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American Musical Instruments in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

American Musical Instruments in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Libin, Laurence
224 pages
302 illustrations
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The whole range of American musical instruments, including folk, popular, and elite types, forms the subject of this lavishly illustrated volume. It serves as an overview of the industry from colonial times to the 1980s, as a cultural and social history in that context, and as a catalogue of one of the largest and best documented collections in the world, that of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book contains good examples of even the simplest instruments: antique toys and noisemakers, sirens and sleigh bells, and rustic instruments made of recycled materials, such as bones or oil drums. The inclusion of instruments usually ignored in the literature points up their value as significant indicators of the roots and extent of American musical culture. Chapters on wind, stringed, and keyboard instruments explain the development of each type in economic, technological, and musical terms. Brass manufacture, for example, was at first hindered by the absence of trained metalworkers and by British embargoes on strategic metals; pewter organ pipes were often melted down to make bullets. But local woods and skills appropriate for making woodwinds were readily available throughout the nation's history, and after about 1825 powered machinery greatly increased the output of certain instruments for the burgeoning westward-expanding population. The author discusses the patent system's effect in encouraging experiment, even by "crackpot" inventors. The fashion for novelty and lack of restrictive craft guilds helped promote American innovations in brass and keyboard manufacture, widely adopted and praised abroad even before American musicians gained widespread recognition. Militia bands created a pool of trained performers who fostered instrumental music in times of peace. Music education in public schools was a native phenomenon, the creation of a democratic society, and the affluent middle class was hungry for entertainment and eager for the status conveyed by instrument ownership.

Considerable attention is focused on musical instruments as works of art. The achievements of such renowned builders as Chickering and Steinway are described, and individual pieces of great beauty are compared favorably with the best of contemporary furniture. But the delights of such popular instruments as an elaborate electric guitar or a set of handsome new ocarinas are not ignored, for they represent the emergence of young craftsmen and the current revival of fine workmanship. More than 300 illustrations, seventeen in full color, accompany the authoritative and lively text. Henry Steinway has contributed a preface, and Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has written a foreword describing the history of the Museum's instrument collection. For the specialist, each object is fully described in terms of construction and decoration; all inscriptions, patent marks, and makers' insignia are cited or reproduced. However, it will have equal appeal to the general reader, as it discusses the social and musical functions of the instruments and explains the careers and interrelationships of the makers.

Met Art in Publication

Harpsichord, Arnold Dolmetsch  French (active Britain), Wood, various materials, American
Arnold Dolmetsch
The Music Lesson, John George Brown  American, born England, Oil on canvas, American
John George Brown
Grand Harmonicon, Francis Hopkinson Smith  American, Mahogany, American
Francis Hopkinson Smith
Clarinet in E-flat, Theodore Berteling or successor American, Ivory, nickel-silver, rosewood, American
Theodore Berteling
ca. 1880–90
Side (Snare) Drum, Wood, various materials, American
First half 19th century
Hammered Dulcimer, Wood, paper, yarn, paint, horn, American
ca. 1815
Mandolira, Nicòla Turturro  American, born Italy, Spruce, mahogany, rosewood, tortoiseshell, metal, various materials, American
Nicòla Turturro
ca. 1905
Mandolin, Angelo Mannello  American, born Italy, Spruce, tortoiseshell, ivory, nickel-silver, metal,, American
Angelo Mannello
ca. 1900
Yankee Bass Viol, William Darracott, Jr.  American, Wood, American
William Darracott, Jr.
Cornet in B-flat, Silver-plated brass, Possibly European
ca. 1900
Guitar, Bruce BecVar  American, Ebony, koa, mahogany, rosewood, birdseye maple, benen, bone, wire, abalone, mother-of-pearl, ivory, ceramic, brass, American
Bruce BecVar
Bentside spinet, John Harris  American, Mahogany, mahogany veneer, white oak,<br/>birch, maple, cherry, white cedar, white pine, American
John Harris
Square Piano, Robert Nunns  British, Rosewood, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, abalone, felt, metal, paint, gilding, American
Robert Nunns
Barrel Piano, George Hicks  British, Wood, various materials, American
George Hicks
ca. 1860
Virginal, Arnold Dolmetsch , Chickering & Sons French (active Britain), Wood, brass, ebony, ivory, American
Arnold Dolmetsch
Barrel Organ, Wood, various materials, American
ca. 1800
Chamber Organ, William Crowell  American, Wood, various materials, American
William Crowell
Scraper, bone, American
19th century
Bone Clappers, bone, North American
late 19th century
Showing 20 of 155

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View Citations

Libin, Laurence. 1985. American Musical Instruments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York New York London: the Metropolitan museum of art W. W. Norton.