Natural horn with case and crooks. Courtois Frere, Paris, France, 1820-1830. Brass and other materials. OH: 13”; OW: 22 ½”; OD: 11 1/8.”
Serinet. M. Benoit. Mirecourt, France, 1780-1820. European walnut, English sycamore, boxwood, poplar, iron/steel, brass, lead, and paper. OH: 5 3/4"; OW: 10 1/2"; OD: 7 ½."
Turtle-shell fiddle. Tennessee, 1925-1940. Black walnut and turtle shell. OH: 21 1/8"; OW: 6 1/4"; OD: 3 5/8."
The Foundation’s musical instrument collection was developed to illustrate the types of instruments known in Williamsburg, the colony of Virginia, and, to a lesser degree, the middle Atlantic and southern states. The collection covers the period from 1700 to about 1830, when musical instruments were on the verge of rapid technological change. The dominance of London-made instruments in the collection accurately reflects conditions in early Virginia. Not until a quarter century after the American Revolution did the great American musical instrument industry begin to flourish.
The more broadly focused collection of folk musical instruments includes American-made examples of all periods. It features banjos, fiddles, zithers, hammered dulcimers, jaw harps, and such related objects as a music stand apparently made for shape-note singing books.
The collection was launched in 1938 when a succession of musicians began their service as musical consultants to the Foundation. This predisposed the collection to its particular strength in keyboard instruments. Thirty-five early keyboards are now in the collection, along with one historic revival harpsichord made in 1908 by Arnold Dolmetsch in the Boston piano factory of Chickering & Sons. Keyboards include spinets, harpsichords, organs, grand pianos, and a vertical piano. Nearly half of the overall keyboard collection is composed of square pianos—a ratio of keyboard types that is not far from what might have been found in Virginia in the latter part of the collection timeframe.
The transition from harpsichord to piano and the accompanying shift in taste between 1700 and 1830 was a musical revolution in revolutionary times.
The transition from harpsichord to piano and the accompanying shift in taste between 1700 and 1830 was a musical revolution in revolutionary times. So, also, was the transition from London's monopoly on the manufacture of instruments to a burgeoning American industry.Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America 1700-1830 explores furniture design, regional and political influences, market and demographic shifts, manufacturing technologies, and the competition among makers and merchants during the colonial and federal eras.