Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the Glass Armonica

Angelic Music by Corey Mean is the story of Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica, the invention that gave him the "greatest personal satisfaction."

When we lived in Philadelphia in the mid-1970s to late 1980s we saw the Glass Armonica at the Franklin Institute. And we had heard a man perform on musical glasses in several venues around the time of the Bicentenniel. So I had heard the ethereal, angelic music of the musical glasses.

I had not realized that the Glass Armonica was all the rage in the 18th c and early 19th c. Chamber music including the instrument was written by Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel. Vituosos toured Europe playing the music that made women swoon.

It gained a tarnished reputation in the early 19th c when people believed the music could drive one mad and cause illness, or summon the dead with magical powers. Mesmer used it in his seances.

As music changed from small ensambles to large symphonic orchestras in halls the Armonica fell out of favor, relegated to being a museum curiosoity. But in the last twenty years it has found a revival, electronically enchanced, and used in pop music, movies, opera, and chamber music.

I was fascinated by this book. Corey covers the rise and fall of the musical glasses, the development of glassmaking, early musical glasses, Franklin's musical background and development of the Armonica, the hey-day of the Glass Armonica, and Mesmer's career and his use of the instrument, including his comissioning an opera from Mozart, the decline and revival of the instrument.

When German glassblower Gerhard Finkenbeiner saw a Glass Armonica in a musem in 1960 it was a curiosity. He rediscovered how to create the glass and instrument and the instrument found a revival.

Today a few people are experts, including Dennis James whose collaboration with Linda Ronstadt on six CDs revived an interest in the instrument. A a boy he saw Franklin's instruemtent at the Franklin Institute; in music school he asked what it sounded like and his professor answered, "No one knows. It hasn't been played for two hundred years." Now he leads the world's first known glass music studies program at Rutgers University.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Learn more about the Glass Armonica:

The Glass Armonica
Corey Mead
Simon & Schuster
Publication October 2016
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 978-1-4767-8303-1

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