Lost instruments

Most musical instruments today have predecessors, few come ready formed remaining unchanged by the centuries.   

Few instruments have disappeared completely, some have disappeared and been rediscovered to live again. There is one instrument which hasn’t disappeared but deserves to be rediscovered. The Glass (H)armonica, refined by Benjamin Franklin became a fairly popular instrument in the late 1700s and early 1800s then fell out of favour. Written for by Mozart, Beethoven and Hummell with works much later by Donizetti and Strauss.   

Glass harmonica
Photo: Ji-Elle, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Carnyx was an Iron Age Celt war trumpet. A long upright length of beaten brass with a mouthpiece at one end and the animal head at the other. Fragments of Carnyces have been found in various locations and many images exist in places throughout Britain and the continent. A reconstructed Carnyx is held at the National Museum of Scotland.   

Carnyx war-horn at National Museum of Scotland’s reopening Photo: Brian McNeil, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now to the Caledonica, an instrument invented and made by a Scottish Bandmaster from Strathaven, William Meikle. His Caledonica gets its most significant write-up in the Musical Memoirs of Sir John Graham Dalyell, advocate, naturalist and antiquarian. The Musical Memoirs was written in 1849 and left in manuscript unpublished on Sir John’s death in 1851.

Musical Memoirs of Scotland, by Sir John Graham Dalyell, Edinburgh Libraries

The Caledonica seems to have been invented around 1820-25 and Dalyell’s description goes like this:-  

“The same individual (Meikle) has also favoured me with a manuscript description, drawings and inspection of a new instrument invented by himself and called the Caledonica, participating of the nature of the Hautbois and the Bassoon. This instrument has received much commendation from those who have heard its effect. Above is a mouthpiece with a reed, and the lower extremity terminates in a prolonged bell, somewhat like a horn or a trumpet, but from the mode of performance necessarily directed downwards. It is provided with keys: and according to the different dimension of which it is constructed, it may occupy the part of treble, tenor or bass. Its tone is said to be full and brilliant, and from the kind selected, it is adapted alike to the field in a military band as to the chamber in a quartett”.  

This pen portrait is the only “picture” we have of the Caledonica  and even this gets confused by different writers.  

Illustration of the Caledonica from Musical Memoirs of Sir John Graham Dalyell, Edinburgh Libraries

Several playlists have been created at Naxos Classical all with the intention of being starting points to explore the music of these lost instruments.
Simply login to Naxos with your library card number and select the Renaissance and early music playlists.

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