Alceste, angelic organ, Benjamin Franklin, Bohemia, BWV 565, Canon in D, Charles Bridge, Christoph W Glueck, Czech Republic, Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Franz Mezmer, Galileo, Glass Duo, glass harmonica, Hugo von Hoffmanstahl, Johann Pacelbel, Johann Sebastian Bach, mezmerize, mezmerizing, Mozart, Orfeo ed Euridice, Orpheus and Euridice, Persians, Prague, Richard Pockrich, Richard Strauss, Robert Tiso, Siberia, Tchaikovsky, Toccata and Fugue in D minor
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Anyone who has looked carefully at the masthead of this blog or read some of the introductory remarks will see and, perhaps understand, at least part of your dutiful scribe’s affection for Prague in the modern day Czech Republic.
Indeed, it was on a lovely evening when my bride and I decided to have a post-prandial stroll across the beyond-historic Charles Bridge. Suddenly, as carried on the cool breezes of the evening came the most wonderfully evocative sounds.
[Evening on Charles Bridge]
Off we went looking to find the source of this aural dessert to perhaps end an otherwise lovely day.
Shortly, all were encompassed in the golden glow of the light-standards.
Just ahead stood an older man behind a table set out before him with dozens of wineglasses. Each glass contained an amount of water which was just slightly more filled than the glass next to it.
Lightly dipping his long fingers into a pot of water, he began to ever so slightly move his fingers around the top of the glass, producing bewitching sounds never previously heard.
This gentleman’s repertoire ranged from classical music to popular tunes, even a few Christmas carols.
During a break, since my command of Czech is ‘limited’ indeed, in German, I asked this Maestro about his technique.
That short but stunning discussion humbled me. What this musician was doing to entertain the crowd and earn his living had been ‘invented’ over 2,500 years ago… by the Persians, amongst others!
How about in Europe?
In 1638, Galileo spoke of a “wet finger around the wine glass” phenomenon in his “Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences” or Discorsi e Dimostrazioni Matematiche Intorno a Due Nuove Scienze. (No, I’ll not embarrass by asking how many of you have read that!)
However, reputedly, the first musician to ever play classical music on a set of wine glasses was an Irishman, one Richard Pockrich.
In 1731, he created what he beautifully called an “angelic organ”. That was a set of 25 wine glasses ‘tuned’ with water and mounted in a wooden box. Mr. Pockrich became a virtuoso glass player and is known to have extensively performed, mostly in the British Isles.
Musician and composer Christoph W. Glück (Bohemian-born but considered German) was known to be a virtuoso glass player before becoming famous for his operas (especially, Orfeo ed Euridice or, ‘Orpheus and Euridice’ and Alceste).
Just to offer a hint of Glück’s genius, this glorious if too brief “Che faro senza Euridice?” or “What will I do without Euridice?” as sung by, seemingly, every lady’s favorite, the formidably magical Siberian bass-baritone, Maestro Dmitri Hvorostovsky:
Che farò senza Euridice
Dove andrò senza il mio ben.
Euridice, o Dio, risponde
Io son pure il tuo fedele.
Euridice! Ah, non m´avvanza
più socorso, più speranza
ne dal mondo, ne dal cel.
What will I do without Euridice
Where will I go without my wonderful one.
Euridice, oh God, answer
I am entirely your loyal one.
Euridice! Ah, it doesn´t give me
any help, any hope
neither this world, neither heaven.
In an effort to self-publicize, rather egotistically, Maestro Glück declared he was able to perform anything that could be done on a violin or harpsichord. The mind boggles!
Inevitably, or so it seems to me, the very serious polymath, Benjamin Franklin, also got into the act. Having attended a glass music recital in London, not only did he announce he considered the sounds “celestial”, he had to do even better.
His improvement on the then-technique? He cajoled a skillful glass maker to create a set of glass bowls. Each would ‘nest’ inside each other and spin around on a rod.
With his tweaking of the system, the rims were very close to each other. As a result, that allowed more notes to play simultaneously. In 1761, Franklin named it his “glass harmonica”, and thus yet another of his adornments of inventions.
By the late 1700s, “glass music” gained popularity all around Europe.
Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and other famous composers wrote music for the glass harmonica. Curiously, and like other flashes in the musical pan, by start of the 1800’s, all this largely died a death.
However, briefly at least, and as I now recall I learned from my psychology professor in Vienna, the German physician Franz Mezmer (think ‘mezmerizing’) induced hypnotic states in his patients via use of, yes, a glass harp!
When librettist Hugo von Hoffmanstahl worked with Richard Strauss on the gloriously beautiful opera, “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” (‘The Woman Who Cast No Shadow’) and which premiered in 1919, Strauss included a glass harp as by then modified into a ‘glass harmonica’.
[Glass Harmonica, early 20th Century]
So, why am I so crystal clear about my love for these ancient yet enchanting sounds?
Try Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’, BWV 565
Or, for an astonishing combination of playing several individual parts, and then re-mixing these for a positively near-unworldly sensation, I’ve never been more moved by Johann Pachelbel’s redemptive ‘Canon in D’ than as you will hear it, here:
Now, go into the kitchen and break a few cheap glasses trying all this out.
No, far better, fill your glass with a nice Champagne or one of the Gruet Winery’s sparkling wines and experience the redemption Johann Pachelbel had in mind and intended for all mankind a mere 300 years ago!
May “Lift a glass” never mean the same, ever again! Cheers!
Maestro Dmitri Horovstovsky
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/HvorostovskyTV
Maestro Robert Tiso’s details are here:
Maestro Tiso’s latest album “Crystal Harmony” may be downloaded or purchased as a CD, here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/roberttiso4
Also, credits to: