Mozart: The Glass Harmonica & Acoustical Physics.June 18, 2013By Luke Bryant (Oakleigh South, Victoria)See All My Reviews"It was long known that a tube could produce sound under certain conditions. Organ pipes or a tall wine glass are good examples. Do you remember the old dinner table game played with the wine glass? If the glass rim is continually, but gently rubbed around its edge with a damp finger the human ear will record the sound by changes due to the glass size or shape and level of liquid content. Dr. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) famous for many electrical discoveries probably invented the glass harmonica. His instrument was described in a letter to Father Beccaria of Turin, somewhere around 1740. The glass harmonica is composed of glass basins rotated around a spindle set in motion by the players foot by means of a treadle. The edges of the glass by the same means passed through a basin of water, the pitch thenceforth being determined by the sizes of the glasses alone. The player touches the brims of the revolving glasses with his or her finger, the musical task being further facilitated by the scale of colour which Franklin adopted in accordance with the major musical scale. Thus C was red, D orange, E yellow, F green, G blue, A indigo and B violet. Glasses filled to varying levels with water, to obtain the right pitch, were played by Mrs Puckeridge in the middle of the 18th Century. In England, Miss Davis, a relation of Franklin became a celebrated player of the instrument. The German composer, Gluck (1714-1783) gave two concerts as performer, the first on drinking glasses, in the Haymarket Theatre, London, on April 23, 1746 and the second on the Franklin instrument. Unfortunately Gluck claimed the instrument as his own invention! Mozart wrote at least two works for the glass harmonica, the Adagio in C, K.356 (1791) and the Adagio and Rondo in C Minor, K. 617. (1791) Mozart wrote K. 617 on 23 May 1791 for the blind virtuoso, Marianne Kirchgassner, Her instrument was a further development of the Frankland invention. It must have had a keyboard and it must have been added to it later, as Gerber reports in his Neues Lexicon, an elastic sounding board. Mozart was very limited in his use of the alto register. Nevertheless, K.617 is one of his heavenly works with an unearthly beauty in the introduction (Minor) and the Rondo (Major). There are only a few accompanying solo instruments. (Oboe, Flute, viola, Violin-cello) K. 356 were probably written for the same artist who took the pieces all over Europe and apparently had particular success with them in London. The only known (to the writer) CD recordings that include K.356 and K.616, using the glass harmonica, played by Bruno Hoffmann is this titillating performance. There are other recordings of these works, but they do not use the glass harmonica. Sadly, the glass harmonica is now an almost obsolete instrument. Ive owned the original LP recording and it was a gem! Buy this CD while you can still do so, I am. Luke Bryant."Report Abuse
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