With a national collection of over 7000 objects, the Museum of Music combines instrument conservation, scientific research, interaction with musicians and meetings with the public. Discover remarkable instruments and works of art at the Museum of Music. Read, Watch, Listen
The key moments of our musical history are laid out in five sections. The instruments are presented in relation to the repertoire, composers and venues in which music was performed. Display cases showcasing families of instruments, or their makers, retrace prestigious histories such as those of Sellas, Stradivarius and Sax. This historical journey is completed by a presentation of music from around the world, organised by geographical zone.
The cornett was originally made out of animal horn. This may explain its French name cornet à bouquin, from the old French bouc, or billy goat. It is also possible that its name derives from the Italian bocca, mouth, in reference to its removable mouthpiece, like those on trumpets. The cornett was played from the 15th to 18th centuries. It works the same way as the other brass instruments, and sounds like a gentle trumpet.
The Museum’s tenor cornett, with its striking aesthetic, dates from the mid-16th century. Its sinuous, snake-like forms serve to shorten its length and make it easier to play. The dragon head, carved from a block of wood and glued to the body, has sculpted ears, horns made of real horn and sharp teeth, probably in ivory. A small cavity at the base of the palate suggests that the dragon’s mouth contained a metallic tongue.
The archlute is a close cousin to the lute. The extended neck supports a series of long strings that are played “open” and accentuate the low register.
In the Baroque era, the clear, resonant sound of the archlute was particularly popular for playing accompaniments.
Throughout the lute’s history, its range in the low register was continually increased by new courses of strings. Starting the mid-17th century, an average of fourteen courses seems to have been common in archlutes and theorbos.
The back of the neck is inlaid with kingwood and Brazil wood on ivory background. The reverse of this decoration (ivory on kingwood background) can be found on this instrument’s alter ego in the Berlin Musikinstrumenten-museum (Musical Instrument Museum).
The fingerboard holds three ellipsoid ivory cartouches with carved pastoral scenes. The front of the pegbox is decorated with eleven ivory medallions with carved scenery (pastoral scenes, landscapes).
The guitar was the object of extraordinary enthusiasm under Louis XIV, himself an accomplished guitarist. 18th century painters such as Watteau left numerous paintings depicting these instruments, which enjoyed unfailing popularity throughout the Age of Enlightenment.
The Baroque guitar, which has a smaller body than the present-day instrument, has five pairs of gut strings. Precious woods, ivory, mother-of-pearl… Luthiers vied to outdo each other in the creation of elegant, splendid instruments, such as this guitar built in 1708 by Jean-Baptiste Voboam. The Voboam dynasty dominated 17th century instrument making in Paris and introduced an ornamental style of black and white diamond friezes called the pistagne. The roses, in the centre, are made of cut parchment.
Although it functions like a recorder, the columnar recorder is a rare and mysterious instrument dating to the Renaissance. Its use and history remain unknown. There are only five specimens in existence, including an alto flute at the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels.
The Museum of Music’s tenor and bass columnar recorders date from the 16th century. Similarly to bassoons, they are made of a bored body in maple folded back upon itself. This allows the length of the air passage to be doubled. These flutes’ large capitals suggest that they were placed on a table. Played together, they allowed the sophisticated polyphonies of the Renaissance composers to be performed.
The Museum had copies of the columnar recorders made in order to recreate a quartet of two tenors, a bass and an alto, the only one of its kind in the world.
The word virginal is used in Flanders and in England to describe an instrument smaller than the harpsichord, with strings running perpendicular or obliquely to the keyboard.
Built in 1583 by Hans Ruckers, the founder of a long and illustrious dynasty of instrument makers in Antwerp, this virginal is decorated with medallions (probably created at a later date) representing Catherine de Medicis and Diane de Poitiers.
A hunting scene in the Flemish countryside is painted on the inside of the lid.
Like all the Ruckers keyboard roses, the gilt brass rose shows an angel playing the harp and is framed by the maker’s initials, HR.
Created by the Erard firm, better known for its keyboards, this harp illustrates the wide diversity of Parisian instrument making. With its sober, classical decoration, it includes Sebastien Erard’s latest innovation, the “fourchette” mechanism, designed to make the instrument easier to play. Erard further perfected his system in 1810 with the “double action” harp, still used today, which allows the instrument to be played in every key.
Beautifully built, this instrument confirms the appeal of Flemish harpsichords in France in the early 18th century.
When restored in 1701, the harp was given a new decoration of grotesques on gold background, a style called à la Bérain after the renowned designer. The base, with caryatids, is a rare original from the Louis XIV period. As a whole, it is an elegant, harmonious piece.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous inventions undertook to make brass instruments, and in particular the horn, easier to play. Extra lengths of tubing, called “crooks”, in the air passage allowed horns to be played in several keys. Each length of tubing corresponds to the “fundamental” tone of the key.
In the omnitonic horn, designed in the early 19th century, the crooks were integrated right into the instrument, and no longer removable. This explains the labyrinth of tubing that gives the instrument its extraordinary aspect. A system of slides, which link the mouthpiece to the end of the adequate length of tubing, allow the musician to select the key.
Heavy and impractical, the omnitonic horn was rapidly eclipsed by the much more efficient valve horn.
Designed by Benjamin Franklin, the glass armonica was inspired by the glass harp. Glass cups of decreasing diameter turn on an axis and are rubbed by the player’s wet fingers.
This spectacular octobass, close to 3.5 m tall, was built circa 1850 by French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, at a time when the notion of progress prompted a fascination for extravagance and excessiveness.
Few pieces have been written for octobass, although Hector Berlioz used the instrument in the execution of his Te Deum at the 1855 Universal Exhibition opening concert. He found the sounds to be “of remarkable power and beauty, full and strong without harshness”.
Despite its imposing size, the octobass is played through an ingenious system of levers. When pulled by the left hand or controlled by pedals, the levers activate metal “fingers” on the strings along the neck. The player’s right hand draws a bow across the strings.
Although only two of the three instruments built at the time survived, several recent copies reproduce the octobass’ exceptionally low sound.
Since its creation, the violin has been considered a near-perfect invention. Its form has evolved very little over the centuries and the great virtuosos have all clamoured to play on the productions of the great Italian masters: Amati, Guarneri and, most of all, Stradivarius.
Certain luthiers have attempted nonetheless to develop violin craftsmanship, as shown by this astonishing viola arpa. Presented at the 1873 Vienna World Exhibition, this alto was made by a luthier from Bucharest, Thomas Zach. It preserves the length and width of a classic alto, but the volume of the sound box is increased by pronounced bulges that amplify the alto’s sound
In the 19th century, the piano symbolised material wealth and proper upbringing, foreshadowing the rise of the bourgeoisie. Driven by the Erard and Pleyel companies, pianos began to be produced industrially. Composer Frederic Chopin valued the Pleyel pianos and remained faithful to them all his life. He particular liked the touch and timbre of these instruments, which were both soft and mellow in the middle range and crystal-clear in the high register. Between 1839 and 1841, he played and composed on this grand piano built by Pleyel, today displayed at the Music Museum
This Stradivarius, as violins created by Antonio Stradivari are called, was made during the renowned luthier’s period of maturity, his “golden period” of production. This lasted from around 1700 to 1720. Stradivari worked in the era when the violin became a solo instrument, and produced violins of varying form and dimension. The instruments from the “golden period” have become the gold standard for violin making.
Of the 1,100 instruments built by Stradivari and his sons, around 650 have survived. Five violins are here at the Museum of Music, including this one, a bequest from doctor and amateur violinist General Davidoff in 1887.
Varying from golden yellow to light red, the varnish magnifies the back wood, the ribs and the scroll design.
The saxophone is the most famous invention of Adolphe Sax, man of many activities and tireless inventor. Made of brass, functioning with a simple reed and mouthpiece, the saxophone quickly found its place in chamber music ensembles and brass bands. However, it was in the 20th century, thanks to jazz - of which it became the emblematic instrument - that the saxophone met its greatest success.
This alto saxophone, built by Adolphe Sax in 1870, is in gilt brass, engraved with floral motifs.
This "instrument", measuring over 3.5 metres in length and weighing around 600 kg, was part of the 116 C studio of the Maison de la radio. It was used by the Groupe de recherches musicales (Musical Research Group). Created at the request of Pierre Schaeffer in 1967, it comprises a mixing desk, a multitrack tape reader/writer, an amplifying system and a modular analog synthesizer that could be programmed by computer index.
Hooked up to Elipson S68 spherical speakers, the device could mix concrete and synthetic sounds, and allowed the taped work to be carried to the concert venue to be played.
The theremin was invented in 1920 by Russian scientist Leon Theremin. It is one of the only musical instruments that can be played without being touched. To adjust the pitch and volume of sound, the musician’s hands approach or move away from the instrument's two antennae. Despite the public's fascination for the theremin, the instrument was not a commercial success. Its peculiar, eerie sounds however, earned it a leading position in the soundtracks of science-fiction films in the 1950s, after which it fell into disuse. Today, this unusual instrument is attracting renewed interest from several contemporary musicians and bands like Led Zeppelin, Jean-Michel Jarre, Portishead, Radiohead and Benjamin Biolay.
Said to be created by the god Shiva himself, the Bin sitar, or rudra-vina, is seen as the symbol of Indian musical tradition, even if it has practically disappeared from the contemporary music scene. The musician kneels to play and plucks the strings using two metal picks. The instrument is held across the chest, with one of the resonators resting on the left shoulder and the other in the musician’s lap.
The Museum’s bin is an extremely rare piece dating from the 17th century. The instrument’s exceptionally well-preserved state allows the extreme sophistication of its decoration to be observed. The carnations and irises, expertly arranged in a lush floral composition, are inspired by Mongolian art. Each contour is highlighted in gold while, on the upper part of the resonators, delicate copper-coloured foliage has been meticulously painted.
The Japanese koto belongs the vast family of sitars. Most likely originating in China, they appeared in Japan in the early 8th century. Today, the koto plays a solo role in sankyoku chamber music alongside shakuhachi flute and shamisen lute.
The koto is played with three plectra worn on the thumb, index finger and middle finger of the right hand, which plucks the strings. The thumb and index finger of the left hand press on the strings near small bridges to play glissando or specific ornaments.
Created in 1780 by Yasujiro Ogura, one of the world’s greatest koto makers, the Museum’s instrument was donated in 1962 by another instrument maker, Mr Sahei Mizuno, as a sign of friendship between France and Japan. The twisted silk strings and the floral motifs made of precious materials such as gold, coral, jade, ivory, silver, amber and mother-of-pearl, make this an exceptional instrument.
This ngombi harp was created in the early 20th century by the Ngbaka-ma’bo people of the Central African Republic. The Ngbaka live in a forest environment. They have a very strong relationship with nature and the forest, and this is present in their musical practices. The instrument’s long wooden body is covered with antelope hide. The curved neck supports nine strings, some of which are made from the aerial roots of the vanilla plant. The blackened double head forms two identical faces with tapered eyes, and eyebrows at the top of the forehead.
The musician sits on the ground or on a chair and holds the harp vertically between the legs. He will most often perform an intimate repertoire of sung myths, tales and laments related to ancestor worship. He accompanies his song with the harp, and the audience replies in alternating choirs.
Carved from a single piece of wood, this instrument, made in Ghana at the turn of the 20th century, is composed of a female figure carrying a kettledrum on her head. This kettledrum, akin to the “talking” drum, is carried on a person’s back and played by a drummer using curved drumsticks. It is the master drum, the lead instrument in the popular orchestras that were once enormously successful in southern current-day Ghana. These ensembles, which accompanied specific music and dances in a context of entertainment, were also used for funerals. The central role of the master drum in the orchestra and its feminine nature, often symbolised by the presence of breasts carved into the drum, echo the influential status of women, who are heads of lineage in Akan society.
Born in South America and the fruit of the encounter between indigenous and European cultures, the charango probably originates from the Spanish vihuela de mano or the Renaissance guitar, both introduced to America during the 16th century.
Common in Bolivia’s mountainous areas, in the centre and south of Peru and in northern Argentina and Chile, the charango is used to accompany song and dance during village celebrations and agricultural rituals. It is played only by men.
The body is traditionally made of cedar or walnut, though also, as for this instrument created in 1981, of armadillo shell.
The oud is the emblematic instrument of Arabic music. With its distinctive body shape and backward-curving pegbox, the oud has a long history, which gets lost in the Baghdad region around the 7th century. Introduced into Spain by the Moors during the 9th century, it is the ancestor of the European lute.
From Constantine to Damascus, from Rabat to Cairo, the oud accompanies classical song and traditional repertoire in various types of orchestras. It also admirably handles solo performance of instrumental suites. It plays a vital role in the teaching of music theory and Arab tonality, and has always been closely associated with art music. Today, the oud’s growing success has extended its use in very diverse popular forms, including world music.
The exceptional craftsmanship of the instrument presented here, created in 1931, is the work of renowned Syrian luthier Georges Nahat.
Musée de la musique curatio, research and restoration department
Musée de la music library department