Tag Archives: Organology

Happy birthday to Hornbostel– Sachs!

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Systematik der Musikinstrumente: Ein Versuch is 100 years old this year! This system of musical instrument classification, devised by Erich Moritz von Hornbostel and Curt Sachs, is still the most widely used by ethnomusicologists and organologists. It was issued in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie XLVI/4–5 [1914] pp. 553–590; the first pages of the system are shown above (click to enlarge).

The system is based on one devised in the late 19th century by Victor-Charles Mahillon, the curator of musical instruments at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles/Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel. Mahillon divided instruments into four broad categories according to the sound-producing material—air column, string, membrane, or the instrument’s body. For the most part, Mahillon’s system was limited to instruments used in Western classical music; Hornbostel and Sachs expanded Mahillon’s system to make it applicable to any instrument from any culture.

The Hornbostel– Sachs system is formally modeled on the Dewey Decimal Classification for libraries. It has five top-level classifications, with several levels below those, adding up to over 300 basic categories; it was updated in 2011 as part of the work of the MIMO Project – Musical Instrument Museums Online.

Below, perhaps the grooviest time you’ve ever had with instrument classification.

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Ikonografia muzyczna: Studia i materiały

new series

In 2012 the Instytut Sztuki Polskiej Akademii Nauk launched the series Ikonografia muzyczna: Studia i materiały, edited by the team of the Katalog Źródeł Muzycznych led by Paweł Gancarczyk. The first issue of the series is the collection Z badań nad ikonografią muzyczną do 1800: Źródła – problemy – interpretacje (Research into music iconography before 1800: Sources, issues, interpretations).

The series will publish studies on inventory, analysis, and interpretation of art works with musical themes. Its interests include all the traditional areas of musical iconography (depictions of musical instruments, musical scenes, images of musicians, etc.) as well as wider issues of the presence of music in visual arts.

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Astérix and instruments

 

Astérix le Gaulois, a series of comics written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo between 1960 and 1999, received much acclaim for the attention to detail in Uderzo’s drawings of ancient civilizations.

Particularly interesting to an organologist are the illustrations of instruments—including carnyx, buccina, lur, bagpipe, harp, lyre, pipes, and drums—used by ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Gauls.

In the free online resource Musical instruments of antiquity as illustrated in “The adventures of Asterix the Gaul” Daniel A Russell compares Uderzo’s illustrations to photographs of period instruments and comments on their acoustic qualities, performance techniques, and the roles they played in their respective societies, both in real history and as experienced by Astérix and his friends.

Above, Uderzo’s depiction of a banquet accompanied by a kithara, a double tibia, and a frame drum (click to enlarge).

Related articles:

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A museology manifesto

While he is well known among organologists and ethnomusicologists for the universal instrument classification system that he established with Erich von Hornbostel in 1914, Curt Sachs (1881–1959) was also a pioneer in music museology. When the Nazi regime dismissed him from his positions in Berlin in 1933 he was invited to collaborate with André Schaeffner at the Musée d’Ethnographie in Paris (now the Musée de l’Homme) on classifying their instrument collection; he worked there until he left for New York in 1937.

During his tenure at the museum Sachs wrote and published “La signification, la tache et la technique museographique des collections d’instruments de musique” (Mouseion xxvii–xxviii [1934], 153–84), a manifesto for instrument museums and restoration deontology that established basic music museological principles. He argued for the primacy of the exhibition over the collection, and built a theory of the musical object that has never required updating. Many of Sachs’s propositions far exceeded the aesthetic concepts of Western music, reflecting the concerns of a universalist musicologist well before the codification of ethnomusicology.

This according to “Curt Sachs as a theorist for music museology” by Florence Gétreau, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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