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The Collections of Musical Instruments

The Cremonese Collection

Instrument collecting in the Music Division began with the generosity of Mrs. Gertrude Clarke Whittall. Well known in Washington for the soirées musicales which occurred frequently in her home, and wishing to have her own quartet of well-matched stringed instruments, she enlisted the aid of famed violinist Louis Krasner, who was able to locate no fewer than five excellent instruments by Antonio Stradivari which she purchased in 1934 and 1935: the "Castelbarco" cello (1697); the "Cassavetti" viola (1727); and three violins, the "Ward" (1700), the "Castelbarco" (1699), and the "Betts" (1704). Five Tourte bows accompanied the instruments. Mrs. Whittall also provided an endowment to ensure professional in-house use of her instruments as well as other music making within the scope and traditions of the Music Division. In addition, her gift included funding for the construction of a pavilion to house and display her instruments: the Whittall Pavilion, which adjoins the Coolidge Auditorium, was completed in 1939.

Thumbnail image of Viola d'Amore, mid eighteenth century; 
and Viola da Gamba, early eighteenth century Viola d'Amore, mid eighteenth century; and Viola da Gamba, early eighteenth century. The Viola d'Amore (literally "love viol," probably so named for its sweetness of tone), in the foreground, was used for chamber music and solo playing in the eighteenth century. In the German tradition, as shown here, it was strung with seven bowed and seven sympathetic strings. In the background can be seen part of the neck and elaborately carved peg-box of a Viola da Gamba (or bass viol) attributed to Pieter Rombouts of Amsterdam. Such viols were constructed in various sizes, and usually had six strings, with a seventh occasionally added (as in this example) to extend the lower range. (H. Blackiston Wilkins Collection) (Photograph by Jim Higgins)

What is now sometimes called the Cremonese Collection received its sixth instrument in 1938, when Mrs. Robert Somers Brookings of Washington, D.C., presented the Library with her husband's fine violin, the "Brookings" (1654) by Niccolò Amati. The seventh arrived in 1952 when the great Austrian musician, Fritz Kreisler--American by naturalization--presented the Library with his manuscripts and memorabilia, the half-size violin on which he began studies as a young child, a fine violin bow made by Hill & Son, London, and one of his greatest violins, the "Kreisler," by Giuseppe Guarneri (1733).

In the early nineteenth century, the Cremonese instruments at the Library all received the then-standard alterations designed to increase their volume to a level demanded by players, and expected by audiences. While of continuing interest to numerous violin makers, who are sometimes commissioned to build replicas of them, the Library's strings remain performance instruments and are well known for the extensive duty they have served here. The Budapest String Quartet was the first major ensemble selected to play four of the Stradivari instruments on a regular and long-term basis. In 1962, the Juilliard String Quartet was selected to continue that tradition and is still the ensemble which plays those instruments in the Coolidge Auditorium performance series.

Thumbnail image of Curator of Musical Instruments, Robert Sheldon Curator of Musical Instruments, Robert Sheldon, with one of seventeen early nineteenth-century crystal flutes by Claude Laurent, Paris, in the Dayton C. Miller Collection. (Photograph by Reid Baker)

The following collections are considered museum objects and comprise a unique museum element within the library community at large. Selected objects from these collections, which can safely sustain playing conditions, have been treated and used in performance for early music and other scholarly events which seemed worth the risks that might apply to such usage. In general, these collections are used mostly by visiting researchers and craftsmen for various publication and instrument replication projects.

The Wilkins Collection

The second instrument collection that came to the Library consists of six early stringed instruments donated in 1937 by Dr. H. Blaikiston Wilkins, the former Honorary Curator of the Cremonese Collection. The Wilkins Collection includes a pardessus de viole (five-string treble viol), by Louis Guersan, Paris (1749); a fourteen-string viola d'amore by an unknown German maker (second half of the eighteenth century); a twelve-string viola d'amore by Ferdinando Gagliano, Naples (1763); a seven-string bass viol attributed to Pieter Rombouts, Amsterdam (early eighteenth century); a quinton (a five-string combination of violin and treble viol) by François le Jeune, Paris (1760); and the remains of a late-seventeenth-century bass viol (possibly by Joachim Teilke, Hamburg) which was converted into a cello, probably early in the nineteenth century.

The Miller Collection

The third instrument collection to arrive at the Library was included in a bequest from Dr. Dayton C. Miller (1866-1941), a well-known physicist and professor at the Cleveland Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University). Dr. Miller was an avid amateur flutist, and over a sixty-year period he assembled the world's largest collection of flutes and flute-related materials.

Thumbnail image of Professor Dayton C. Miller in his home 
studio Professor Dayton C. Miller in his home studio, Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1935, with examples from his wind instrument collection, given to the Music Division in 1941. (Dayton C. Miller Collection)

In addition to over 1,600 instruments, the Miller Collection contains enormous library holdings, about 10,000 pieces of music and 3,000 books, some being editions not known to exist elsewhere. The Library materials also include many diverse documents such as patents in nearly all wind instrument categories, letters, portraits, photographs, bills, concert programs, extensive personal correspondence, articles, news clippings, and trade catalogs from nearly every wind instrument manufacturer who was active during Miller's lifetime.

Three-dimensional objects, prints, and other works of graphic art are also generously represented in the collection: they include over six hundred prints and engravings, three bronzes, and nearly sixty statuettes and figurines. Almost all feature representations of a flutist or player of pipes.

The instruments include flutes and other wind instruments from nearly all cultures of the world. They date from about 1100 bc to the 1970s and range from toys and simple folk instruments to sophisticated and complex mechanical specimens intended for professional use. Materials range from clay, bone, and bamboo to jade, ivory, and gold. Other instruments include a dozen oboes, thirteen clarinets (one of ivory), three bassoons, several bagpipe chanters, diverse folk reed instruments, and piano rolls for electric and pneumatic instruments.

At least 460 European and American makers are represented. Highlights include forty flutes from the Munich workshop of Theobald Boehm, Rodolf Greve, and Carl Mendler; a late Beethoven-era Viennese English horn; recorders by Rippert, Bressan, and Hotteterre; an early eighteenth-century oboe by Hendrik Richters, Amsterdam; an early American clarinet by Samuel Graves, Winchester, N.H.; and a Quantz-model traverso once owned and used by King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The Miller Collection is also very strong in Native American instruments.

The Thai Collection

The fourth collection received at the Library was a presentation in 1960 from King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. It consists of ten elegantly crafted Siamese-style folk instruments including a pair of ching (finger cymbals), one thon and one rammana (small hand-played drums), two khlui (vertical flutes, small and medium) with red and gold brocade covers, one ja-khe (a three-string zither somewhat similar to the Japanese Koto) with a red and gold brocade cover, two saw u, and two saw duang, the last four instruments being two forms of a two-string (one course) fiddle played in upright position. Each of the saw u and saw duang has a lacquered wooden case with blue plush lining, and the ching, thon, and rammana all share a fifth such case.

Thumbnail image of Three violins from a collection of seven 
Cremonese stringed instruments Three violins from a collection of seven Cremonese stringed instruments in the Music Division. Left to right: Niccolò Amati, 1654 (the "Brookings"); Antonio Stradivari, 1704 (the "Betts"); Giuseppe Guarneri (del Gesù), 1733 (the "Kreisler"). (Photograph by Dane Penland)

In 1982 the Music Division began its move from the Jefferson Building--the oldest in the Library complex--to the newest edifice, the James Madison Memorial Building. The new facility included in the basement a special high security vault for the musical instrument collections. It is environmentally well maintained and spacious enough to permit several visitors convenient but controlled access to the varied collections. The new installation also included funding for a full-time curator whose duties include making sure that the collections are accessible to visitors.

While this vault is fully adequate and one of the best museum storage facilities of its type, it is temporary. Renovations of the Jefferson Building include a permanent space for all of the musical instrument collections. It will be in the northwest corner of the ground floor, adjacent to the Coolidge Auditorium and Whittall Pavilion, and will include public exhibit areas, laboratory facilities, a curator's office within a study area, and a reference collection vault. About 40 percent of the instrument holdings will be on exhibit, and the Cremonese stringed instruments will be returned to their original wall exhibit cases in the Whittall Pavilion.

Thumbnail image of W. A. Mozart. Gran Partita, K.361/270a W. A. Mozart. Gran Partita, K.361/270a, autograph full orchestral score; and period instruments. More commonly known as Serenade for Thirteen Instruments, the Gran Partita is not an orchestral serenade but pure wind music. It is a "divertimento," but the instrumentation far exceeds that of the customary wind sextet or octet. In seven movements, the Partita was written in 1780/1781; at the time of the premier of Idomeneo in Munich, and the beginning of the composer's residence in Vienna. The instruments shown are of the type Mozart would have recognized. At top, from the R. E. Sheldon Collection, is a clarinet in A, ca. 1795-1810, signed, and probably made by German immigrant Jacob Anthony of Philadelphia. It is shown with mouthpiece reed upward, which is the reverse of modern practice. The three-keyed oboe carries the date of 1793, and is the work of Johann Gottfried Liebel of Adorf, Germany. The extra interchangeable top joints of varying length were used to cope with the diverse pitch standards in Europe at the time. This instrument is one of over 1,600 wind instruments in the Dayton C. Miller Collection at the Library of Congress. (Photograph by Reid Baker)

Admission to the instrument collections in the Madison Building or those stored in future Jefferson Building reference collections is by appointment. The handling or playing of any specimen is dependent on its condition and materials plus the reasons for the proposed usage. Qualified researchers, students, and performers have, through the Miller and other instrument collections in the Library, an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about the history and musical qualities of these unique instruments.

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