Frailty

31 Jan

Glass Harmonica from http://steampunk.wildwinter.net/index.php?page=634Not long ago, while poking around the internet on the trail of research, I encountered an instrument that I’d never heard of – an instrument which has a body of work behind it that includes compositions by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.

The device is essentially a rolling post that spins glass rings, so the sound is similar to that of rubbing a wet finger about the rim of a bit of stemware.

Its popularity didn’t last beyond the 18th century, apparently, and there seems to be some split in opinion as to why.

My personal guess is that the device was just too inconsistent, and too fragile, to garner a lot of players – but I like the romantic ideals of this suggestion made by wikipedia:

Some claim this was due to strange rumors that using the instrument caused both musicians and their listeners to go mad. […] One example of fear from playing the glass harmonica was noted by a German musicologist Friedrich Rochlitz in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung:

“The harmonica excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence into a dark and melancholy mood that is apt method for slow self-annihilation. If you are suffering from any nervous disorder, you should not play it; if you are not yet ill you should not play it; if you are feeling melancholy you should not play it.”

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4 Responses to “Frailty”

  1. bmj2k January 31, 2011 at 14:57 #

    Oh, this is bugging the heck out of me because I’ve seen it played before and can’t for the life of me think of when or where.

    • JRD Skinner January 31, 2011 at 15:03 #

      The pop culture references section of the wiki article includes an episode of The Simpsons, in which Hugh Hefner plays Peter and the Wolf on one?

      • bmj2k January 31, 2011 at 16:12 #

        No, this was live action, a demonstration on some show and not recently either.

      • JRD Skinner January 31, 2011 at 16:18 #

        It seems like the kind of thing they would have carted out on That’s Incredible!

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