Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/April 1892/The Development of American Industries Since Columbus: Musical Instruments III

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 40 April 1892  (1892) 
The Development of American Industries Since Columbus: Musical Instruments III by Daniel Spillane




THE most profound and intellectual works of the great masters in the symphony and other forms of "instrumental" music—as they are classified in musical nomenclature—are interpreted through the orchestra, and through forms partly dramatic and vocal, such as opera and oratorio, in which the orchestra and various combinations of orchestral instruments play an important and inseparable part. Orchestral music is also an indispensable auxiliary to the proper representation of melodrama and in other departments of dramatic art.

Within the past forty years, especially since the close of the civil war, the progress of music in America has been most remarkable. This is manifest to-day in the large number of fine orchestras, musical societies and bodies throughout the country, and in the intelligent and generous support given to representations of the best class of music. A great demand has in consequence grown up for instruments for orchestral and band purposes. Many of these—for instance, the harp, violin, flute, violon-cello, and cornet—being also largely used for private amusement at home and in small musical circles, their production gives employment to a large number of skilled workmen, and maintains a comparatively new and expanding American industry.

Though bands do not serve the high artistic purposes of orchestras—some full military bands, such as Gilmore's, Cappa's, and Sousa's, may be excepted—they fill an acknowledged place in the domain of the art. Bands have been associated with popular demonstrations since the earliest times, though originally in crude forms. In the illustrations of ancient Assyrian and Egyptian sculptures, given in the February issue in relation to the article on the piano-forte in this series, may be seen the precursors of modern band musicians marching in procession with lyres, dulcimers, harps, double flutes, and pulsatile instruments to commemorate some notable event, which indicates the fact that the human instinct which finds its expression in the maintenance of bands at this date is as old as the most remote chapter in the history of civilization. As compared with our instruments of music, however, these products of the Assyrians, Egyptians, and other nations of the far-away past were little more than toys. This remark applies equally to the instruments in use among the Greeks and Romans of a more recent period.

I fancy that Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers of those times must have had a fashion of drawing largely upon their imagination, or else some elements of human nature must have changed since then, for they all remarked the influence of music upon the manners of a people. If the crude musical system they were acquainted with, with its primitive instruments, was capable of such effects as they claimed, an interesting proposition is suggested for some student to elaborate—namely, are the people of the present less sensitive and less open to the influence of music—though having an incomparably superior system—than the ancients? This remains for some speculative and subtle mind to determine. Lyres, cithares, and incidental stringed instruments of that PSM V40 D816 Modern double pedal harp.jpgFig. 1.—Modern Double-pedal Harp. order have meanwhile become obsolete, while the dulcimer has no place in art. The harp has, however, come down to us through the centuries in an enlarged and vastly improved form as the most honored and most historic of all musical instruments. It is not so important, indeed, as the piano and parlor organ, and consequently could not have been treated in our previous articles with consistency, although it was a precursor, in its primitive forms, of the piano-forte and entitled to mention.

The harp in its present form is capable of fine artistic effects, and is in most respects far different from the rude instrument of that species known in remote centuries. There are many kinds of harps produced, namely, the Welsh harp, which contains three rows of strings; the double harp, having two rows; the single-action pedal instrument and the double-action pedal harp, with one set—the latter being the most successful and artistic instrument of all. In fact, the single-and double-action pedal harps are generally used in musical circles to the exclusion of the two former.

Among the races identified with the improvement of this ancient instrument the Celts are entitled to first mention, the Irish and Welsh being in particular associated with it in the pages of history and romance. It still occupies a place in the festivals of the hitter nation. Owing to the use of gut strings, the tones produced are more mellow and sympathetic than those of the piano, but this one advantage can not compensate for the various other disadvantages on its side as compared with the piano; that is, for PSM V40 D817 Amati model violin.jpgFig. 2.—Violin, Amati Model. popular use. What is not the case with the piano, the performer must be able to string and tune the harp. It gets out of tune rapidly, while the method of playing it calls for considerable expertness in the performer, owing to the absence of finger-keys and other mechanical conditions familiar in the piano.

The harp only became worthy of a place in the orchestra toward the end of the last century, when Southwell, of Dublin, and Erard, of Paris, invented the modern pedal-action system. Hochbrucker and Volter, German makers, made some notable changes in its construction about 1730, but until the invention of the system referred to it was not acceptable to musicians of culture.

The name of Erard ranks first in Europe to-day, after the lapse of a century, among harp-makers, but there are several other manufacturers of note in Berlin, Paris, and London, who produce instruments of the first grade. The pedal-action system of Erard enables the performer to raise the pitch of each string two semitones mechanically, which facilitates execution and effect to a wonderful degree. Harps were made in this country as far back as 1790. In that year Charles Watts, of New York, exhibited instruments of his own construction, but they met with little demand. For over a half-century harp-makers have existed here in a few cities, but up to about fifteen years ago the instrument had a very limited circle of patrons. Brown and Buckwell are the most time-honored names of American harp manufacturers—names best known to persons interested in this artistic branch. Comparatively little in the way of radical inventions has been introduced into the instrument since Southwell's and Erard's improvements were adopted, but a gradual development has taken place, the present concert harp being capable of larger and more extended tones and art possibilities than those instruments used in past years. Many native artists, among whom Miss Maud Morgan and Miss Inez Caruzi may be mentioned, have already appeared in America, while in the leading conservatories throughout the country professors of the harp are also engaged, and this educational work is steadily widening the circle of its admirers and patrons. James F. Buckwell, of New York, has introduced some improvements in the instruments of his manufacture; these can not be very readily described, however. Lyon & Healy, of Chicago, have also begun the manufacture of harps containing many patented points of improvement. One of the chief points of originality in the Lyon & Healy harps is the adjustment of the pedal-rods. These work in solid metal bearings in the column, and are a remarkable improvement over ordinary methods. In these instruments many other original features in the action and parts are also evidenced, and these permit the performer to make the most perfect mechanical adjustment of the scales in the various pedal positions ever made possible in the harp. A comparison of American harps on the whole with foreign instruments will go to show that they are equal in every respect, if not superior in some details.

Orchestral and Band Instruments.—The violin and instruments of that order rule in the orchestra. Although bow instruments somewhat similar were known long before Christ, the violin of the familiar shape only came into use about the middle of the sixteenth century. One Baltazarini gave performances to wondering listeners in England in 1577, which is the earliest record known. The elder Amati began business in Cremona, Italy, in 1 600, and is said to have founded that famous school. The Stradivari and Guarneri families subsequently appeared and bequeathed to the world instruments which are famous to-day. Germany, which claims to have first produced the violin, is represented by the names of Klotz and Steiner, who flourished during the same century. The violin became the leader in the orchestra, and still holds the foremost place there. The violoncello and other larger forms of the instrument were evolved between the middle of the sixteenth and the end of the seventeenth century, but nearly all effort has been concentrated on the violin, or "little viol," from which the familiar title came.

Dr. F. W. Adams, of Montpelier, Vermont, was perhaps the most noted of early American makers. He was in the field in 1820, The first makers of instruments of the violin family were Benjamin Chrehore, of Milton, Mass., spoken of in connection with pianoforte-making, also Clement Clans, of New York, who came from London in 1790. Samuel Long, of Hanover, N. H., won considerable notoriety from 1812 to 1825 in that field; while Abraham Prescott, of Concord, N. H., took the place of the latter and became equally esteemed. Among the most famous were Warren A. White, of Boston, and Calvin Baker, of Weymouth, Mass., both more recent makers than Long and Prescott. Nearly all the violins turned out by those domestic violin-makers mentioned went among amateurs and into unpretentious orchestral circles. The professional musicians had always a preference for old instruments, and these of necessity came from abroad.

But within the past thirty years American violins fully equal to the best European instruments of modern times have been produced, some of which will be ranked with the finest examples of the Cremona masters in future years. These have come from the workshops of the Gemunders. George Gemunder is a native of

PSM V40 D819 Boehm model improved flute.jpg

Fig. 3.—Improved Flute, Boehm Model.

Germany, where he was born in 1810, but he has lived here since 1847, almost a half-century, and is the only American violin-maker that exhibited in the musical instrument department of the famous World's Fair in London in 1851. He learned the art of violin-making from his father, and at nineteen became a pupil of Voillaume, in Paris, where he stayed four years. He began business in Boston in 1847, and in 1851 removed to New York, where he has since been located. August Gemunder is equally a renowned maker, his instruments being in the hands of some of the leading soloists. He was also born in Germany, but has been here since early manhood. Lesser makers in various cities produce good violins, while nearly all manufacture violas, violoncellos, and basses as well.

The modern transverse flute, passing over its precursors, was invented in Germany in the seventeenth century; hence the term "German flute." It was first used by Handel in orchestral scores, and speedily achieved a leading place, although up to recent years a very imperfect instrument. In its present perfected state it is very satisfactory, and capable of producing excellent artistic effects. The piccolo, a smaller species, has also come into being, and is employed in conjunction with the other in orchestras and bands. The latter is capable of producing the sharpest and highest tones known in the compass of any instrument. The flageolet is the ancient form of the flute—with some differences—and is also used very widely.

The flute was first made acceptable for artistic requirements by Theobold Boehm about 1834. Not only did this celebrated inventor contribute to the flute, but his system of key adjustment, fingering, and tube-boring materially assisted the further development of the clarionet and other wood wind-instruments. He was anticipated in this country, however, in many points by Edward Riley, one of the earliest American musical instrument makers of the century. Boehm was a native of Munich, Germany, where he had a shop devoted to the making of wood wind-instruments. Captain Gordon, a Swiss military officer of Scotch extraction, was the inventor of the Boehm system of fingering, but Boehm applied it practically with modifications in 1835, and thus earned the credit of being the inventor. He crossed to London in that year and introduced his instruments to musicians, meeting with great success. These were made with the cylindrical instead of the conical bore and created much attention. Their appearance led to a revolution in the methods of flute-making practiced up to that period. Boehm took out no patent, hence the general adoption of his method of boring and other particulars soon after their introduction. His system of fingering in itself, however, involved a radical departure which musicians and students were loath to take up at once, but it is now firmly established.

Common flutes without keys were made in America before the Revolution, but Riley was the first maker of standing to appear in the field. He had a factory in Franklin Square, New York, as early as 1810, where he produced wood wind-instruments of various kinds for orchestral and band purposes. The firm of Firth & Hall came into existence about 1817, and was devoted to the

PSM V40 D820 Clarinet with improved key construction.jpg

Fig. 4.—Clarionet, with Improved System of Fingering and Key Construction.

manufacture of wood wind-instruments and music-publishing. Thaddeus B. Firth, of Maspeth, Long Island, a grandson of John Firth, yet carries on flute-making as a special branch, in which he has won some distinction. Flutes, flageolets, and piccolos of excellent quality are manufactured by various makers in this country at present, in connection with clarionets and other wood wind-instruments.

The clarionet, which plays a most important part in the domain of musical art, is a product of Germany, where it was invented in 1690 by Denner, of Nuremberg. It resembles the oboe in the structure of the tube, but sound is produced in it by means of a single instead of a double reed. Like all the instruments treated, it was very imperfect up to thirty years ago. It occupies the place of the orchestral violin in reed—ordinarily called military—bands. Meanwhile, the clarionet was not an "invention" in the exact sense, owing to the fact that it had a predecessor of the oboe family known as the schalmey or chalamean (from calamus, a reed). J. C. Bach, son of the master, first introduced it to

PSM V40 D821 Bassoon.jpg

Fig. 5.—The Bassoon, an Important Auxiliary in Orchestras and Military Bands.

notice in his opera of Orione, in 1760, and its general adoption followed. It was given a leading place, in military bands in particular, as a treble instrument from the moment of its inception. Within the past half-century larger forms of the instrument appeared—alto, tenor, barytone, and bass—for military band purposes, their artistic use being to soften the brasses and lend color to the ensemble and to special effects. PSM V40 D821 Saxophone.jpgFig. 6.—Saxophone.

Saxophones are a production of this century, and indispensable in full reed or military bands. They are played with a clarionet mouthpiece, and resemble the clarionet, only that they are made of brass instead of wood. Saxophones are the invention of the celebrated Antoine Sax, of sax-horn and musical-instrument fame. While working in his father's shop, in Dinant, Belgium—in which city he was born in 1814—he conceived the idea of their construction. Settling in Paris in 1842, Sax won a leading place as a maker of wood and brass wind-instruments. He secured a patent for his saxophones in 1846, and in time introduced them into the French military bands, other nations acquiring them subsequently. They have been improved largely since their production, and, though not ranking high as solo instruments, they enjoy an important place in large bands as instruments essential to artistic aims in ensemble.

We arrive now at brass instruments, such as the horn and cornet, in which sound is produced by means of the lips vibrating in the mouth-piece. To readers acquainted with the common bugle the principle will be easily apparent. The origin of the horn is lost in antiquity. It is the parent—in its native form without pistons—of the numerous family of piston and slide instruments which have been evolved within the past century, and it is one of the relics of the past, which has maintained a place in the modern orchestra or military band through the addition of valves. The instrument in question is known at present as the French horn, to distinguish it from the sax-horn and the

PSM V40 D822 Slide trombone.jpg

Fig. 7.—Slide Trombone.

PSM V40 D822 Valved trombone.jpg

Fig. 8.—Valved Trombone.

English horn. When Beethoven first wrote for it in the orchestra it was in its primitive state, the tones produced being those of the harmonics of the open tube. These are doubtless familiar to most readers who have heard military bugles. Intermediate tones were produced by the insertion of the hand in the bell of the instrument at first, which muffled the tone and so rendered the effect uneven in timbre and not acceptable for solo purposes. The introduction of pistons, about 1840, obviated the former drawbacks, but its normal tone-character renders it useful merely as an accessory, PSM V40 D822 Duty bugle the precursor of the coronet.jpgFig. 9.—Duty Bugle, the Precursor of the Cornet. for it is too soft, subdued, and lacking in individuality to win a place as a solo instrument. The slide trombone and trumpet are equally ancient in their primitive shape. The former yet maintains a leading place. Besides the harmonics of the open tube referred to, intermediate semitones, so as to complete the range of the accepted octave, are easily produced in the trombone by means of the slide, which lengthens or decreases the tubing as required. Since valves were invented, they have been applied to the latter, but the slide trombone is yet preferred, owing to the superior purity of its tones. which, however, hardly compensates for defectiveness in phrasing and other drawbacks.

Up to about 1840 the keyed or "Kent bugle" held the place now occupied by the cornet, although in being only since 1807. That now obsolete instrument was the familiar duty or field bugle, to which keys had been added so as to allow the production of intermediate tones in addition to the harmonics indicated.

Halliday, an Irish gentleman, who invented that instrument, discovered by accident that, by boring holes in an old field bugle, extra tones could be produced. Ellard, a musical instrument maker of Dublin, made him a model after some experiments, and the latter having added further improvements, it was submitted to the Duke of Kent, who introduced it into his band, whereupon it took the name of the "Kent bugle."

When the allied armies entered Paris after Waterloo, the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia heard the bugle for the first time. Through Distin—father of the modern family of that name—then soloist in the Coldstream Guards band, he secured a copy, and on returning to Russia had it adopted in all the imperial bands. It had a short existence, however, for within a few years the cornopean—as the cornet was at first named—succeeded it. PSM V40 D823 Soprano cornet.jpgFig. 10.—Soprano Cornet. PSM V40 D823 Cornet showing the rotary valve system.jpgFig. 11.—Cornet, showing Rotary Valve System. This was not merely an incidental step beyond the Kent bugle, for it resulted in the production of a complete family of brass instruments within a few years, namely sax-horns, besides influencing the French horn, trombone, and trumpet, and art generally. It appeared first in Russia, but its invention was claimed by the elder Sax, and by a Mr. Adams, an American. The latter had no patent and never proved his right to the claim advanced, while the representations of Sax stand equally discredited. The real author is yet unknown. The chief features of originality in the cornopean or cornet over the keyed bugle consist in the use of three pistons, which, on being pressed singly, or in combination, shut off, or add, certain lengths of tubing, so as to raise or lower the pitch, these valves being perforated to assist that end.

Antoine Sax, of Paris—the greatest inventor of the age in that field—in addition to his feats in relation to the saxophone, took the cornet in its crude state, regulated the tube lengths, cut away rough angles in the air-passages of the valves, and made it more acceptable for artistic needs. It became popular immediately, the great Koenig and other artists appearing before 1850 to give it notoriety. In 1846 Sax also introduced his sax-horns, from soprano to bass, which were adopted in all countries, with special improvements and modifications. The brass bands of modern character—called "cornet bands" in some parts of this country—therefore became a possibility. In sax-horns and more recent adaptations of these instruments, such as the circular basses and euphonium, the same piston system prevails as in the cornet.

Bands were chiefly used for military purposes up to about 1840, when amateur and professional organizations for public celebrations appeared.

PSM V40 D824 Tenor and bass sax horns.jpg
Fig. 12.—Tenor Sax-horn. Fig. 13.—Bass Sax-horn.

Previous to the appearance of the clarionet they were composed of hautboys, sackbuts, trumpets, flutes, serpents, horns, and various other obsolete instruments, all of a crude character, besides drums, cymbals, and pulsatile accessories. Yet the invention and adoption of sax-horns in military bands gave rise to an entirely new order of instrumentation in the abstract, but without disturbing the clarionet from the position it has always occupied.

The manufacture of brass wind-instruments in America was begun about 1835, but the few bands then in the country constituted the market to be relied upon. American bands, and the spread of the cornet and other brass instruments among private parties which increased after the war period, helped to maintain a few small manufactories devoted to the cheaper variety, until about the great Centennial Exhibition year, when Henry Distin, son of John Distin spoken of above, removed from England and began to manufacture the justly celebrated "Distin" instruments in the United States. The Distins had been previously in business in London for a great many years, and had won a leading place in that sphere. Henry Distin's arrival here practically established that industry in this country.

A notable sign of the progress going forward in this art and industrial channel is the town of Elkhart, Indiana, the mainstay of which is a manufactory founded by C. G. Conn, devoted to military band instruments of a high order, which are fast winning a leading place. Mr. Conn established himself in business in 1883 upon an enlarged scale after being burned out; he had been only a few years in the field at the time. The Distin factory is situated in Williamsport, Pa. Several other smaller makers of the cheaper class of musical instruments are scattered throughout the country.

PSM V40 D825 Modern valve trumpet.jpg

Fig. 14.—Modern Valved Trumpet.

In addition to the branch treated, Lyon & Healy, of Chicago, Haynes & Co., of Boston, and Stratton & Co., of New York, maintain factories devoted to the production of guitars, mandolins, and small instruments of that order, which give employment to a large number of hands. These industries being of very recent growth, it is impossible to give any comparative estimate of their progress in the absence of the statistics for 1890, which has not yet appeared. The table for 1880 would in itself be no guide, for the above reason.

Meanwhile it is a source of satisfaction to know that such activity prevails in relation to musical art in America as the articles throughout indicate. It also shows that Americans, as a people, are wonderfully versatile, and capable of establishing industries which are maintained as specialties in countries abroad, while capable of improving almost everything which they undertake to manufacture. That has been distinctly shown in the music industries at least.