Glass "singing bowls" are at the heart of Benjamin Franklin's musical invention, the Armonica. Not many know that in addition to being an inventor, statesman, writer, publisher, political visionary, and scientist he was also an accomplished musician and composer.

The Armonica builds upon the old "singing glasses" routine where glasses are filled with various amounts of liquid to create specific tones when their rims were stroked with a wet finger. Instead of using fluid levels to set tone the Armonica used various sizes of blown glass bowls, which were then stacked and nested for maximum space savings on a horizontal rotating rod.

-DDDDDD- (Picture the "D" as bowls of different sizes.) An image can be found HERE.

The rod is then fitted into a wooden box with a foot-pedal-driven mechanism to make the bowls spin on a common axis. The musician wets their fingers lightly and touches the bowls in sequence to obtain the desired melody. The bowls were painted on the inside of the rim to designate their tone.

In correspondence with the Italian scientist Giambatista Beccaria, Franklin said his design used 37 bowls and had "tones are incomparably sweet beyond those of any other; that they may be swelled and softened at pleasure by stronger or weaker pressures of the finger, and continued to any length; and that the instrument, being once well tuned, never again wants tuning."

Beethoven and Mozart were among the composers who created works for the Armonica during its heyday. Interestingly enough, its music became to be known for stirring up emotions and causing depression (probably due to the "eerie" nature of the instrument's tone), so it slowly faded into obscurity (by the early 1800's) as fewer musicians adopted the instrument and instead moved to the new improved piano.

Thanks to Apollyon for this link to a virtual Armonica you can play!

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