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What were musical instruments like in Beethoven's time?

Happily for music lovers, the answer does not have to be left to the imagination, thanks to non-musicians who began collecting musical instruments from Beethoven's time not as objects of music but as showpieces of decorative art. Many original pieces have survived the passage of time, some in well-preserved if not mint condition, that on rare occasions we are fortunate enough to see and, even more rarely, hear. Could anyone be so lucky as to be able to do both? Yes, if you happened to be in Southern California between January 30 and May 23 of 1999 - when the Philharmonic Society of Orange County celebrated its Beethoven Festival.

The Philharmonic Society and the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana California presented an elegant exhibit on Beethoven and the musical instruments of his time. Entitled "Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution and Romance". (Click on link to specific instrument type above or below for examples and brief discussion.) The treasures also included original Beethoven manuscripts and first editions of the Nine Symphonies, and a bronze of the only Beethoven life mask ever made.


A shrine to classical music in South Dakota?

The exhibit was a display of rare keyboard, string, wind and percussion instruments - all on loan from America's Shrine to Music Museum. Yes, it is a little known museum tucked in the heart of America - on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion - but it is in fact one of the greatest institutions of its kind in the world, rivaled only by similar institutions in Berlin, Oxford, Rome, Paris and Vienna. Founded in 1973, the museum, consisting of 8 climate-controlled galleries in a restored Carnegie Library building, is home to a collection of more than 7,000 American, European and non-Western musical instruments, including some of the earliest, best preserved and historically most important pieces. If you're a classical music devotee, mark your map - you may want to plan a pilgrimage to this great American shrine to music.

Indeed, there's more to South Dakota than Mount Rushmore! Click HERE for a more extensive fact sheet on this world-class institution.


A Beethoven Center in Silicon Valley?

The Beethoven manuscripts and first editions were on loan from another one-of a-kind establishment - the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, the only institution in North America devoted exclusively to the life and works of Beethoven. The center, which opened in 1985 was created from a donation of 75 first editions of Beethoven's music to San Jose State University by Ira F. Brilliant, an Arizona real estate developer. The Center has the largest collection of first (250) and early nineteenth century (1,500) editions of Beethoven's music outside of Europe, several original manuscripts, a replica of a fortepiano from Beethoven's time, over 3000 books on Beethoven in many languages, a large collection of audio and video recordings, a stamp collection, art works and the most comprehensive online Beethoven database.

So, when you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, why not take a side trip to San Jose and get to know more about Beethoven? Now you know - there's more to San Jose than Silicon Valley! Click HERE for a fact sheet on the Beethoven Center.

Do today's instruments sound at all like those of Beethoven's time? The instruments on display at the exhibit, some of which are shown on the pages that follow, will lead us to conclude: probably not. Because they were obviously meant to be played in halls smaller than today's, it is likely that their tone colors are a world apart from what we are used to hearing today. In any case, some of us shall soon find out - in May, with John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir performing the symphonies of The Age of Revolution and Romance. Now on to some images from the exhibit....


Piano Strings Drums Winds




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