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which included Mozart and Beethoven, seized the opportunity by incorporating the glass
armonica into many of their most renowned works.
The instrument's popularity did not last far beyond the 18th century. Some claim this
was due to strange rumors that using the instrument caused both musicians and their
listeners to go mad. (It is a matter of conjecture how pervasive that belief was; all the
commonly cited examples of this rumor are German, if not confined to Vienna.) This
was not true.
A modern version of the "purported dangers" claims that players suffered lead
poisoning because armonicas were (and some still are) made of lead glass. The danger
from the old lead glass type of Glass Harmonica was the possibility of lead poisoning
from rubbing the glass. However, there is no known scientific basis for the theory that
merely touching lead glass can cause lead poisoning. It is known that lead poisoning
was common in the 18th and early 19th centuries for both armonica players and
non-players alike: doctors prescribed lead compounds for a long list of ailments, lead
oxide was used as a preservative in food and beverages, food was cooked in tin/lead
pots which gave off lead fumes--the tin protected the food, and acidic beverages were
commonly drunk from lead pewter vessels. Even if armonica players of Franklin's day
considered the phenomenon (in his Two New Sciences), as did Athanasius Kircher.
The Irish musician Richard Puckeridge is typically credited as the first to play an
instrument composed of glass vessels by rubbing his fingers around the rims. Beginning
in the 1740s, he performed in London on a set of upright goblets filled with varying
amounts of water. During the same decade, Christoph Willibald Gluck also attracted
attention playing a similar instrument in England.
When a moistened finger is held to the rim of the glass as it rotates, a pure and constant
musical note is produced. This pitch cannot be altered unless one adds water to the
glass, or decreases the size of the glass. Therefore, wine glasses of varying sizes are
arranged on the harmonica in order to allow a musician to create melodies on the
instrumentFranklin's glass armonica included two to three octaves of the musical scale,
Invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761,
the glass armonica (or glass harmonica)
was one of the most celebrated musical
instruments of the eighteenth century. Its
name is derived from the Italian word,
armonica, or "harmony." Its ethereal
beauty and magical sound continues to
capture the attention and love of
musicians around the world.
From 1757 to 1766, Benjamin Franklin
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|1. Ben Franklin
2. He is playing the glass armonica (glass harmonica, hydrocrystalophone).
|Click here to see results of
5th occasional photoquiz survey.
|Click here to see results of
5th occasional photoquiz survey.
|Answer to Quiz #174 - September 7, 2008
|1. Who is this?
2. What is that in front of him and what is he doing with it?
|For a hint, please click on Play button.
|Franklin's Glass Armonica
|Play a virtual glass
served as a delegate for colonial America. Consequently, he spent a great deal of time
travelling in both London and Paris, European centers of political activity. During this
period, it was quite popular and entertaining for amateur musicians to perform on sets
of singing glasses. Franklin attended one of these concerts held by Richard Puckridge,
an amateur, and was immediately bedazzled by the utopian and ethereal beauty of the
sound. Immediately, he went to work on refining the instrument and he soon conceived
a way of bringing it to professional fame.
Franklin used wine glasses of varying sizes to create his armonica. First, he removed
the stems and drilled through the bottoms of the glasses. After corking the holes he had
made, he mounted the glasses (in order of increasing size)
onto a horizontal spindle. The spindle was rotated over a
foot treadle at a rapid speed. Musicians played the
instrument by touching moistened fingers to the edges of
the rotating glasses. High-pitched sounds that emanated
were due to the vibrations from within the air column of the
The Armonica was an instant success. Marie Antoinette
took lessons on it and Dr. Mesmer, the famous hypnotist,
frequencies, and thus, musical tones are created. In
Franklin's time, soda-lime glass (containing sodium) or lead
glass was predominantly used. However, later
experimentation has found that pure quartz (crystal)
produces far superior sound quality, pitch, and tone.
Because its sounding portion is made of glass, the glass
harmonica is a crystallophone. The phenomenon of rubbing
a wet finger around the rim of a wine goblet to produce
tones is documented back to Renaissance times; Galileo
|Playing the Glass
|See a YouTube video of Alan Alda
learning to play the glass armonica.
The Cristal Baschet is a musical instrument that produces
sound from oscillating glass cylinders. The Cristal Baschet
is also known as the Crystal Organ and the Crystal Baschet,
and composed of 54 chromatically-tuned glass rods. The
glass rods are rubbed with moistened fingers to produce
vibrations. The sound of the Cristal Baschet is similar to that
of the glass harmonica.
somehow received trace amounts of lead from their
instruments, that would likely have been dwarfed by the
lead they were receiving from other sources. Today, as
made by Finkenbeiner, this is no longer a problem as the
glass is made from pure silica.
|Hear a cristal baschet
duet. Click here.
The vibration of the glass rodes in the Cristal Baschet is passed to a heavy block of
metal by a metal stem whose variable length determines the frequency produced (i.e.,
the note). Amplification is the result of fiberglass cones fixed in a wood frame and a tall
cut out metal part, in the shape of a flame. "Whiskers", placed under the instrument to
one side, amplify high-pitched sounds.
The Cristal Baschet was created in 1952 by the French instrument makers and artists
Bernard and Francois Baschet. The Baschet brothers
specialize in creating sculptures that can be "played" to
produce music. They also invented the inflatable guitar and
the aluminum piano, and created an "educational instrumentarium" for exposing young
people to musical concepts.
Thank You so much for another torture quiz (for Mr. Rick that is!)...21st Century
Angels ask some amazing questions like "People REALLY listened to that STUFF"..."
where's his hat and t shirt and mike"..."how do you move and groove to a 'song' like
that"..."who was the backup band"..."what are those white things on his
legs"... Jina Yi and Ashley Hicks
Mr. Rick's Quiz Angels
This is Benjamin Franklin playing the glass armonica he developed in 1761. It sounds
like "the music of angels" or "screeching cats" depending on who you listen to. This is
yet another quiz that introduced something interesting I was not familiar with so I had a
good time reading about it. What is perhaps most interesting is that it fell out of favor
because the music was said to cause insanity, nervous disorders, convulsions in cats
and dogs, marital discord, and even the waking of the dead.
I can't imagine how much patience Ben and his London glassblower had to have and
how many bowls it must have taken to get it right. I suspect there were big sales on
glass oatmeal bowls in London in the 1750's. I also read that a modern German,
Gerhard Finkenbeiner, spent 30 years developing a modern, motorized version and then
mysteriously disappeared in 1999. So then I had to read about him....
Less widely known is exactly why the armonica gave Franklin his greatest personal
"satisfaction". From 1776 until 1785 Franklin served as a representative of the United
States in France, where he was a favorite of French society, and especially, to the
scandalized chagrin of his fellow Ambassador, John Adams, of the French ladies. It
has been recorded by several of the ladies in Marie Antionette's Court that Franklin was
famous for his very succesful line to come up to his room to see his "Amonica"
Franklin's rendition of "You Ain't Nothing But A Hound Dog" song accompanied by
Amonica in the morning after a wild night of lovemaking was supposedly Marie
Antionette's all-time favorite song, and it is well documented that she was observed
whistling it softly with a wistful smile on her face as she ascended to the steps to the
guillotine to meet her fate in 1793, 2 1/2 years after Franklin died. Andy Hoh
N.B. ...And I bet you are going to tell me Marie Antoinette was wearing a President
Garfield campaign pin when she went to her death???? And the Maltese Falcons could
chirp some of the pieces that Mozart composed for the armonica????
Can you send me the music file. I would LOVE to play that while I work. So
soothing! Where did you find it? Is there more??? Suzan Farris
N.B.: Yes there is plenty more. See http://www.finkenbeiner.com/soundsample.html.
Interesting and to think I did this the old fashion way when I was a child. This quiz
was easier than I thought that it was going to be. Lots of interesting facts about
Benjamin Franklin. Delores Martin
I have actually listened to the glass harmonica for many years...there was a group in the
Texas Renaissance Festival that played a version of it...but with glasses (champagne,
wine, etc) rather than with bowls (Glasnots).
Well the group (2 brothers, Terry who played the glass harmonica and Donal who sang
and played the guitar) played from around late 1980’s to 1997. That was where I first
heard their music and was instantly taken in by it…very beautiful.
In 1997, Terry died in a car accident. Donal has his site www.donalhinely.com that
sells CDs from the group’s performance and some from himself as well. I have
practically all the Glasnost CDs. They are very relaxing. Carl Blessing
This one was such fun and the music is indeed gorgeous. Benjamin Franklin indeed was
gifted to invent such an instrument " the glass armonica" after hearing wine glasses
interesting site for info - http://www.finkenbeiner.com/. The music sounds familiar,
maybe the old English Christmas carol - Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding. Anna Farris
so I check my odometer as I arrive at my home which is safe because of the lightning
rod on the roof and I look through my bifocals and watch the latest hurricane news to
see how the Gulf Stream might change its course.
I try in vain to make musical harmony come from my series of partially empty beer
bottles, but it does not work well so I decide to gather up several $100 bills and
purchase a Glass Armonica and now all is great in the world once again thanks to Ben.
Dennis (Wise Guy) Brann
As the Philadelphia folks will know, this is Ben Franklin playing his musical invention,
the Glass Armonica. There is one on display at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
This is certain to be a popular quiz. Music of the Angels is an appropriate title. Of the
many glass harmonica recordings on YouTube, the one by Vera Meyer seems to be the
best - www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WZExmtIJkI. Stan Read
After trying to find what the title of the music was, I think I have overdosed on
Armonica tunes :) Audrey Speelman
N.B. The name of the tune is The Ash Grove. See http://www.finkenbeiner.
No research required....Ben and a glass harmonica. Clearly, I had too much musical
training as a child. Kate Johnson
When I saw this picture I had to dig out an old Linda Ronstadt album, Winterlight, that
has a couple songs using the glass armonica. Regarding the lead content in the glass, I
remember Linda Ronstadt saying she felt guilty about causing the musician to spend so
much time practicing, recording, and performing because she thought he was probably
shortening his life. What we do for art! Lois Carr
|Comments from Our Readers
used it to put his patients into a deeper trance. Composers started writing for it. The
most famous...Mozart, Beethoven, Donizetti, Richard Strauss, and Saint-Saens.
By the mid-1800's, it suddenly lost its popularity, and gradually vanished. Superstitions
ran wild.. Armonicas were said to drive performers mad and evoke spirits of the dead
because of its eerie and haunting sound. It had a rebirth in 1982 through the efforts of
the late master glass blower named Gerhard Finkenbeiner, of Waltham, Massachusetts.
The "new-old" Armonica is now reaching into many corners of the world and has
moved into the 21st century.
How Does It Work?
The vibrations produced from the glasses in the armonica resonate sounds with different
allowing a composer greater personal
expression in his or her pieces.
Immediately after Franklin's invention
the preeminent composers of the day,
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