Category Archives: featured

The Nawāb’s musical bed

In 1882 Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi IV, Nawāb of Bahawalpur, anonymously commissioned a bed in rosewood covered with about a third of a ton of chased and engraved sterling silver from La Maison Christofle in Paris. The bedposts were four life-size automatons, nude (though bewigged) female figures representing European types, powered by four crank-wound spring mechanisms in their pedestals.

Wires ran from these springs to a music box under the bed. Downward pressure on the center of the mattress activated the music box and caused the bedpost-women to begin shifting their eyes and fanning and whisking in time to the music (an unidentified excerpt from Gounod’s Faust). The performance lasted 30 minutes. A watercolor and several photos taken in 1882 for the Christofle firm are the only evidence of the bed, whose present whereabouts are unknown.

This according to “Asleep with painted ladies” by Carl A. Skoggard (Nest X [2000] pp. 100–105). Below, Renée Fleming sings “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux” (Jewel song), an aptly themed candidate for the Faust excerpt in question.

Related article: The Sultan’s pipe organ

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Filed under Curiosities, featured, Romantic era, Visual art

Mahler and Beyoncé

What could a late–19th-century Viennese symphonic genius and an early–21st-century African American pop star have in common? A blood line, according to recent research that has led to the conclusion that Beyoncé Knowles is Gustav Mahler’s eighth cousin, four times removed.

This according to Why Mahler? How one man and ten symphonies changed our world by Norman Lebrecht (New York: Pantheon, 2010). Below, Beyoncé’s Green light—a title that suggests a line of descent from Mahler’s Urlicht.

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Filed under featured, Popular music, Romantic era

Sexual attraction by genre

In an experiment, male and female college undergraduates made and viewed videotaped presentations that included stating a preference for classical music, country music, soft rock, or heavy metal. These preferences were found to influence heterosexual attraction in specific ways.

Devotion to classical music and to heavy metal proved to be gender specific: A love of heavy metal greatly enhanced the appeal of men, but it proved detrimental to that of women, while a preference for classical music produced the opposite reactions. A love of country music was found to diminish attraction in both genders.

This according to “Effects of associating with musical genres on heterosexual attraction” by Dolf Zillmann and Azra Bhatia (Communication research XVI/2 [April 1989], pp. 263–288).

Below, Chuck Berry discusses genre preferences with some friends..

Related article: Air guitar and gender

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Filed under Curiosities, featured, Popular music, Reception, Science

Not a universal language

The first meeting and interchange between Māori and Europeans was a musical one. As the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his party sailed toward the coast of Aotearoa (now New Zealand) on a December evening in 1642, they saw canoes approaching them and heard the men in the prows singing and blowing on a trumpet-like instrument. Two of the Dutch sailors were ordered to play welcoming tunes on their own trumpets; the exchange continued until darkness fell and the Māori paddled away.

A few days later the Dutch launched a small rowboat holding seven unarmed sailors. The Māori immediately sent canoes to attack it, and killed four of the sailors; the others swam to safety, and the canoes were driven away by Dutch gunfire.

This tragic turn of events was eventually explained: The first Māori party intended to challenge the strangers and invite them to fight. They had probably been performing a haka—a ritual war chant—and their horn was likely a pūtātara (above), a signaling device that may be used for hostile confrontations. The groups’ misinterpretations of each other’s music making led to a fatal misunderstanding.

This according to “Music historiography in New Zealand” by Martin Lodge, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Below, a performance by a haka team.

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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Ethnomusicology, featured, Instruments