The Glass Harmonica

Benjamin Franklin, the famous physicist and politician, not only invented the lightning conductor but also the glass harmonica. A performance of a virtuoso, who played on wine glasses, inspired Franklin in 1762 to build a new instrument: he took differently sized glass bowls (»calottes«) and fitted them on a horizontal rod which was activated by a foot pedal. The glass harmonica is played by touching the rotating calottes with the moistened fingertips; thus generating a peculiar ethereal sound. Mozart and Beethoven composed works for this special instrument; and Richard Strauss wrote a passage for glass harmonica in the third act of his opera »Die Frau ohne Schatten«.

The glass harmonica of the museum is unsigned but the way it is constructed indicates that it was probably made in Southern Germany or Austria around 1810. The 44 calottes range from d to a'''. For the better orientation of the player, the rims of the halftone-calottes are gilded.

Glass Harmonica, Cat.-No. 812 (Flash)