Tag Archives: Instruments

Poe’s concertina

Joseph Holbrooke’s The bells, op. 50(a), a “dramatic poem” scored for large orchestra and chorus and inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s poem by the same name, is highly onomatopoeic and describes the sound, function, and effect of four types of bells: sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells, and funeral bells. A concertina is heard in two sections of the piece: the prelude (section 1) and Iron bells (section 5).

The composer, who had a “lifelong affection for concertinas”, recalled how the instrument was almost cut from the work’s 1906 premiere:

“While I was having my Poem for Orchestra and Chorus, The bells, performed in London under Hans Richter, the eminent conductor noticed that there was a part written for a concertina. ‘Concertina! Concertina!’ said Richter, ‘What is that?’ I explained to him that it was a peculiar instrument like a bellows, played by hand. ‘We cannot have that’ said Richter. ‘There is no instrument like that here.’ I found one, however, and Conductor Richter placed it away back where it could not possibly be heard. But at the concert I saw to it that the concertina player sat directly in front of the conductor.”

This according to “The concertina and The bells” by Eric Matusewitch (Concertina world 488 [December 2021] 17–24). Below, the work’s first movement.

More posts about concertinas are here.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Romantic era

Beiaard- en klokkencultuur in de Lage Landen/Carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries

In 2022 the Amsterdam University Press launched Beiaard- en klokkencultuur in de Lage Landen/Carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries, a bilingual annual journal that publishes editorial board-reviewed articles on the subject of carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries and related material and immaterial heritage.

These articles form the output of academic and artistic research in the areas of history, musicology, sociology, anthropology, historically informed performance practice, heritage, cultural sciences, and campanology. Although the main focus is on the Low Countries, contributions on carillon and bell culture in other countries will also be considered for publication.

Below, Koen Cosaert performs on the carillon at the Beiaardschool “Jef Denyn”, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.

Comments Off on Beiaard- en klokkencultuur in de Lage Landen/Carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries

Filed under Europe, Instruments, New periodicals

Tut’ankhamūn’s trumpets

Tut trumpet

On this day 100 years ago, a British excavation team exploring Egypt’s Valley of the Kings discovered a step that proved to be the beginning of a descending staircase. Thus began the opening of the first known largely intact royal burial from ancient Egypt— Tut’ankhamūn’s tomb.

Among the “wonderful things” that Howard Carter saw when he entered inner chamber were two trumpets—one made of silver, and one made of bronze.

Seeing the potential for an extraordinary recording, in 1939 the BBC persuaded the Matḥaf al-Miṣrī (Museum of Egyptian Antiquities) to schedule a world broadcast. The British Army bandsman James Tappern was engaged to perform on the historic instruments.

In what some people saw as the notorious “curse of King Tut”, five minutes before the live broadcast was to begin the watchmen’s lanterns failed and the museum was plunged into darkness; but candlelight saved the day, and enthralled listeners heard what were presumably sounds last heard more than 3,000 years earlier.

This according to “Recreating the sound of Tutankhamun’s trumpets” by Christine Finn (BBC news: Middle East 17 April 2011; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-22278).

Above, a photograph of Tappern at the museum. Below, a narrative fleshes out the story; the recordings of Tappern playing the trumpets begin around 10:45.

Comments Off on Tut’ankhamūn’s trumpets

Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Instruments

Acusfere: Suoni_culture_musicologie

In 2022 Libreria Musicale Italiana launched Acusfere: Suoni_culture_musicologie, a multilingual, annually published, peer-reviewed print and online journal with abstracts in English. The journal’s scope is purposely broad; however, there are several general elements around which it coheres, including emphases on:

  • Research from the fields of musicology and anthropology
  • Musical writing, invention, improvisation, and composition in the contemporary world
  • Local and peripheral music traditions
  • Relationships between music and many other artistic and expressive activities
  • Musical instruments and technologies
  • Vocal expression as manifested in individual and polyphonic contexts
  • The processes of thought, theories, aesthetics, and structures that shape musical meanings
  • The multifarious behaviors detectable in the music-making of diverse cultures
  • The spaces and places of music, stable and concrete, but also mobile and ephemeral
  • Projections of music in media, rapidly changing and integrated into multiple perspectives

The journal’s tripartite subtitle—suoni (sounds), culture (cultures), and musicologie (musicologies)—reflects the pluralities and variabilities of viewpoints, processes, scenarios, contexts, and knowledges at the center of the critical reflection of music making.

Below, Marco Tomassi performs on his reconstruction of the 17th-century sordellina, the subject of an article in the journal’s inaugural issue.

Comments Off on Acusfere: Suoni_culture_musicologie

Filed under Ethnomusicology, Instruments, Musicology, New periodicals

The Fokker organ

In 1950 a pipe organ built to the specifications of Adriaan Fokker (1887–1972) with octaves divided into 31 steps was inaugurated at Teylers Museum in Haarlem. The instrument originally enjoyed considerable fame, and a lively circle of composers and performers developed around it.

Since 1942 Fokker, a physicist who had studied with Einstein, had been occupied almost exclusively with music-theoretical subjects. His interest was particularly captured by the writings of Christiaan Huygens (1629–95), who advocated the adoption of just intonation. This theme became the backbone of nearly all Fokker’s music-theoretical publications.

To turn his theories into sounds, Fokker had a small organ built in 1943. This instrument was the prelude to the realization of his greatest dream: a pipe organ with 31 tones per octave. This instrument was built starting in 1945 in close cooperation between Fokker and the organ builder Bernard J.A. Pels (1921–96).

Then for years the organ was forgotten; it was even dismantled and placed in storage. But since 2009 the instrument sounds again, in the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam. And again composers are inspired by the Fokker organ and its intriguing microtonal system.

This according to “Microtonaliteit van het Spaarne naar ’t IJ. Zestig jaar 31-toons orgel” by Cees van der Poel (Het orgel, 107/3 [2011] pp. 4–10; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-1372).

Below, Ere Lievonen performs on the instrument.

2 Comments

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Instruments, Theory

The female accordion

The first concertinas to arrive in County Clare, Ireland, were inexpensive German instruments, a far cry from the elegant parlor instrument invented by Sir Charles Wheatstone in 1829 and popularized among the social elite of Victorian England. They were disseminated by traveling peddlers and local and more distant shops—and probably by maritime traffic, given Clare’s position at the mouth of the Shannon estuary, the last port of call for tall ships about to cross the Atlantic.

By the end of the nineteenth century the concertina had all but replaced the uilleann pipes in popularity there, and Clare had already developed a reputation as a treasure-trove of concertina music and the home of some of the instrument’s finest players. After its completion in 1892 the West Clare Railway carried concertinas into formerly inaccessible rural areas, and before World War II the instrument became particularly popular among women musicians, earning it the nickname bean-cháirdin (female accordion).

This according to “Clare: Heartland of the Irish concertina” by Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin (Papers of the International Concertina Association III [2006] pp. 1–19; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2006-5495).

Above, the legendary Elizabeth Crotty; below, Kate McNamara plays Sergeant Early’s dream and The plough and the stars.

BONUS: Read about the gendering of another traditional Irish instrument in The female harp.

3 Comments

Filed under Europe, Instruments, World music

Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester

The Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester (also known as the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra) performs on instruments made entirely out of fresh vegetables: cukeophones, radish-marimbas, carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, and so on.

The instruments are all made from scratch one hour prior to each performance, using about 90 pounds of the freshest vegetables available; after the performance they are cooked to make a tasty soup for the audience and performers to enjoy together.

This according to “Music with taste” in Gastronomica (IV/4 [fall 2004], p. 126; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-21764).

Below, the group prepares and performs on their instruments in 2010.

BONUS: A newer video, from 2017.

2 Comments

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Food, Instruments

Bodhráns and politics

From its humble beginnings as a ritual instrument, the bodhrán has developed into a globally recognized percussion instrument that is found in diverse contexts. During the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the brilliant experiments and innovations of the drum maker Seamus O’Kane altered the bodhrán’s design, contributing to a rapid expansion of new performance practices and increased interest in the drum.

One of O’Kane’s signature innovations was the use of skins from the unionist lambeg drum. O’Kane had to precariously negotiate paramilitary politics and drum making in Northern Ireland in order to produce a superior instrument.

O’Kane’s bodhráns, which he continues to make in his County Derry-based workshop, draw from both Irish republican and unionist drum making traditions. This blending of traditions has enabled him to produce an innovative, tunable drum representative of the shared musical cultures of Northern Ireland within a violent, politically divided milieu.

This according to “Bodhráns, lambegs, & musical craftsmanship in Northern Ireland” by Colin Harte (Ethnomusicology forum XXVIII/2 [August 2019] 200-16).

Above and below, O’Kane demonstrates his instrument.

Comments Off on Bodhráns and politics

Filed under Instruments, Politics

Gumleaf redux

Herb Patten, an Elder of Koori, painter, and outstanding gumleaf player, has preserved this indigenous tradition by performing everywhere from pubs and parties to national television and the Sydney Opera House.

Patten (above) has enabled anyone to participate in this tradition with his book/CD set How to play the gumleaf (Sydney: Currency, 1999; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-14755). Patten’s book includes practical tips on how to select a suitable leaf and develop proper lip technique, and his demonstrations include popular and old-time songs along with the calls of several indigenous Australian birds.

Below, Herb Patten holds forth.

BONUS: Now there’s no need to imagine hearing John Lennon’s Imagine on a gumleaf.

Comments Off on Gumleaf redux

Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Curiosities, Instruments

Dürer’s bathing musicians

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Das Männerbad (ca. 1496–97) includes a portrayal of two men playing recorder and rebec in a public bath.

The artist’s meticulous attention to detail shows clearly that the recorder is a flûte à neuf trous (drilled to give the player a choice of left or right little finger, the unused hole to be filled with wax).

In the bath, singing is probably more widely practiced than instrumental playing, and indeed, wooden instruments might not take too kindly to the humidity; some people might be more attracted to drinking while bathing, like the gentleman to the musicians’ left.

This according to “Musical ablutions” by Herbert Hersom (The recorder magazine X/1 [March 1990] 20–21; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1990-30337).

Today is Dürer’s 550th birthday! Below, music by Ludwig Senfl, who worked at the court of Maximillian I around the time that Dürer was employed there.

More posts about iconography are here.

Comments Off on Dürer’s bathing musicians

Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance