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The American Musical Instrument Society


Joint Meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society and the Galpin Society


10 September 2009

The CIMCIM, AMIS, GS and HBS Joint Meeting in Florence and Rome, 6-12 September 2009 will include a half-day conference jointly organised by the American Musical Instrument Society and the Galpin Society in which members of both societies will present the results of their recent research.


The Discovery of Cousineau's Fourteen-Pedal Harp

Robert Adelson
Musée de la Musique de Nice, Palais Lascaris, Nice

Historians of the harp often cite Sébastien Erard's (1752-1831) invention of the double action in 1808-1811 as the turning point in the history of the instrument, effectively giving birth to the modern harp. The visionary harp maker Georges Cousineau (1733-1800), however, invented a double-action harp in 1782, almost three decades before Erard.

Until now, no example of this mysterious instrument - a harp with fourteen pedals - has ever been available for study. I have, however, recently discovered one such harp in a private collection. This elusive instrument is one of the very few that Cousineau ever made, and seems to be the only one to have survived the Revolution. The provenance of this particular instrument makes the discovery even more significant: it once belonged to Sébastien Erard, who seems to have procured it as a kind of "industrial espionage" during the period in which he was working on his own double action. This harp therefore sheds light on a seminal moment in instrument making in the eighteenth century.

Gold- and silver-stringed spinets: physics vs myth in the Baroque era

Patrizio Barbieri
University of Lecce and the Pontificia Università Gregoriana of Rome

As early as the outset of the 17th century - in Spain and more particularly in Italy - we hear of gold-stringed spinets, and continue to do so up to the end of that century. In Italy, the cost of such a stringing was roughly double the price of a complete ordinary spinet, so that the practice was confined to aristocratic circles. Leaving aside questions of prestige, such a costly solution provided indubitable advantages, which we shall now summarise.

Since the specific weight of gold is more than twice that of iron and brass, this type of stringing made it possible to reduce string length by about one third, thus giving rise to easily transportable 8-foot instruments (the reason for its application only to spinets, and occasionally to harps). This scientific explanation was first propounded by Galileo Galilei, provoking the opposition of Descartes, still tied to the old Ptolemaic theory. In Italy, Spain, and France silver was also employed for this purpose, albeit less frequently.

Beside such practical advantages, the use of these metals also had an impact on acoustic parameters, providing greater sound intensity and less inharmonicity. As early as the second half of the 17th century, we have reports that gold-stringing produced a more intense sound, since the energy stored in the string is proportional to its mass. At the same period, it began to be considered that the more "harmonious" timbre of such instruments was due not to the greater "degree of perfection" that the ancient alchemic hierarchy attributed to gold, but to some mechanical property relating to its lesser stiffness. This property, at the end of the eighteenth century, was correctly identified as the longitudinal elasticity modulus.

Toward the mid-Seicento, overspun strings begin to be reported on the viola da gamba, and prior to the end of the century are also being used on harpsichords. Here too, the dimensions of the instrument could be reduced, without recourse to the economically costly use of gold and silver, which metals - in those very same years and probably for this reason - are no longer reported for solid strings.

Musical Instruments and Objects in Southern Italy (VIII-VII c. B.C.)

Angela Bellia
Università degli studi di Palermo

The excavations conducted by Paola Zancani Montuoro between 1963 and 1969 in the necropolis at Macchiabate (Cosenza), an anonymous city that in the archaic period gravitated under Sybarite rule, brought to light the Tomb T.60 that belonged to a woman and dated back to the VIII century B.C.

The things that were found, were distinguish, from other burial places in the same necropolis, for the exceptional nature of the findings. This led to the theory that the dead woman was a person of importance in that community.

The funeral equipment, now kept in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale della Sibaritide, consisted of ceramics, ornaments and bronze object that were either worn by or placed around the skeleton; amongst these were musical instruments and objects.

Under the dead woman's elbow was a "Apulian sistrum" (19.8 x 11.3 x 1.8 cm) made up of 15 spirals held together by two plates that terminated in a lateral volute. Above the musical instrument there was an object consisting of seventeen little tubes (average diameter 7mm and maximum length 96mm) which, in comparison with similar integral examples that had bells with clapper, found in Sicily, must have formed the extremity of a rattle made of big rings, probably to be worn around the neck.

Above there was a musical object consisting of nine concentric elements (H. 40cm.) which turned around an internal support that has been lost.

Above all these objects were two cymbals and a "raschiatoio" made of forty one rings. It was found in perfect condition which probably meant there had been a support inside the object along which the rings could slide. It was probably made of perishable material.

These objects were probably produced locally and seemed to have been influenced by oriental handicraft.

At the moment there were no studies which give an interpretation of the presence of musical instruments and objects in this part of Southern Italy which, on one hand, could be proof of cultural and commercial exchanges in the Iron Age between the local population and the Orient. This is widely documented by archaeological findings. On the other hand, it is evidence of a particular funeral rite and a precise cultural sphere, to which the woman of Francavilla seems to have belonged and whose sacred status is also denoted by the musical objects found among the funeral equipment.

Unravelling the Cresci: Description and analysis of a puzzling single manual harpsichord with a unique set of features

Pedro Bento
University of Edinburgh

One of the harpsichords donated by the late Rodger Mirrey to the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments is the only instrument signed "Alessandro Cresci", a maker from whom virtually nothing is known.

This instrument shows similarities with those of the Cristofori circle, but a number of its characteristics are not very common. The cypress soundboard is unusual for as late a date as 1760. Like in the much earlier Theewes claviorgan, its jacks run through holes cut into the soundboard, so that the proximal bridges rest on free soundboard. The topmost 16 notes of the 4-ft string set rest on a separated proximal bridge.

The instrument, which is no longer in working condition, shows several layers of workmanship, and it appears to have been very crudely tampered with in recent times. A large hole sawn into the baseboard allows easy observation of the inner structure, including what seem to be later reinforcements and several vestiges on the underside of the soundboard. The keyboard is patchwork: the front of many keys appears to have been cut and replaced in different places. The whole instrument is puzzling in many ways.

This paper describes the Cresci harpsichord, putting forward and discussing, on the basis of the research work done so far, some hypothesis in relation to this instrument's history and the reasons of its uniqueness.

Three `retrospective' cornets made by Besson for the Musical Instrument Museum, Brussels

Géry Dumoulin
Musée des Instruments de Musique, Brussels
Niles Eldredge, New York

The cornet collection of the Musical Instrument Museum, Brussels, offers a good testimony of the history of the cornet à pistons, from the early 1830s to the 20th century. Almost half of the collection has been acquired by Victor-Charles Mahillon during the period he was the curator of the then called Musée instrumental du Conservatoire royal de Musique de Bruxelles, between 1877 and 1922. Among these cornets acquired by Mahillon, three are marked F. Besson. Their design and other characteristics are quite intriguing: their overall shape, valve disposition, marks, monograms and other manufacturing details do not match their respective serial numbers.

In his Catalogue descriptif & analytique du Musée instrumental [...], Mahillon indicated that these instruments show three different dispositions of the air column, as patented by Besson in 1854, 1855, and 1867. He stated that they were donated by "Mlle C. Besson", together with a valved trombone, but no record of the acquisition seemed to survive. Further investigation in the library archives permitted to clarify the mystery surrounding these cornets. A newly discovered document, bounded with a Notice sur un trombone [...], sheds light on the origin of the acquisition: at Mahillon's request, for the Brussels' museum, the Besson factory specifically made, in 1888, three cornets having a "retrospective" value.

Cécile Besson's goal, probably marketing-inspired, was clearly to give the most favorable account possible of the influence of Besson in the development of instrument making, and especially in brass instrument making. Examining these purpose-made instruments and comparing them with truly original cornets made after the patents will tell us how the makers proceeded to give them a `retrospective' value, and how they interpreted the improvements made by Besson. This case also reflects the pedagogical concern of the period, which generated numerous antique reconstitutions of instruments for display in public and private collections, but here applied to instruments or designs developed only 20 or 30 years before.

From Laux Maler to Antonio Stradivari, new insights into European varnishing practices between 1500 and 1750

Jean-Philippe Echard, Stéphane Vaiedelich, Bertrand Lavédrine
Musée de la musique, Paris

Very few bibliographic sources prior to 1800, coming from craftsmen, or from direct observers of their work, describe the materials, tools or processes used for musical instruments varnishes. In addition, very little works reporting analytical results of the composition of varnishes from a small number of historical musical instruments, have until now been published.

A new analytical approach has been recently developed at the Musée de la musique, Paris in order to characterize these varnishes: Organic constituents (oils, resins, proteins, etc.) of the binding media and mineral constituents (such as pigments, fillers,etc.) can be identified. Furthermore, the layers structure can also be described in terms of thickness, roughness of the wood surface, penetration of the first layer into the wood and specific composition of each layer.

Here we report the results obtained on more than fifty musical instruments kept in several European collections. These instruments, mainly plucked stringed of the lute family and bowed stringed instruments, have been made between 1500 and 1750, mostly in Northern Italy, but also in others important European instrument-making centres. Whereas similar features could be found in the binders' materials used in a large number of the studied instruments, it is also noticeable that, regional or individual specificities concerning the layers structure technique and the colouring materials will be discussed.

The sources of Filippo Bonanni's Gabinetto Armonico

Cristina Ghirardini
Ravenna, Italy

The Gabinetto Armonico is a very well known treatise on musical instruments printed in Rome in 1722. Filippo Bonanni (a Roman jesuite) wrote it when he was curator of the Museo del Collegio Romano (Museo Kircheriano), inspired by the automatic instruments and android figures situated in a room of the Museum. The treatise is illustrated with a series of plates, engraved by Arnold van Westerhout.

A deep analysis of the proemio of the Gabinetto Armonico and of the chapters dedicated to the instruments makes us understand the relationships between the treatise and the Museum and, moreover, allows the discovery of a great list of sources used by Bonanni to write the text and by van Westerhout to realize the engravings.

This paper will briefly explain Bonanni's role in the Museo Kircheriano, it will also point out how the treatise is connected to other previous works by Bonanni, also illustrated by Arnold van Westerhout. Then a series of exemples will be proposed in order to understand which are the sources used by Bonanni and van Westerhout for the Gabinetto Armonico and how they are employed.

The examples will reveal four important kinds of sources:

Bonanni did not have a technical knowledge of musical instruments and in the proemio he clearly points out that he do not want to write a rigorous work: he simply wants to gather names, information and pictures that show each istrument played. Nevertheless the Gabinetto Armonico is now considered a precursor of modern organology, because of the wide conception of musical instrument that led the author to illustrate so many kinds of sound producing devices, from all over the world.

The paper will try to demonstrate that the study of the Gabinetto Armonico allows us to understand how information about musical instruments circulated at the beginning of the 18th century.

Musical Acoustical Modeling of Various Baroque Bassoons

Bryant Hichwa, Sonoma State University, California, U.S.A.
David Rachor, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, U.S.A.

The researchers have developed a methodology to obtain a musical analysis of woodwind instruments. In this work the specific focus is on Baroque bassoons. From a historical perspective, knowing the pitch of the instrument allows one to better understand the cultural background of the period. In addition, since many of the original bocals have been lost, the researchers needed an analysis technique that was independent of knowledge about the details of the bocal.

As a result of this research, the authors have been able to statistically differentiate in what scale an instrument maker designed a particular bassoon to be played. This yields important knowledge of the cultural era. In most cases, the results indicate that the Pythagorean scale is preferred over the well-tempered, just, or mean-tempered scale.

The researchers began with careful measurements of the locations and precise dimensions of all the tone holes of the instrument. These data were input to a non-linear least squares analysis technique, from which they can deduce the playing pitch the original instrument maker intended for the instrument. In addition, they further deduce the physical length of the bocal extension (or the sum of the bocal plus the bocal extension, if the bocal is no longer associated with the bassoon). Finally, they deduce the acoustical corrections required due to the fluidic friction of the 180 turn at the base of the bassoon's bootjoint. The acoustic length must be increased if the bore of the instrument in the turn around region varies from the normally smooth, conical bore. Care must be taken to insure that the multiple tone hole corrections for notes following the turn around are properly modeled.

The researchers will present their measurement techniques, their analysis methodology, and their results for various Baroque bassoons.

An uncertain Identity: The 'archlute' by Rotundus

Darryl Martin
University of Edinburgh

The Collection of Edinburgh University includes an instrument labelled "Cinthius Rotundus / Roma 1699" which is presently catalogued as an archlute. The instrument is particularly important musically as Rotundus was primarily a player rather than a professional maker. This is borne out by the comments of those who have examined the instrument who agree that the instrument's workmanship is a little crude, but that the set-up and balance are excellent, just as what would be expected from someone who would put performance considerations first. Most of the simple historical evidence would seem to happily support the attribution of the instrument as an archlute - it has a typical archlute set-up, the instrument was the most-used type of theorbo in late-seventeenth-century Rome, and the maker was, as mentioned, predominantly a player.

Against such an attribution is the obvious question about why Rotundus felt it necessary to make his own instrument and also the fact that the string length is much longer than other examples, almost certainly too long to allow the top-string to reach the required note, even at low Roman pitch.

Given three possible scenarios: the instrument being an archlute, a theorbo in "a" with a single re-entrant course, or a theorbo with (common) double-re-entrant strings in "d" (a type known in France) - this paper will use the historical evidence to attempt to determine the intentions behind the original design.

Keyboard Instruments in the Form of a Cushion

Gerhard Stradner

Curt Sachs was the first scholar who printed in his Catalogue for the Musical Instrument Collection in Berlin 1922 the term: "Regal in Form eines Kissens," which means "Regal in the form of a cushion." In 1939, at a time when Sachs was already in the USA, the Guide for the same Collection used the term "Kissenregal", translated: "Cushion-Regal." The instrument-collector Cesár Snoeck from Ghent in Belgium, the previous owner of this particular instrument, was perhaps the first person who used this term. In the meantime we know of four keyboard instruments in this special form and this fact entitles us to use the term "keyboard instruments in form of a cushion" or "cushion-instruments." Three of them are cushion-regals (in Florence, Lisbon and formerly in Berlin) and one is a cushion-spinet (in London). All were made in the last quarter of the 16th century presumable in South Germany. In this paper, all of these instruments (represented with their photos) will be described and compared. I will also ask the question, why this group of instruments received the special form of a cushion.

The Italian "Tagore Collection" of Indian Musical Instruments in the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico "L. Pigorini", Rome

Roberta Tucci

The "Pigorini" Museum holds one of the most complete and well preserved "Tagore collections" in the world, gifted by Sourindro Mohun Tagore to king Vittorio Emanuele in 1879. Sourindro Tagore (Calcutta 1840-1914) is a well-known figure of musicologist and promoter of musical Indian heritage. He kept strict contacts with scholars and musical institutions in many countries in Europe and North America and, at the end of the eighteenth Century, he gifted musical instrument collections - together with books and treatises on musicological and organological subjects - to the most important European and American museums. For his activity he received many awards; in Italy he was made honorary member of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Roma). Examining the different "Tagore collections", it is easy to note how they are more or less identical one another, as they are composed by the same instruments and each single instrument is just alike the corresponding one in the other collections. It may be noted the same feature also in Tagore's original captions, connected with each instrument: they are all identical. The Italian "Tagore Collection", composed by 102 instruments, had been examined by the author and compared with the other two owned by the Musée Instrumental du Conservatoire Royal de Musique (Bruxelles) and by the Musée de la Musique (Paris).

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This page updated: 22.3.09, re-published 17.7.21