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Prof. Crocodile
Jun 27, 2020

This picture, found by typing "random image" into Google, is a more accurate representation of who I am than anything I would have consciously chosen.




What connects Mozart and Beethoven to Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Franz Mesmer, and the systematic oppression of women in the 18th century?

Quite a lot, probably, but ITT we will focus on the glass armonica.



Most people with a passing interest in music or history have heard about this beautiful and esoteric instrument as a footnote when learning about one of the historical figures above, but the story of the instrument is interesting enough to stand on its own, and the music that it produces is definitely worth hearing.

The glass armonica grew out of the simple observation that you can make wine glasses sing by rubbing a wet finger around their rim. In fact concerts played on glass harps (basically a bunch of glasses in a crate) were as common among courtiers in enlightenment-era Europe as they are among bored banquet guests today. But wineglasses are a tiresome lot—easily broken and knocked over—and the the need to constantly moisten one's fingers and reach across distances to transition between notes hampered the development of technical musicianship, meaning that performances were generally limited to very simple pieces.

Fortunately the excessive wealth and unending boredom of the aristocracy--coupled by the great scientific leaps of the 18th century--allowed the idea of the glass harp to be expanded to ridiculous and glorious lengths, culminating in Benjamin Franklin's color-coded, self-moistening model, which took the western world by storm when it was debuted by Marianne Davies in 1762.



Not only was the glass armonica a beautiful instrument to hear and a captivating instrument to behold, the glass armonica player (armonicat?) could change the tone of notes by changing the pressure that they placed on the glass rings that replaced the upright wine glasses used in earlier glass harp models. This gave it a sound that no other instrument of that era could match, making it quite the rage. In fact, both Beethoven and Mozart both composed for the glass armonica, and these pieces can still be heard today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkTUL7DjTow.

Sadly, the glass armonica's heyday was short-lived. Various publications correlated its use to melancholia, hysteria, pneumonia, and lead poisoning. Although easily disproved by the scientific and logical tools of the day, these accusations stuck, with some historians speculating that they were motivated by the fact that all the celebrated glass armonica players of the day were women, who could not be allowed to intrude in the manly world of delicate concertos played on colorful blown glass. Its use in the stage shows of the controversial Franz Mesmer proved the final nail in glass armonica's coffin. It has seen a very mild resurgence in recent years, but dwindling interest in classical music all but ensures that its glory days are over for good.



But now on to the heart of the matter. Have I ever played one? Ha ha no, you fool. The entry models start at $8,000, and because they are unique (and fragile) instruments that require specialized training to play, no one is just going to let you try one out. However, the US National Park Service will let you play a virtual glass armonica at the Benjamin Franklin museum in Philadelphia which I have done. It was okay.

Although the sounds of the glass armonica have no doubt been replicated a hundred times over by a hundred different synthesizers, the beauty of its design and execution, along with its troubled history, make it worth remembering as more than a Yamaha pre-set.

Please feel free to post your thoughts on the glass armonica ITT.

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Flutieflakes017
Feb 16, 2012

only if you've been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain

Great effort post.

Fess up nerd, how many of these things do you own?

Prof. Crocodile
Jun 27, 2020

This picture, found by typing "random image" into Google, is a more accurate representation of who I am than anything I would have consciously chosen.




Flutieflakes017 posted:

Great effort post.

Fess up nerd, how many of these things do you own?

um...

*nervously eyes pile of glass armonicas in corner of den*

honestly i randomly saw one of these this spring during a tour of a glass factory, then i accidentally learned about their history on a podcast, and then i dug into the topic a little bit. they are such unique instruments with unique history that i thought i should share.

sadly there's not much room for an actual conversation unless one of the ten people on earth that plays one is a goon.

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