The Gemeentemuseum’s new book Music for the Eye features a hand-picked selection of top items from the museum’s extensive music collection. It contains descriptions and illustrations of fifty-three instruments and prints, plus a further hundred comparable items from the collection. All in all, therefore, the book presents a wealth of visual material on the history of music and a text full of interesting information on the subject.
The museum has also put together an exhibition of all these musical treasures. All the instruments and prints shown in the book can currently be seen ‘in the flesh’ at the museum itself. With one extra element: sound. The instruments on display in the exhibition are accompanied by appropriate music in the form of an audio-tour. So Music for the Eye is also a treat for the ear.
The Gemeentemuseum’s collection of musical instruments is of interest for many reasons. One of them is that it is so broadly based, encompassing items from the ‘earliest times’ right through to ‘today’ and drawn from all corners of the world. There are instruments made in Amsterdam, and instruments from as far away as Japan and deepest Africa. The exhibition includes instruments and associated prints from as early as c. 1535 (a splendid engraving by Heinrich Aldegrever showing two trumpet players and a trombonist) and as late as the start of the digital music era in 1983 (a digital control mechanism called ‘De Handen’ (‘The Hands’) by Michel Waisvisz). Music from non-Western cultures is also represented: wonderful slit drums from Central Africa and authentic instruments from Japan, accompanied by original Japanese woodblock prints depicting scenes of music-making. A re-aquaintance with Mauricio Kagel’s ‘Zwei-Mann-Orchester’ (Two-Man Orchestra) – soon to be heard once again in performance – is one of the more hilarious but also educational highlights of the exhibition.