Exquisite Sounds – Musical Instruments at The Met

Glass flutes by Laurent Musical Instruments section Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Glass flutes by Laurent in the Musical Instruments section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is not a place that you can whiz through in a short time, even though I’m (somewhat embarrassed) to be the author of tips for seeing a major museum in one hour.

The bottom line is that you will need a few hours at least to BEGIN to scratch the surface. The Met museum map has a dotted line “Red Route” for the quickest way to get through the centuries of wonders.

Another way is to pick one or two galleries and do a deep dive. The American Wing at the Met is a good choice for that, because there’s such a variety of paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts items.

I like to start in the light-filled Charles Engelhard Courtyard, seen below…don’t miss the Louis Comfort Tiffany pieces around the perimeter…

Engelhard Courtyard American Wing Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Charles Engelhard Courtyard in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Above that courtyard is a stunning collection of musical instruments from around the world. Human ingenuity makes musical sounds out of the most mundane items.

From the Met website:

“The basic instrument types, or classifications, are: aerophones, which generate sound through the vibration of air; chordophones, through the vibration of strings; membranophones, through the vibration of a stretched membrane; and idiophones, which are made of naturally sonorous materials that require no additional tension to produce sound. A fifth type, electrophones, generate sound electronically or through amplified means.”

The Art of Music Through Time, plus the Fanfare Gallery, Organ Loft and Instruments in Focus, present so many beautiful works of art that also happen to play music. I’m not a musician myself, but similar to Oklahoma City’s American Banjo Museum, I was enthralled by the craftsmanship.

Guitar Mateo Sellas circa 1630 to 50 Venice Musical Instruments section at the Met New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Detail of a guitar attributed to Mateo Sellas circa 1630-50, Venice, in the Musical Instruments section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There are interactive kiosks and listening stations, and of course even more to listen to through the Met’s audio guide.

A haunting piece of harpsichord music was quietly playing from speakers as I strolled through the gallery, marveling at the world’s oldest surviving piano – by Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence, 1720 – incredible Ming cloisonné trumpets, Andrés Segovia’s guitar, and of course violins by Antonio Stradivari.

Look at the glass flutes in the photo at the top of this post – the clear one was owned by Napoléon Bonaparte.

How much fun to see a saxophone by the man who made them famous!

Musical instruments at the Met alto saxophone by Adolphe Sax in Musical Instruments section Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Alto saxophone by Adolphe Sax in the Musical Instruments section, Metropolitan Museum of Art New York (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

A gallery called Fanfare features all sorts of brass instruments through time.

Here are some sounds from the Vienna horn by Lorenz (38 seconds) via the Met on SoundCloud …

New York City itself can be overwhelming, and then you pile a huge institution like the Met on top of that, and the traveler may feel that there’s “no way I can absorb it all.”

You can, but take small bites.

Start with a single gallery, like Musical Instruments at the Met, and don’t leave until you’ve seen it all and there’s a big, satisfied smile on your face.

Humming a tune will probably happen, too.

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