, patron of music, and musicologist. Tagore was born in 1840 in Calcutta, then the capital of British India, to a Brahmin family—wealthy merchants with lands formerly owned by ruling aristocrats, who were fluent in English and conversant with Western European knowledge. The British often conferred the aristocratic title of Raja on prominent citizens; Tagore's brother inherited the senior title Maharaja, and, in 1880, Tagore himself was titled Raja, though his family had no political authority.
Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014
From 1889 to 1909, Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown was regarded as the authority in America on musical instruments from all over the world. By her death in 1918 she had lavished more than 3,300 instruments on The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her first gift, in 1889, consisted of 276 instruments—mostly objects from distant places and "savage and oriental" peoples, as she described them in the parlance of her day. By 1901 these instruments occupied five rooms, or ten percent of the total number of galleries in the Museum at the time. Brown called her collection, as an acknowledgement of its scope and in honor of her husband, "The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations."
Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Frances Morris (1866–1955) was not only the first woman to work as a professional at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, but she was also, effectively, the first curator of the Museum's collection of musical instruments. The daughter of a minister and raised in New York, little is known of her early life and education, and there is no evidence that she had any professional degrees or musical training.