One of Benjamin Franklin's most ingenious inventions was an unusual musical instrument he called the glass armonica, from the Italian word armonia, or harmony.
Most everyone has run his or her dampened finger along the rim of a crystal wineglass or goblet, producing an other-worldly, high-pitched echo (and often sending all pets scurrying from the room.) In 18th c. Europe, water-tuned wineglasses were combined in carefully tuned sets and "played" to the enchantment of audiences. Among those who enjoyed this eerie music was Franklin, visiting London in 1761. Franklin resolved to refine the concept of the water-tuned glasses into a more convenient instrument, and the result was the glass armonica. For more of the history, see this website devoted to the instrument.
While the new instrument was a great success with aristocratic audiences in the 18th c. – even Mozart composed for it – today there are only a handful of performers worldwide. One of them is William Zeitler, featured in the video here, who not only explains the armonica, but also plays several short pieces. If you're in the mood for more, here's a link to Mr. Zeitler playing the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite - it's never sounded more wonderfully ethereal.
And if you're a fan of the paranormal/steampunk TV show SleepyHollow (yes, I've already admitted I'm a Sleepyhead, too), then you've already seen and heard a glass armonica. In the November 18 episode Necromancer, guests at Abraham's house were being entertained by a glass armonica performance. Could there be a more appropriate soundtrack?
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.