The Armonica (not to be confused with the Glass Harp as seen below), also called the glass harmonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. In 1757, while in England he attended a concert given on the wine glasses. He thought it was the sweetest sound he had ever heard but he wanted to hear more harmonies with his melody. Thus the Armonica was born and named by Franklin for a word taken from the musical Italian language. It has been said that if the harp is “the instrument of the Angels”, then the Armonica is “the voice of the Angels”.
Graduated size bowls with holes and corks in the center were put onto a horizontal spindle and rotated by a fly wheel and a foot pedal. Moistened fingers rubbed the edges to produce the beautiful sound. Franklin used a most unique way to identify the notes of the bowls. He painted the seven white keys the seven colors of the rainbow and the five black keys, white. The practice of gold banding was begun in 1785 by Karl Rollig of Germany (see picture below of Franklin’s own Armonica and remaining bowls at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia)
The Armonica was an instant success. Marie Antoinette took lessons on it and Dr. Mesmer, the famous hypnotist, used it to put his patients into a deeper trance. Composers started writing for it. The most famous…Mozart, Beethoven, Donizetti, Richard Strauss, and Saint-Saens.
By the mid-1800’s, it suddenly lost its popularity, and gradually vanished. Superstitions ran wild.. Armonicas were said to drive performers mad and evoke spirits of the dead because of its eerie and haunting sound. It had a rebirth in 1982 through the efforts of the late master glass blower named Gerhard Finkenbeiner, of Waltham, Massachusetts. The “new-old” Armonica is now reaching into many corners of the world and has moved into the 21st century.
Segment from the History Channel on the Glass Armonica
A glass harp (also called musical glasses, singing glasses, angelic organ, verrilion or ghost fiddle) is a musical instrument made of upright wine glasses.
It is played by running moistened or chalked fingers around the rim of the glasses. Each glass is tuned to a different pitch, either by grinding each goblet to the specified pitch, in which case the tuning is permanent, or by filling the glass with water until the desired pitch is achieved.