Thursday, April 23, 2015

Four Centuries of Musical Instruments: The Marlowe A. Sigal Collection

Four Centuries of Musical Instruments
Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA
320 pages $69.99

When Marlowe A. Sigal was a teenager in Easton, Pennsylvania, he needed a tenor saxophone to join the high school band. His parents, who collected motorcycles, got him an 18-key Buescher Aristocrat tenor saxophone made in Elkhart, Indiana, in 1939. In 1960 Sigal's father gave him an out-of-commission Estey cottage organ (made in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1877) to restore, and in 1964 Marlowe Sigal started collecting harpsichords and pianos.

His collection of keyboard instrument grew. There are 8 harpsichords, 2 virginals, 2 spinets, 2 clavichords, 10 grand pianos, 11 upright pianos, 43 square pianos (!!!), 2 pipe organs, 4 practice keyboards, a desk piano, a lying harp piano, a keyboard carillon (think Die Zauberflöte), an awesome half round piano, a claviharpe (a cross between a piano and a harp), an orphica (a keyboard instrument held like a guitar), a dulictone, a bell piano (hammers strike metal bars), and a keyed monochord.

Sigal added wind instruments to the collection. There are 104 clarinets from various makers, beginning with his first metal Buescher "American Beauty" (1923). In the 1990s he added clarinets from the early 19th century (one of the early clarinets is a Grenser from 1807). Many are made from boxwood, and the instruments have a huge array of fingering systems and key configurations. The bores of the instruments also vary greatly. There is an American-made clarinet from 1865 made from ivory, and a plastic clarinet for children made around 1990 by Graham Lyons. There are bass clarinets, saxophones (14 of them, and even one with a slide), and 19th-century instruments that boggle the mind with their modern design.

The collection has all manner of double reeds: 52 oboes, 40 bassoons (with all their relatives) sarrusophones, a Rothphone, and even an intact rackett from the 18th century. Most interesting are two examples of "cup-mouthpiece" instruments: a bass horn and a Russian bassoon. I am, of course, extremely interested in Sigal's collection of 187 flute and whistle instruments, 132 of which are transverse flutes. The earliest transverse flute is a one-keyed ivory instrument from 1730, and the earliest recorders are from 1710. There is an 1818 glass flute from Paris, a Louis Lot from 1883, and dozens and dozens of instruments that I have never heard about before.

Marlowe's string instrument and percussion instrument collection is relatively small, but he does have a nice array that includes a pocket violin, a rebab, and a zither.

The book weighs close to six pounds, and aside from a few pages of text about the collection, a guide to abbreviations, a bibliography, a maker's index, and an index that organizes instruments by city and country of origin, it is a 300-page catalog filled with remarkable photographs of wonderful instruments. The collection is organized by instrument type, and each entry has a catalog number indicating when the instrument entered the collection. The book is beautifully bound, and the pages open completely, allowing the reader to see everything. There are some detail shots, and there are some instruments that have been photographed in their cases.

The collection is catalogued and organized by Albert R. Rice, who wrote the excellent introduction. I can't imagine any musician, any library, any school, any museum, or any collector who would not want to own this book!

You can visit the website here. There is a "look inside" feature, but the on-screen images are just shadows of the way they look on the page.

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