The Museum of Wind Instruments: founded by workers

The story of the birth of France's first museum devoted to musical instrument making, which was founded by the workers themselves

By Le Musée des instruments à vent

To the origins of the Musée des instruments à vent (1888)Le Musée des instruments à vent

A MUSEUM OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENT MAKING IN THE HEART OF THE NORMANDY COUNTRYSIDE

Located in the village of La Couture-Boussey in the Normandy countryside to the west of Paris, the Woodwinds Museum preserves and presents the social, artistic, and economic history of this area, nicknamed the “home of wind instruments” since the 17th century.

The collections, which consist of more than 300 instruments, tools, machines, and archive documents, bear witness to the richness of this local manufacturing tradition over the centuries.

Workers in front of a workshop (beginning 19th century)Le Musée des instruments à vent

A MUSEUM FOUNDED BY WORKERS

The museum was established in 1888 by the musical instrument makers of La Couture-Boussey. Their aim, in founding France's first museum to musical instrument making, was to preserve and showcase the history of the local manufacture of instruments from the woodwind family.

This began in the early 17th century due to the copious local availability of raw materials (namely boxwood) and craftspeople skilled in wood turning. These wood turners, who were experts at turning boxwood obtained from the abundant boxwood trees in the surrounding forests, became skilled wind instrument makers.

Museum chronicle (1888)Le Musée des instruments à vent

THE TRADE UNION

During the era of the Third Republic of France, workers had to contend with the transformation of production methods, which led to a drop in prices per piece. Many strikes took place with the aim of achieving wage increases and, in 1887, the wind instrument makers of La Couture-Boussey joined together to form a trade union.

In the Chronicle of the Founding of the Museum from 1888, we can read that:
“Following several price reductions imposed on the makers from 1885 to 1887, they formed a trade union whose statutes were adopted at a general meeting of the workers on October 12, 1887.”

One of the first actions undertaken by the union was to establish the Museum of Wind Instruments in 1888:
On January 20, 1888, the musical instrument workers (finishers), having assembled for a general meeting, are honored to inform the Mayor and the Town Councilors that they have taken the initiative to establish a museum of woodwind instruments and they request, out of goodwill, authorization to set up, in one of the rooms of the Town Hall, the collections and instruments that they propose to gather together, to be used for professional teaching.” (Chronicle of the Founding of the Museum)

Workers from Ferdinand Chapelain workshop (beginning 19th century)Le Musée des instruments à vent

EACH WORKER PLAYED A PART IN ESTABLISHING THE COLLECTION

The museum had been founded, but the collection did not yet exist. The instrument makers gathered together a collection of instruments made in local workshops. They got the workshops involved, inherited part of the Lot “atelier”, and made an appeal for private contributions.

Trasverse flute frontLe Musée des instruments à vent

COPIES OF INSTRUMENTS FROM THE BAROQUE PERIOD

Collectors, among them a Belgian named César Snoeck (1834-1898), lent instruments from the Baroque period to the makers working in the village, who made copies of them for the museum. The founders, thinking along educational lines, also had the foresight to collect tools and unfinished instruments to illustrate the production process.

Trasverse flute stampLe Musée des instruments à vent

L'Art de Préluder pour flûte traversière par Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (1673-1763)
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The first Museum display case (end 19th century)Le Musée des instruments à vent

A DISPLAY CASE TO PRESENT THE COLLECTION

Within a few months, more than 100 instruments had been gathered together. Those who were unable to donate instruments, or support the museum financially, donated their time and skills. A display case was built and then installed at La Couture-Boussey Town Hall, where the museum was to be housed.

The first page of the inventory (1888)Le Musée des instruments à vent

A MUSEUM WITH A SCIENTIFIC APPROACH

The first page of the 1888 inventory shows that the museum's first years were characterized by a lot of organizational and scientific activity, making an inventory of the collection and new acquisitions.

The Liberation of La Couture-Boussey (1944-08-24)Le Musée des instruments à vent

COLLECTING PAUSED DURING THE WAR

In the late 1930s, with war looming, the rate of new acquisitions slowed. The workers left for the battlefield, and the collection survived the war and the German occupation.

Repairing the damage was the main priority, alongside restarting the businesses and workshops. In the immediate post-war period, no new acquisitions were made.

Group of americans visitors in the exhibition room of the Musée des instruments à vent (1960s) by AnonymousLe Musée des instruments à vent

AMERICAN VISITORS DISCOVER THE MUSEUM OF WIND INSTRUMENTS

The little room became a kind of pilgrimage for musicians and foreign importers, especially those from the USA, who came to La Couture-Boussey to discover the place where it had all started.

Group of workers (beginning 19th century)Le Musée des instruments à vent

THE CONVERSION OF THE OLD VILLAGE SCHOOL

By the 1970s, it became clear that the museum had outgrown its room in the Town Hall. They needed to find somewhere better suited to hosting the collections, the archives, and their visitors.

The old village school, built from 1836 to 1840, which had also served as the music room for the village's ensemble, the town hall, post office, and even a bar-restaurant during the German occupation, currently lay abandoned. It was chosen as the location for the new museum.

The renovation began in 1980 and took two years. And so the old building opposite the church, in the center of the large municipal wasteland in the middle of the village, was converted again to house the collection donated by workers almost a century earlier.

Current museum's inauguration (1982)Le Musée des instruments à vent

1982: INAUGURATION OF THE NEW MUSEUM

On June 6, 1982, the new museum was inaugurated. Léon Leblanc (1900-2000), owner of the production facility that bears his name, and the foremost “elder” among the makers, who was one of the backers of this operation to showcase the history of musical instrument making, attended the opening as a representative of the makers and gave a speech praising the makers of the past and the tradition of their craft.

Part of the building was used as official accommodations for the manager, and now, in the 21st century, all areas of the building are devoted to the museum's activities.

Tools of a woodwind instruments maker (2019)Le Musée des instruments à vent

DESIGNATED A “MUSÉE DE FRANCE”

In 2003, the Woodwinds Museum gained official recognition that its collection is of national importance, being awarded the title “Musée de France” (Museum of France), a national label that recognizes its century of history.

Oboe stampLe Musée des instruments à vent

THE CLOSURE OF WORKSHOPS: KNOWLEDGE AT RISK OF BEING LOST

Following the closure of the great majority of the companies and workshops in the area from 1980 to 2000, the skills, knowledge, and memories of musical instrument making are at risk of disappearing altogether.

Just three companies survive today: Marigaux, which makes oboes, Hérouard & Bénard, which produces accessories, and RC Tampons Musique (Chanu), a manufacturer of pads for wind instruments.

Exhibition room of the Musée des instruments à vent (2019)Le Musée des instruments à vent

THE MUSEUM OF WIND INSTRUMENTS
A LIVING MEMORY

The role of the Museum of Wind Instruments is to preserve, showcase, and provide access for current and future generations to both the physical and the intangible heritage related to wind instrument making.

Credits: Story

Le Musée des instruments à vent de La Couture-Boussey

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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