Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Video: Benjamin Franklin's Glass Armonica, 1761

Friday, December 6, 2013

Isabella reporting,

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 Sleepy Hollow (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?


Ana said...

This is beautiful.

It made my morning.

Karen Anne said...

Instant migraine :-) Sorry.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

That's alright, Karen Anne - there's a reason that the famous Dr. Mesmer used glass armonica music to help put his patients into trances! :)

Unknown said...

That was cool! Thanks for posting this.

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