Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

23 October 2009

Harmony and Armonicas

What's the collective noun for blogs?  A fond?  A bundle? A roll?  Whichever you prefer, there are quite a few now being hosted at the British Library, including several by curators or collection areas.  One of these is written by our colleagues in the German collections Dach-Blog

So, in the interests of curatorial harmony, I've been looking at an item from the German collections: Johann Christian Mueller's Anleitung zum Selbstunterricht auf der Harmonika... (Leipzig, Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius, 1788).  Looking out from the title page, slightly mischievously as ever, is that great American tinkerer, printer and statesman, Ben Franklin.  He's clearly in full-on european sensation mode, and is depicted with his 'state of nature' beaver-skin hat. 

The volume itself is a guide to playing the Glass Armonica, Franklin's somewhat ghostly-sounding improvement on the parlour trick of 'musical glasses'.  It brought back a few memories for Team America as well, since in 2006 I was lucky enough to be involved in putting on a concert of Glass Armonica music to tie in with our Franklin exhibition (there's a listing of the items in .pdf format preserved on the BL's research archive.  Franklin-as-stuffed toy and an empty Franklin-brand bourbon bottle also now sit on the shelves opposite me.)

Photo 0020The instrument had an enormous vogue in Europe, impressed Mozart and, according to some sources, terrified or hypnotised the young.  As a result, it was even banned by the police in some German towns.  (For those with access to it, there is a fine entry in Grove.)

The Armonica was also particularly favoured by women, and had somewhat romantic associations. Which, rather tenuously, brings me back to today's post in Dach-Blog: "Love's Labour Lost"  (something Franklin knew a little about).

[M. S.]


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