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The glassharmonica was very popular from the start. 400 works were composed for it, some unfortunately now lost, and probably about 4000 instruments were built in 70 years. The instrument, adored or hated, roused passion. Paganini said “such a celestial voice”, Thomas Jefferson claimed it was “the greatest gift offered to the musical world of this century”, Goethe, Mozart, Jean-Paul, Hasse, Theophile Gautier praised it. A dictionary of instruments mentions that the sounds ‘are of nearly celestial softness but can cause spasms”, In a Treaty on the Effects of Music on the Human Body by J.M. Roger, 1803, we can read that “its melancholy tone plunges you into dejection ( ) to a point the strongest man could not hear it for an hour without fainting”. True, some interpreters ended their lives in mental hospitals, among them one of the best, Marianne Davies.

In his Method to Teach Yourself Armonica (1788), J.C. Miller retorts- “It is true that the Armonica has strange effects on people . If you are irritated or disturbed by bad news, by friends or even by a disappointing lady, abstain from playing, it would only increase your disturbance”. The Armonica was accused of causing evils such as nervous disorder, domestic squabbles, premature deliveries, fatal disorders, animal’s convulsions. The instrument was even banned from a German town by police decision for ruining the health of people and disturbing public order (a child died during a concert). Franz Anton Mesmer, a Vienna doctor known for his experiments (Mesmerism) and for using hypnosis to treat his clients, would condition them by playing the glassharmonica for them. He was expelled from Vienna after a blind pianist, Marie Paradies, recovered sight but to the detriment of her mental health. Spread by rumor, this contributed to the death of the Armonica considered in 1829 as “the fashionable accessory of parlors and sitting-rooms”.

– from THE GLASS HARMONICA by Thomas Bloch (Translation to English by Michelle Vadon

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