Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Beethoven And Three Plates In My Kitchen

Throughout the eighteenth and first part of the nineteenth centuries there were many attempts in the area of new instrument design, the most important of which was Benjamin Franklin’s Glass Harmonica, which appeared in 1763. Both Mozart and Beethoven wrote compositions for it. The glass harmonica contained a series of revolving glass discs which could be set in motion by a foot pedal; they were kept wet by passing through a trough of water. The discs were of increasing thickness, so that when the performer touched one of their edges a specific pitch was produced.

David Ernst is telling the truth there, but it’s not exactly the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Mozart may have been interested in Franklin’s glass armonica (that seems to be the more accepted spelling). But Beethoven, apparently, wasn’t all that excited about writing music for wet plates.

In fact I think Beethoven only wrote one piece for the armonica.

In 1815, when Beethoven was forty-five, a political functionary of the King of Prussia wrote a play—seemingly a kind of propaganda piece about a tragic young woman who fights as a soldier in one or another revolution—and Beethoven was hired to write what we’d now call one song for the play, just the music. They called it incidental music. It was a short piece, just a few bars, to be played on armonica as the heroine recited some monologue from beyond the grave. In classic theater fashion the production ran into finance troubles and the play was never performed.

The score of Beethoven’s piece is available here.

The story of Beethoven and the armonica is told at the glass armonica site here.

These are my three favorite plates:

They’re pretty colors and they’re nice and heavy. And they’re small, so even if I fill up one with food it’s still not over-eating.

I like these plates a lot. I got them a long time ago at a Crate and Barrel and I’ve kept them with me through two or three moves. These plates are Libbey Tableware and they are much cooler than I ever could be.

These are my favorite plates, but I strongly suspect they are more likely to end up in San Jose rather than Carnegie Hall. They never practice, not even pop songs, and they are content just to serve up food for me. They seem to have no artistic or commercial ambitions of any kind.

I don’t know though. These plates never practice anything but they are much better at what they do than I am at all the stuff I practice.

I’m trying to learn from them.

Here are some more ambitious plates performing Mozart:

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My Cactus Plants Hate My Pants

1 comment:

Ed C said...

wow - awesome post! I have this on CD and I never knew it was on glass plates - I'm going to have to look into this and do a companion post on my LvB blog (I'll link to yours of course) - musical clocks, cannons, "panharmonicons"...what DIDN'T Beethoven compose for :)