Glass Harmonica

glas hahr-mon-i-kuh
The glass harmonica, sometimes called the glass armonica, is a unique keyboard instrument consisting of tuned glass bowls that produce sound when touched by the wet fingers of the player’s hand. These rim glasses are rotated on a mechanical arm. The glass harmonica is an extremely rare instrument that exists mostly in museums today.
History of the Glass Harmonica
The glass harmonica (or glass armonica) owes its creation to its most common ancestor: the glass harp. The glass harp is a musical instrument that is assembled from a collection of wine glasses that became common in Europe as early as the 14th century. The player would use moistened figures to move along a row of glasses that became larger, allowing for the ascending scale of the notes. This idea was built upon by American founding father Benjamin Franklin in 1761 when he invented the first mechanical variation of this instrument, dubbing it the glass harmonica. Using the horizontal spindle, Franklin was able to play a much greater number of notes on a smaller instrument. The glass harmonica was an instant success with composers as great as Mozart and Beethoven rushing to write compositions for its dull and beautifully mellow tones. The last queen of France before the French revolution, Marie Antoinette, reportedly took lessons on the glass harmonica. As great as its initial popularity, however, the glass harmonica soon became blighted by rumours that its mellow tones could cause madness and also that the newer lead glass harmonicas could cause lead poisoning. While these dangers are thought to be of little consequence now, the glass harmonica may have fallen out of view due to its low volume and inability to play easily with other instruments. Modern revival of the glass harmonica has seen variations on the instrument appearing in film scores and chamber music recordings.
Inventor: Benjamin Franklin

Where to Buy

$2,000 - $10,000

Hear the Glass Harmonica

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How to Play

An instrument consisting of a series of glass bowls or tubes, played by rubbing the rims with wet fingers. Creates a haunting, ethereal sound.

In Popular Music

The glass harmonica has been used by many artists in popular music including Linda Ronstadt and David Gilmour. American musician Tom Waits uses the instrument in the opening of his song ‘Rainbirds’. In the classical music world, Mozart and Beehthoven also wrote music for the glass harmonica when it was a relatively new instrument.

Famous Players

Bruno Hoffmann, Thomas Bloch, Gérald Laroche

Close Relations

Cristal Baschet, Glass Armonica
Video Credit: Toronto Star
Understanding the Glass Harmonica
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Ireland/Germany

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1761

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