Watch and listen to performances played on the instruments on view in The Met's new Musical Instruments gallery.
Listen to curators introduce The Art of Music through Time.
Still playable after 450 years, this spinetta embodies the spirit of Italian humanism in its sophistication and elegance. The graceful pentagonal shape of the case conforms to the layout of the strings stretched over the soundboard, and the exterior is richly decorated with panels of inlaid wood, mother-of-pearl, and tracery.
Popular since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a handwritten score for this traditional pipa piece first appeared in 1875 and contained seven untitled sections. The present score from which this excerpt is derived has eight subtitled sections and is taken from Li Fangyuan's New Collection of 13 Pipa Score, 1895.
9303 Amati Violin
Sean Avram Carpenter performs the "Double" from the Sarabande of Partita no. 1 in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) on a violin by Andrea Amati, built circa 1559 in Cremona, Italy.
Although numerous pottery instruments survive from pre-Conquest South and Central America, little is known of how they were used before Spanish invaders ravaged the native cultures. Whistles, trumpets and rattles in animal or human form probably had ceremonial functions or served as playthings. The "whistling jar" is a 1- or 2-chambered vessel in which a whistle, often concealed by a bird's head, is sounded by blowing into the spout, or by pouring liquid from one chamber to the other to create a bird-like twittering sound. Smaller whistles in animal shapes, perhaps worn suspended from the neck, sometimes have fingerholes that allow variation of pitch.
9304 Rauchwolff Lute
Christopher Morrongiello performs "Gagliarda Tamburina" from "Il secondo libro de intavolatura di liuto" (Venice, 1599) by Giovanni Antonio Terzi (active ca. 1580–1600).
This rare acquisition is a tour de force of Japanese decorative and musical arts that is currently unparalleled in this country. Although a strong tradition existed before then, the foundation for modern Japanese koto music were formed during the seventeenth century. This koto, with it copious inlay and remarkable metalwork by Teijo, ninth master and perhaps most skilled member of the famous Goto family of metalwork artists, documents this important musical development. It also reflects the status of its owner and the koto's role as a symbol of Japan.
Citterns are plucked stringed instruments, related to lutes and guitars, but strung with metal strings which produce a brighter and louder sound than gut strings. The cittern also has inlaid metal frets, as opposed to tied gut frets on lutes and early guitars. Players of the cittern use a plectrum to pluck the five or six courses of strings.
Primarily a folk instrument that continues to be used in traditional musical styles, the cittern was elevated to the position of an art instrument by aristocrats in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, one of whom probably originally owned this extravagant instrument.
9307 Prince Lu Guqin (古琴 )
As one of the most popular small tunes, Ode to Autumn Wind depicts a husband missing his youthful wife. The earliest version of this song includes Ode to Autumn Wind by Li Bai and the Condor Hero, Louis Cha Leung-yung’s martial arts romance, which ends with this poignant, emotional poem.
Jacob Stainer is known as the "Father of the German violin" and his instruments were favorites of the Bach and Mozart families. They remained the most sought-after violins and violas in the world until the beginning of the 19th century. Stainer’s instruments are characterized by their very full arching, vertical f-holes with well-proportioned eyes and by their meticulous workmanship throughout.
Viols, the most esteemed bowed instruments of the late Renaissance, were only gradually displaced by the violin family. Viols differ from violins chiefly in shape, in number of strings and tuning, and in having fretted necks. All viols are played in an upright position between the knees or on the legs ("gamba" means "leg"), and the bow is held palm upward. The sound is less brilliant and quieter than that of the violin family of instruments.
"The Gould" violin has a two-piece maple back with a tight flame and a two-piece spruce top with an orange-brown varnish. Although modern performers continue to use seventeenth- and eighteenth-century stringed instruments by great makers, nearly all of the instruments have been modified in order to remain useful as performance spaces grew larger and repertoire pushed instruments to create louder sound over an extended range.
Antonio Stradivari (b. Cremona?, 1644?; d. Cremona, 1737) has long been thought to have been an apprentice of Nicolò Amati, but census documents do not list Stradivari as a garzone (shopboy) in the Amati household. Stradivari's early instruments do show the stylistic influence of the Amati, but as Girolamo II and Nicolò were the principal makers in Cremona during Stradivari's formative years, it would be natural for Stradivari to have been influenced by their work. Antonio Stradivari worked with two of his sons, Francesco (1671-1743) and Omobono (1679-1742), and today over 600 instruments survive from this prodigious workshop.
Jacob Schmid (1642–1720) was the founder of a trumpet-making workshop in Nuremberg, which flourished under his son Johann Jacob and grandson Paulus for about a century. So far, six instruments by Jacob Schmid are known to have survived, one natural trumpet, two trombones, and three horns, of which two are in the Museum's collection. The present horn is in original condition and marked with the inscription "MACHT IACOB SCHMIDT IN NURNBERG" and the master's sign, a bird with the monogram JS.
Johan Friedrich Böttger's rediscovery of hard-paste porcelain in 1708 was the basis of a new luxury industry. Makers explored all kinds of applications in the new medium. Porcelain musical instruments posed enormous problems since during drying and firing there occurred substantial shrinkage. In the kiln, wet porcelain matter shrinks by a third of its volume so large molds had to be made to guarantee the precise final dimensions of bore, finger- and embouchure hole. Wooden flutes are easily fine-tuned and voiced by drilling; porcelain, however, makes later manipulations problematic.
Sometime after the invention of the chitarrone ("large kithara") in Florence around 1585, various local forms of long-necked lutes were developed. One variant appearing in Rome at the end of the sixteenth century, dubbed the Roman arch lute, accommodated unfretted diatonic bass strings and was tuned to a pitch standard of about 386 hertz (a full step below the modern pitch standard), and was used in many churches. Only ten such instruments are known today, of which this example is the latest and one of the most beautiful.
Clavichords were built as far back as the early fifteenth century, and perhaps earlier. This most personal, simplest, and quietest of European keyboard instruments was the perfect vehicle for music pedagogy, keyboard practice, and composition throughout its 400-year history. The action of the clavichord is relatively simple: the finger depresses a key which, working as a lever, causes its opposite end to rise so that a metal tongue (or tangent) hits a metal string, causing it to resonate.
Endowed with cosmological and metaphysical significance and empowered to communicate the deepest feelings, this zither (qin), beloved of sages and of Confucius, is the most prestigious instrument in China. Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) writers state that the qin helped to cultivate character, understand morality, supplicate gods and demons, enhance life, and enrich learning.
This richly decorated arched harp has 13 twisted silk strings of varying diameter. Each string connects to a gold-painted stringholder which runs the length of the gold-lacquered deerskin belly. The strings are secured to the neck with red-twisted cotton cords (tuning rings), which end with a gold colored metallic tassel. The sides of the instrument depict scenes from the Ramayana in gold against a black field. Often used to accompany songs, instruments like this one had their orgins in ancient India and represent one of the oldest surviving harp traditions.
When this sarod of north India was made in the late 19th century, singers used it to accompany themselves and the fingerboard was yet to be covered by a metal plate. The instrument has been evolving since 1820 when it began to be popular. Today, along the sitār, it is one of north India's favorite instruments.
Kamānches, or bowed lutes, are often elegantly inlaid or painted, but this example is decorated with minute pieces of wood, bone, and brass in a mosaic technique called ""khatam-kari."" First described in the tenth century, the kamanche is the earliest documented bowed instrument and is frequently depicted being played by angels in Persian miniatures. Held upright on its spike, it is bowed with the right hand in a palm-up position, a handgrip used when bowed instruments were introduced to Europe and one still used around the world when playing spike fiddles.
The thighbone of a lama priest is the original form of the metal trumpets in this case. A single rkang-gling ('leg bone flute') is used with a pellet drum to escape epidemics. Pairs signal the entry of ritual dancers, and perform rituals connected with fierce deities. The head of a chu-srin (Sanskrit: makara), a sea monster or a dragon, often provides a decorative metalwork bell. When the rkang-gling is made of metal, bosses decorated with trefoils cover the joints where the sections of cooper and/or silver tube are joined. The trefoil, a three cusped design, is an emblem of power and authority and is used as the head of a scepter. The chu-srin and dragon are associated with water and rain and may decorate the rkang-gling.
In Hinduism the conch shell is usually associated with the god Vishnu, Lord of the Waters, but the brass fittings on this shell indicate a link with Shaivite ritual. The mouthpiece suggests a lotus, while the heavily decorated conical end depicts rows of nagas (serpent divinities) and wreath-bearing kirtimukhas ("Faces of Glory").
Neapolitan style bowlback mandolin with seventeen inlaid nickel-silver frets on a tortoiseshell fingerboard. The bowl is extraordinarily decorated with a rich design of checkerboard pattern ivory and tortoiseshell separated by nickel-silver strips, and a profuse decoration in ivory inlay depicting a naked woman, putti playing instruments, grotesques, and floral designs. These decorative motifs continue on the fingerboard and peghead of the instrument. The maker's name is inlaid around the oblong soundhole.
This sitar with 7 melody and 13 sympathetic strings was made in 1997 by Murari Adhikari, son of Nityananda Adhikari, an early 20th-century innovator of sitar construction. Murari continued to incorporate his father's improvements that included elaborate engraving and carving, rounded frets, a concave neck, changes in bridge design, and adjustments that produce an even tone from high to low. Established in 1910 and growing out of an older company, Damodar and Sons, founded in 1882, the Calcutta firm of Kanailal and Brother prospered from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Plucked stringed instruments with vertically notched or pierced bridges are found only along the African coast from Senegal to Angola. The unique bridge seen here on the kora lifts the strings on a plane perpendicular to the body instead of parallel to it. Constructed of a calabash resonator, covered with sheep or goat hide and bearing nylon strings secured around a wooden neck, the West African kora combines features of the harp and the lute. It is played either standing or sitting by professional musicians traditionally associated with the nobility. It is played either standing or sitting by professional musicians traditionally associated with the nobility.
This instrument was the one most often played by Ostad Elahi, née Nur Ali (1895–1974), a tanbūr master and influential Persian thinker and jurist. Considered sacred by the Ahl-e Haqq order, the tanbūr is used to complement meditation and communication with the divine. Elahi transformed the two-stringed instrument, adding a third string and developing new playing techniques that used all ten fingers.
During the final years of his life the famed James D'Aquisto created a remarkable series of guitars that were a radical departure from traditional design. The twenty-four instruments represent the full maturity of his skill as a maker and his concept of eschewing metal and plastic hardware in favor of all natural materials. D'Aquisto also broke with traditional guitar architecture, which had been based largely on Art Deco motifs popularized in the 1930s, by using new shapes for sound holes, a sleeker overall outline, asymmetrical lines, and an expanded palette of finish colors.
Organized by the Department of Musical Instruments
Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge
Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator
Tim Caster, Principal Departmental Technician
Marian Eines, Associate for Administration
Pamela Summey, Programs Coordinator
Gillian Suss, Collections Management Assistant