Sunday, June 15, 2014

Book Harmonium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I like to serendipitously find out about blooks in reference books, but I also very much enjoy interviewing people about their blook experiences. That way I sometimes hear good stories and find out about obscure objects that might not find their way into publication. Before he retired I asked Joe Pecnik, a long time employee of the Department of Musical Instruments and an ardent maker and appreciator of odd objects, to tell me what he knew about music-related book-shaped objects. It was my introduction to the subject and I was amazed to find out that there were quite a few peculiar and wonderful musical blooks. He told me about the Bible Regal and Book Harmonium and invited me to see two that the Met had in storage. They were not on display because they were in poor condition and one was a 19th century reproduction. He also told me about other music-related objects such as the serinette, a music box used in the 18th century to teach birds to sing (in the How-to genre).  

The harmonium illustrated below is is a multi-volume version with a Christian theme. Joe felt that this might indicate that this was a portable organ use by an itinerant clergyman. It could also possibly been used in religious processions and in institutions, such as convents, that couldn't afford a permanent organ.  It would be wonderful if one could have the opportunity to hear a book harmonium being played.

Book Harmonium
Date: 19th century
Geography: France or Germany
Medium: Wood, various materials
Dimensions: L. (perpendicular to keyboard) 33.4 cm, W. 48.8 cm, D. (with lid) 32.2 cm, 1-octave span 15.5 cm
Classification: Aerophone-Free Reed-harmonium
Credit Line: The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889
Accession Number: 89.4.1668
Not currently on view

The catalog of the Crosby Brown collection describes this object as follows:

BOOK ORGAN. Compass, two octaves and seven notes - F to C. A case in the form of four folio books, covered with stamped leather, each bearing the title, "Traite des Pais Bas." Within the cover is attached an engraving of the Supper at Emmaus. On opening the cover, which is formed by the first volume, immediately in front is the keyboard; at the back, a bellows moved by a lever with a carved handle outside the case, and consisting of one small bellows and an air reservoir. Below the case are the reeds, on the free reed principle. keys, black naturals, with white sharps. France. The case appears to be old--17th century; the interior renewed. Maker  unknown.

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