The Musical Instrument Galleries explore the evolution of musical instruments across 4,000 years of history around the globe.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has re-opened its Musical Instrument Galleries after a two-year-long campaign of renovation and reinterpretation. Now, for the first time, the instruments can be heard in the galleries via dynamic kiosks and a musical audio guide.
Since the initial discovery of its humblest form, musical instruments have been central to almost all aspects of human endeavor across cultures. They have been used for various purposes, from religious practices and battle cries, to communicating and music making. Through the theme of “Art of Music,” these galleries explore the artistry of music and instruments across 4,000 years of history around the world.
Upon entering the Music Instruments Galleries, visitors are greeted by Fanfare, an installation chronicling the use and design of brass instruments spanning two millennia and five continents. From sacred conches, animal horns, pottery trumpets, to a majestic karana from India, Civil War–era over-the-shoulder horns, and a vuvuzela—Fanfare features seventy-four instruments.
The conch proudly holds its place at the center of Fanfare. The first brass instrument was certainly a found object, perhaps a conch or a hollow bone. The physical properties of a conch give it an especially strong musical potential, due to its naturally formed golden ratio. The golden ratio was emulated in early forms of the horn, and on the way, the tubing was formed and coiled. The ratio was also employed in the proportions of violins and other stringed instruments as well.
The next adjoining gallery, “The Art of Music through Time,” is organized chronologically, illuminating a global perspective of the advancement of instruments. Featured in this gallery are instruments from the Ancient Egyptians to the world’s oldest surviving piano.
The use of music and instruments reveal cultural identities and social status, as well as the impact of trade, changing tastes, availability of materials, and emerging technologies. They also function as powerful vehicles of visual expression and works of art in its own right—the pieces featured in these galleries are a testament to this truth. The instruments are presented in dialogue with paintings and related objects that illustrate the presence of music throughout time, such as Stuart Davis’s 1939 mural for WNYC.
The third gallery, “The Organ Loft,” features the 1830 Thomas Appleton Organ, one of the oldest functioning pipe organs made in America. The organ’s conservative tonal design and mahogany Greek Revival case reflect British models of the late 18th century. The organ came to the Museum in 1983 after it was discovered unused and neglected in 1980. After decades of neglect, the organ now basks in natural light from the ceiling windows, embracing its own magnificence.
The fourth gallery, “Instruments in Focus” is dedicated to showcasing instruments from The Met, in the rotation. The first of these showcases is John Monteleone’s “Four Seasons,” a set of guitars that would function as individual instruments as well as a quartet. Each guitar is designed and decorated to reflect the mood of one of the seasons of the year.