Monday, January 25, 2010

MUSEUM OF OBSOLETE INSTRUMENTS: THE GLASS HARMONICA

No, not that kind of harmonica. The glass harmonica aka armonica, invented by Ben Franklin in the 1700s (yes, that Ben Franklin), and played by dipping ones fingers into a water trough and touching rotating glass cylinders, was said to drive men mad, has an eerie, squeaky sound, and is championed by Linda Ronstadt. The weirdest instrument ever made?!?

In the late 1700 and early 1800s it was part of the classical instrument lineup with heavyweight cats like Mozart and Beethoven composing for it. And this 2002 album by Dennis James features Rondstadt briefly, but don't worry, there's no '70s hippie rock on here. Actually the album has that powdered-wig classy classical feel to it, even on the modern compositions. A weird, outer-spacey classical feel, that is.

Here's one song off it for solo glass harmonica that sports quite a haunting melody:

Dennis James:
Adagio for glass harmonica in C major, K. 356 (K. 617a), written by that Wolfgang Amadeus fellow

James is a pretty interesting guy. He accompanies silent films on theater organs (which he also restores),
Clara Rockmore herself taught him theremin (which he used for a '20s Russian sci-fi film), and plays a variety of obscure glass instruments that I'd never heard of before.

Got the whole album for you here. But beware! A German musicologist wrote: "The armonica 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."

Dennis James: "
Cristal: Glass Music Through The Ages"
  1. Irish Lullaby, arranged for seraphim & chamber ensemble
    Composed by Dennis James, Amy Crocker
    with John Ellis, Marcia Dickstein, Simon Oswell, Sebastian Toettcher, Julie Gigante, David Shostac

  2. Quintet for Glass & Strings
    Composed by Garry Eister
    with Dennis James

  3. Non temere alma immortale, for armonica, soprano, alto, tenor & harp
    Composed by David August von Apell
    with Marcia Dickstein, Michael Horton, Dennis James, Linda Ronstadt

  4. Allegro for armonica (glass harmonica)
    Composed by Joseph Aloys Schmittbauer
    with Dennis James

  5. Caprice for Glass harp
    Composed by Fred Schnaubelt
    with John Ellis, Simon Oswell, Sebastian Toettcher, David Shostac, Dennis James

  6. Pavane, for orchestra & chorus ad lib in F sharp minor, Op. 50
    Composed by Gabriel Faure
    with Simon Oswell, Sebastian Toettcher, Geri Rotella, Virenia Lind, Gary Bovyer, Dennis James, Linda Ronstadt, Roland Kato, Julie Gigante, Sarah Parkins, Leslie Reed, Terri Koide, Ruth Ann Swenson

  7. Largo in G minor for armonica (glass harmonica)
    Composed by Johann Schultz
    with Dennis James

  8. Il Pompeo, opera O cessate di piagarmi
    Composed by Alessandro Scarlatti
    with Dennis James, Linda Ronstadt

  9. Adagio for glass harmonica in C major, K. 356 (K. 617a)
    Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    with Dennis James

  10. Adagio and Rondo for glass harmonica, flute, oboe, viola & cello in C minor, K. 617
    Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    with Dennis James

  11. L'Armonica, cantata for soprano, glass harmonic & orchestra Récit Accompagné - Adagio
    Composed by Johann Adolf Hasse
    with Stradivaria Ensemble, Dennis James, Veronique Dietschy
    Conducted by Daniel Cuiller

  12. L'Armonica, cantata for soprano, glass harmonic & orchestra Air - Andantino
    Composed by Johann Adolf Hasse
    with Stradivaria Ensemble, Dennis James, Veronique Dietschy
    Conducted by Daniel Cuiller

  13. Petite Impression for Glass harp
    Composed by Fred Schnaubelt
    with Dennis James

6 comments:

Tim from Radio Clash said...

interesting timing, was looking up the Glass Harmonica after Jarvis Cocker mentioned it on his radio show.

Richard Hawley uses a version of one on the first track of his latest album...sounds amazing.

Mr Fab said...

Always happy to be of assistance Tim. Just noticed a wikipedia error (wot?!): the Tom Waits song that uses a armonica is "Town Without Pity" I believe, not "Rainbirds," in case anyone out there wants to do further listening.

mingfrommongo said...

After that German musicologist's warning, how can I resist? Thanks for this!

Lord Shockedelic said...

It's used (magnificently) on a cover of Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush" on the TRIO 2 album by Linda Rondstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting musical instrument. Unusual sounds of glass. Thanx for this post.
For those who like glass music I recommend a Russian duo Т.Винковский и И.Скляров (T.Vinkovskiy & I.Sklyarov). Their album Crystal Harmony can be found, for example, at this site http://philka.ru/forum/index.php?showtopic=37751
Supr

Online Klavier Lernen said...

There is musical instruments who glass likes music.This album is the all of the musical instruments.