Musical Treasures: Beauty To The Eye And Ear
The curator at the National Music Museum names his 10 favorite pieces.
Photos Courtesy of The National Music Museum
Who would trade a 16th century French Harpsichord for a case of spam? Arne B. Larson, in essence, did during the war torn rationing years following WWII. With funds raised from tuning pianos, Larson bartered canned food for musical treasures with European collectors. Arne’s son, Dr. André Larson, shares his father’s passion and found a home for the collection at the University of South Dakota. Today with donations of instruments and funds from private contributors, this compilation has grown to over 13,500 pieces, the world’s largest and most inclusive collection of American, European and non-Western instruments.
Some of the best preserved historical instruments to the most bizarre, including a trumpet made out of a human leg bone and modern day pieces like Barbara Mandrell’s electric lap steel crutch guitar by Semie Moseley, are found at the National Music Museum. Dr. Larson, Curator, treasures them all and, when asked for the top 10, stated, “That is like asking which child is your favorite.”
Harpsichord, Jacques Germain, Paris, 1785. (above) Beautiful to the eyes and ears, the original painted soundboard enhances the rich refined tone characteristic of this 18th-century French harpsichord, one of only two known to survive. Due to the widespread acceptance of the grand piano and upheaval of the Revolution, harpsichord making ceased, making this one of the latest surviving examples.
Grand piano, Manuel Antunes, Lisbon, 1767. One of the earliest, best-preserved pianos with Christofori action, known to survive came to the Museum virtually in mint condition with the original strings. Although instruments like these are rarely played, three different artists recorded CDs so it can be heard by future generations.
Andrea Amati Collection. In celebration of the 500th Anniversary of Amati’s birth, this collection of rare instruments made by Amati returned to Cremona, Italy in 2007 for an exhibition in his honor. The Violoncello, The King, after 1538, with its vibrant resonating tone is the earliest bass instrument of the violin family known to survive. The Amati collection also includes a violin, 1560, with its long hooked corners and gilt paintings of fleurs-de-lis and trefoils; a smaller violin, 1574, the best preserved of the few surviving Amati instruments and the viola, 1560, richly decorated with gilt paintings surrounding the monogram of an unidentified Italian Marquis.
Antonio Stradivari Collection. The Italian craftsman Stradivari created, The Rawlins, Cremona, in 1700, one of two documented guitars known to survive, The Rawlins has five double strings rather than six single strings found on modern guitars. This collection also contains one of two Choral Mandolinos known to be in existence, The Cutler-Challen, Cremona 1680, with its original wooden case. The Harrison violin, Cremona, 1693, is one of a few to survive with its original neck.
Grand piano, Anton Martin Thÿm, Vienna, ca. 1815. Nubian slaves with gold painted turbans adorn the legs supporting the ornate purple heart piano case edged with inlaid ebony/fruitwood. Seven pedals provide special effects including a harp, bassoon, and bells and bass drum which were popular in Vienna amongst upper-class ladies entertaining their guests.
Cittern, Augustinus or Franciscus Citaroedus, Urbino, Italy, ca. 1550. Walk into a barbershop in 1550 and you would find men of leisure playing the cittern. The body, long neck and peg box terminating in an openwork scroll are carved from a single piece of wood and embellished with grotesque carvings and a coat of arms.
Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash Guitars. Country and Western music history would not be complete without guitars owned by these renowned singers. Johnny composed many songs while playing his Bon Aqua, by C. F. Martin & Co., Nazareth, Pennsylvania, 1971, at Cash’s farm in Tennessee. June Carter Cash’s favorite guitar was the Hummingbird Model by Gibson, Inc., Kalamazoo, ca. 1967.
House organ, Josef Looßer Lüppfertsweil Gemeind Cappel, St. Gall (Switzerland), 1786. A Swiss house organ with Swiss folk art painted upon its case in the traditional style of the Toggenburger Valley is considered a national treasure. Luckily for the National Music Museum, this piece was exported to England before special licenses were required.
Mayuri, northern India, 19th century. The Mayuri, the Hindustani word for peacock, is as ornate as the bird it resembles. This elaborate stringed instrument is a version of the Esraj, an instrument still used in India. There are four bowed melody strings while the other strings vibrate sympathetically, creating the distinctive drone characteristic of music from this part of the world.
Lutes by Thomas Edlinger. The beautiful bird’s-eye maple ribs of the lute by Edlinger, Prague, 1728, and its companion lute (Padua or Venice, ca. 1600, modified by Edlinger in 1724) with its magnificent rose and back of 21 yew ribs caught more than the musician’s attention. The painting “Allegory of Man” by Johann Härtl (1656) still hangs in the Hrubý Rohozec Castle in Bohemia, where these lutes resided for centuries, and depicts a man holding a lute with ribs of yew wood.