Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 1 June 2012

Museum Piece


Old sheet music is this week’s prompt for Sepia Saturday. Luckily, during my visit to the wonderful gem of a museum near the priory in Great Malvern, I had snapped this example. It took my eye because of the rather lovely engraving on the cover. As a child I had often dipped into my mother’s volume of ‘Palgrave’s Golden Treasury’, which had a picture of Pan as its frontispiece, and been captivated by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, ‘A Musical Instrument’ which it illustrated. The first line is “What was he doing, the great god Pan, down by the reeds in the river?” and, my childish curiosity piqued, I couldn’t resist reading on to find out. The answer was, of course that he was fashioning his famous pipes, but not without causing some mayhem in the process; “splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat, and breaking the golden lilies afloat, with the dragon-fly on the river”.

The sheet music above just happened to be propped up on the stand of a musical instrument. This was too good a connection to miss! The instrument in question was a harmonium, or more precisely, a ‘Dulcitone’ which had been newly restored. It had belonged to a musician known as ‘Blind George Pullen’, who had played it for the visitors to St.Ann’s Well, the healing waters of which had made the spa town such an attraction.


Apparently he had the job for about fifty years, until his death in 1934. The instrument was presented to the museum some years ago, and once or twice a year it's used for performances there, or under the nearby archway, for heritage weekends. If you know how to play are you are invited to try it out.

A Dulcitone is like a piano, except that it sounds more like a harp and has tuning forks instead of strings. This means of course that the instrument never needs tuning. As it weighs only about 50 lbs, it’s easy to move around, which must have been an advantage to George Pullen and his helpers.
Image by AlejandroLinaresGarcia via Wikimedia (www.creative Commons.org)
The sheet music on George Pullen’s Dulcitone was probably only placed there for ilustrative purposes. It seems to have originally been issued as a free specimen copy, normally priced at 4/6 (4 shillings and sixpence). From the pencil mark in the top righthand corner it would appear that someone bought it for 20 (new) pence in a second-hand shop and thought it would look good on the music stand of the Dulcitone.

'Pan’s Anniversary' by Norman Demuth appears to have been a suite for chorus and piano, published in 1954, long after Pullen’s death, so he wouldn’t have played it. It was based on words by Ben Jonson, Keats and Shelley. Originally Ben Jonson had written it as a Jacobean masque for King James’s birthday, and it was performed at the Royal Palace at Greenwich. It seems appropriate that this should bring us neatly round to this weekend's long holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which is both royal and an anniversary.

Here is Tim Manning demonstrating the quite sweet sound a Dulcitone makes. Tim explains at length about the workings of the instrument, and mentions the example in the Malvern Museum, before playing some music (after approximately 4 minutes if you want to skip to that).



For more celebrations see other musical contributions here, where Sophie Tucker will tell you she can’t get enough of it. She must mean Sepia Saturday!


21 comments:

  1. Oh my sweet music you put together for us today! Photos and descriptions excellent...the video is perfect too! He stretched out his discussion and teased with a ping or two, before finally letting us really hear it! It has a lovely sound....My post is going to really stretch this music thing to another form of words...I was inspired by a movie I saw this week that has to be brought out into my post! Ha! Ha! I had to hear this twice...it has a lovely sound to it, so worth hearing!

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  2. I really liked the ringing sweet sounds of the dulcitone. Wonder why they didn't last. Especially because they're so easy to carry around. Much easier than a piano!
    Nancy

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  3. Wow -- for a moment I thought I was reading Mr. Mike! It's amazing how the SS prompt inspires such interesting and FULL posts. And to think yours began with a happenstance photo of a piece of music because you like Pan. The Dulcitone is quite lovely. In some ways the sound reminds me of steel drums.

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  4. Excellent post, Little Nell. I don't believe I've heard the dulcitone played before. Such a sweet sound.

    Apparently, my great grandmother played the harmonium. In those days, one of the Sunday papers (possibly the News of the World) used to print the music to a popular song, each week. My grandfather recalled the excitement and anticipation in the house, each Sunday. What would the tunes be, this week?

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  5. Some of those notes sound very wooden. A fascinating instrument.

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  6. An entertaining post again, Nell. You have furthered my musical education with the dulcitone.

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  7. What a fascinating instrument, I love the detail of the woodwork. How wonderful it must have been to hear it outdoors floating in the air. I can imagine the sound could be used to great atmospheric effect on a film score.

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  8. For not knowing what you were going to post, Nell, you sure came up with something very wonderful. I didn't know a thing about Dulictones before just now!

    Thanks!

    Kathy M.

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  9. I didn't know about dulcitones before. I took your suggestion about skipping ahead on the video. I wanted to hear what he said, but his accent was hard for me to understand.

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  10. Another great introduction to something I knew nothing about. Easy to find such things on SS and that is why I love it so much. I loved the sound of this and you put the post together very well. I will be looking everywhere for info about this now.
    QMM

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  11. Enjoyed your post and learning about the dulcitone. Beautiful instrument with such a sweet and haunting sound.

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  12. This was a very informative post about an instrument I never knew existed. Thanks for seeking out the video to share the sound of the dulcitone with us. I agree with Bees Knees: the sound is haunting.

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  13. Thank you for such a well written informative post!

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  14. Very interesting, informative post. I loved the sheet music cover and it was fun to hear the dulcitone- I thought he'd never get around to playing it, though.
    Barbara

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  15. Yeah, this chap is quite chatty. Skipped most of it to hear the music, finally.
    So, did you or did you not go raise a glass to HRH's good health?
    I saw some of the celebrations on the news like the pageantry on the Thames. Looked like a lot of fun, despite the weather...
    :D~
    HUGZ

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  16. You never have to tune it, that's handy! It sounds like a glockenspiel.

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  17. What a strange and sweet instrument. I had never heard of it. He plays a rather strange tune on it, doesn't he?

    I love the art work on old sheet music. It's so often skilful and intriguing.

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  18. I never knew what a dulcitone was before although I had heard of them - thanks for the lesson! Love the Pan's Anniversary engraving!

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  19. How perfect "dulcet tones" and Dulcitone.

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  20. Very fascinating post! I'd never heard of a Dulcitone before. It sounds beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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  21. Wow, that's a new instrument for me too. A kind of celesta with a lovely tone. I've repaired similar antique keyboards and the video is a great explanation of the mechanism. Such keyboards were popular for parlor style home music with an added benefit of needing no piano tuner.

    The reed pipes on the sheet music depicting Pan are a traditional folk instrument of the Mediterranean, specifically Sardinia. They are called Launeddas. I have a long play list on YouTube devoted to this ancient instrument and nearly every single one plays the same tune! It must be the national anthem of Sardinia! Check this out: http://youtu.be/haxiP67j7JE

    And then this! http://youtu.be/aa0IagCuaKg

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