Sunday, September 3, 2023

Sunday morning music


Dennis James is something of an eclectic musician.  According to Wikipedia:

Beginning in 1969, he presented historically informed live accompaniments for silent films, with piano, theatre organ, chamber ensemble and full symphony orchestras, throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and overseas. He is now primarily active as a noted multi-instrumentalist, specializing on Franklin glass armonica and the theremin, prominently performing in New York at the Metropolitan Opera, for Hollywood film scorings, and repeat performances at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival (debuting in 1991 with Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players) plus performing at the Tanglewood Festival with the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing the intricate glass armonica complete part in the U.S. debut of George Benjamin's opera "Written on Skin".

James has also become active in the preservation and restoration of other historic instruments such as the French Cristal Baschet and Ondes Martenot plus has begun performing early syncopated jazz and mid-century moderne styled period-piano repertoire within a multitude of other specialist musical activities generally considered of marginal cultural impact and predominantly subject to the periodic whims of amateurs and enthusiasts.

It's his work on the glass armonica that interests us this morning, to follow last week's episode of "Sunday Morning Music" where we looked at the glass harp.  Wikipedia again:

Benjamin Franklin invented a radically new arrangement of the [glass harmonica] in 1761 after seeing water-filled wine glasses played by Edward Delaval at Cambridge in England in May 1761. Franklin worked with London glassblower Charles James to build one, and it had its world premiere in early 1762, played by Marianne Davies.

Writing to his friend Giambattista Beccaria in Turin, Italy, Franklin wrote from London in 1762 about his musical instrument: "The advantages of this instrument are, that its tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressures of the finger, and continued to any length; and that the instrument, being well tuned, never again wants tuning. In honour of your musical language, I have borrowed from it the name of this instrument, calling it the Armonica."

In Franklin's treadle-operated version, 37 bowls were mounted horizontally on an iron spindle. The whole spindle turned by means of a foot pedal. The sound was produced by touching the rims of the bowls with water-moistened fingers. Rims were painted different colors according to the pitch of the note: A (dark blue), B (purple), C (red), D (orange), E (yellow), F (green), G (blue), and accidentals were marked in white. With the Franklin design, it is possible to play ten glasses simultaneously if desired, a technique that is very difficult if not impossible to execute using upright goblets. Franklin also advocated the use of a small amount of powdered chalk on the fingers, which under some acidic water conditions helped produce a clear tone.

Here's Dennis James with an extended introduction to Franklin's armonica.




FeralFerret said...


Philip Sells said...

The classic Roy G. Biv starting on C... smart! But the mechanics of playing it are quite a pain.

That bit about Mozart writing a piece of music in 1791... seeing as the maestro didn't survive to the end of that year, I thought that was a serious error at first. But apparently, he wrote two pieces for the instrument, K 356 on the one hand, but also K 617a, which makes much more sense.