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!