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The Armonica Disappears

An early medical book said that listening to the sounds produced on glasses was "sure to cure certain maladies of the blood".

But later, in 1798 Friedrich Rochlitz wrote in theAllgemeine Musikalische Zeitung,

"There may be various reasons for the scarcity of armonica players, principally the almost universally shared opinion that playing it is damaging to the health, that it excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence into a dark and melancholy mood, that it is an apt method for slow self-annihilation… Many (physicians with whom I have discussed this matter) say the sharp penetrating tone runs like a spark through the entire nervous system, forcibly shaking it up and causing nervous disorders."

He goes on to give some warnings:

  • If you are suffering from any nervous disorder you should not play it,
  • If you are not yet ill you should not play it excessively
  • If you are feeling melancholy you should not play it or else play uplifting pieces
  • If tired, avoid playing it late at night.

J.C. Muller warned in his instructional manual of 1788:

"If you have been upset by harmful novels, false friends, or perhaps a deceiving girl then abstain from playing the armonica — it will only upset you even more. There are people of this kind — of both sexes — who must be advised not to study the instrument, in order that their state of mind should not be aggravated."

J.M. Roger’s Treatise on the Effects of Music on the Human Body (Paris, 1803) describes the melancholic timbre of the instrument as "plunging us into a profound detachment, relaxing all the nerves of the body", while the author Chateaubriand writes of the musical glass that "the ear of a mortal can perceive in its plaintive tones the echoes of a divine harmony."

When word began to circulate that there was illness attributed to the instrument, people began to panic, blaming the instrument for everything from domestic disputes, premature births, and mortal afflictions, to convulsions in dogs and cats. In certain German States it was banned by police decree "on account of injury to one’s health and for the sake of public order."

Also, nineteenth century music was gravitating towards larger and larger orchestras performing in larger and larger halls. This certainly contributed to the louder piano replacing the quieter harpsichord. Perhaps this contributed to the demise of the armonica (glass harmonica) as well.