Musical Instruments: Historic, Rare and Unique

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IT is claimed for this book, intended to illustrate rare historical and beautiful Musical Instruments, that it is unique. Classical, Mediæval, Japanese, and other varieties of Decorative Art, Weapons, and Costumes, have found worthy illustration and adequate description, but hitherto no attempt has been made to represent in a like manner the grace and external charm of fine lutes and harps, of viols, virginals, and other instruments. Engravings have been produced, in historical or technical works; but the greater number of these are mere repetitions continued from one to the other, and have no specially æsthetic interest. Beauty of form and fitness of decoration demand more than the commonplace homage paid to simple use, and while we should never lose sight of the purpose of a musical instrument, its capacity to produce agreeable and various sounds, we can take advantage of its form and material, and, making it lovely to look upon, give pleasure to the eye as well as the ear. It is hardly necessary to say that the love of adornment or ornament is an attribute of the human race. It is to be found everywhere and in every epoch when life is, for the time being, safe and the means of existence secure. Some favourite manner of decoration is the characteristic stamp of a people, a period, or a country. The earliest monuments we can point to that represent musical instruments, show a tendency to adorn them or to place them with decorative surroundings. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the ancient Greeks supply a record that has been continued by the Persians and Saracens, in the Gothic age and the Renaissance, always repeating, as it were, in an ineffaceable script, the precept that the hand should minister to the gratification of the eye, and satisfy it by alternating excitement with repose. And so it was, until the marvellous mechanical advance in the present century has not only caused us to forget, by its overwhelming power, what our predecessors so steadfastly continued, but has induced us to regard the ugly as sufficient if the mere practical end is served. By thus chilling the appreciation and pursuit of decorative invention, that faculty has been numbed for the time being, and there is danger of its being lost altogether. It may be answered that real artistic work is occasionally done, and there are examples of it to be found in musical instruments; a good organ case is sometimes made, sometimes a fine decoration for a piano case. If there is any hope of an awakening of the love for musical instruments that finds expression in their adornment, its promise lies in the beautiful designs that have been, of late years, so meritoriously carried out for pianos—the invention of Mr. Alma Tadema, Mr. Burne Jones, Mr. Fox, and Miss Kate Faulkner. Good decoration need not be a privilege of the rich; the old Antwerp clavecin-makers, who were all members of the guild of St. Luke, the artists' guild, knew how to worthily decorate their instruments at little cost, as may be seen in the Ruckers Virginal.

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