For all the noise it makes, music has the right to hold a little place in this world. It is heard a great deal at the World's Fair; even more so during the forthcoming festivals where it has an important role to play, and one can see the special weapons it uses and the rich collection of apparatus it employs gleaming in the sunlight in its entire arsenals.
Here is the great review of the instruments that industry puts at the service of art Let us look at them at our ease while they remain silent. They are there, arranged in good order, in full dress, and duly prepared for inspection.
These reflect the light on their polished metal faces: they wait, motionless, for the breath of a human chest to come and ask them for the sonorous vibrations that sleep in their sides; those, more modest, timidly show us their gaunt forms, carved from grenadilla or maple, and the double reed slat that ends their thinned tube: These are the oboes and their uncles, the bassoons; they live in good harmony with the flutes and clarinets, which, by the very fact that they belong to the female gender, display more than they do the taste of a previously unknown luxury: All of them have not abandoned the primitive boxwood; but most of them claim at least ebony, and several have acclimatised to silver and crystal.
No one, moreover, is missing from the call: it can be made in the order in which the modern score is arranged: flutes, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, horns, bassoons, trombones, timpani, violins, violas, cellos and double basses; everyone will respond: present... and then you will see the reserve corps appear, whose assistance is less usual: harps, English horns, bass clarinets; drums, bass drums, cymbals, etc., and saxophones, etc., all of which will be present, etc., and saxophones and sarusophones... not to mention organs, pianos, and their derivatives of all sizes.
The composer is obliged to have made friends with all these singers, interpreters of his thoughts: he must know the timbre of each one and his individual resources, including the morals of the troopers; but, in order for him to have them at his disposal through the intermediary of performing artists, it is of course necessary that the maker has made them for him, and it is indeed the art of instrument making that is being presented here for public appreciation. Let us agree that today our instruments are very well made, from the smallest to the most enormous, some of which compete in calibre with the large pieces of the fortifications. Their ways of acting in the world of sound are as varied as their minds. Some babble finely, others sigh melancholically, while the largest seem to have only big swear words to use. All play their parts and cooperate in the necessary diversity...
The violins are to be mentioned, not only for their acknowledged merits, but for the simple dignity of their attitude: rightly proud of their ancient origin and of the great artists whose care they have absorbed, undoubtedly disdaining to recount their prowess, they refrain from any demonstration,' and claim the attention of the passer-by only by the mere fact of their presence.
More demanding are the keyboard instruments: they make a great racket on all sides and often all speak in fury, perhaps abusing the fact that our homes no longer know how to do without them: it seems that they are aware of the importance that modern civilisation has allowed them to take on, in which they have more or less replaced the lordly gods of antiquity... Unfortunately, they are not content with such a discreet role.
Rightly or wrongly, pianos take the lead: they are imperious about it and it would be difficult to compete with them. Their jactance is increased by all that the splendours of opulence can add to it. -One of our great manufacturing houses, which has long been out of competition, has made its exhibition with magnificent pieces of art furniture, rare pieces, one of which is estimated at over twenty-five thousand francs. - Another exhibited a grand piano in the Louis XVI style, worthy of having been given to Marie-Antoinette.
Without being able to think of such luxury, various manufacturers have been able to give their instruments the most desirable quality of all, a beautiful sound.
Harmoniums, harmonicords, harmoniflutes and other instruments of the same family are somewhat crushed by the proximity of pianos, although the harmonium is strong enough to defend itself in terms of vibrations.
The great organ, which would impose silence on all its relatives on the keyboard, has had to look for larger spaces in which to develop its display and its many pipes. It is for it in particular that annexes have been established; one in the gallery of the machines, the rood screen of the organs; the other in the chapel of the Park, where an instrument rich in qualities can be seen; a third in the model-chest: the
third in the model chest: this one contains only samples of harmoniums or pianos. Our main organ builders therefore have a separate home. Every day their instruments are publicly played at certain times, as are the pianos. Any passer-by can hear them, and it is the skilled artists who take it upon themselves to demonstrate their qualities to the public.
While the harmonies of the keyboard solicit the ear of the walker, the brass instruments are limited to claiming his eyes: they group their twists or their straight tubes in great trophies whose aspect interests the eyes. A monumental showcase, furnished with sax horns, stands out in the centre like a large promontory.
Others, of lesser dimensions, also attract attention.
Here, strings and brass instruments are combined and harmoniously set against the green background of the tapestry: harps, cellos and violins, with horns, trumpets, trombones and, as a base, snare drums, Basque drums and percussion equipment.
Further on, a swarm of violins rushes towards a cello which is seriously awaiting the shock: this arrangement has both elegance and something of the
This arrangement has both elegance and something rather comical about it.
Since we are now heading for the wall, let us take a look at the same objects that are still leaning against it, and first of all at the exhibition of music publishers. It does not occupy a large place, but it is interesting, in various ways, and particularly for the number of good works it presents: didactic works, theatrical works, etc., on which we would like not to slip as lightly as our frame obliges us to do. Let us note the new care given to engraving. In this respect we are only beginning to see ourselves in competition with certain masterpieces from Germany, which is not to say that our neighbours have only beautiful editions. - The French publishers were not concerned with external luxury, but one of their display cases stands out in two respects: for the importance of the carefully engraved works it contains, and for the taste that went into the choice of the cover. Exceptionally, two large, finely carved wooden bindings can be seen: this is elegance and wealth.
The publishers are not the kind of people who are favoured by the full light of exhibitions; their industry does not live on display, but they find large compensations among them. The relative disadvantage which falls to them here, what is it besides if one compares it with the deplorable condition of the producers who move in the field of imagination!
These are the people who would have the right to look with envy on this magnificent achievement of a World's Fair, on these vast arenas of intelligent struggle, where every producer, worker, manufacturer, artist, industrialist who has completed his work, is certain that this work will be seen, approved of by all, applauded and rewarded if it deserves it.
It is not that the possible has been neglected on this side: there is no reason, it seems to us, to reproach anyone. The force of things dictates that the possible, here, is only a thin sheet of consolation, the benefit of which cannot reach a hundredth of those who aspire to make people see and judge what they carry within them. - These are, by the very nature of their art, the disinherited of the Universal Exhibition; for their misfortune is precisely to invoke in vain the impartial sun. Impotent for them alone, the great torch cannot give birth to what they must have freely conceived and produced in the secret of their laborious hours.
A deplorable condition indeed; not only can they not show us the product of their feeling and thought, but they need, to express it, multiple instruments and voices: the meaning of their work thus depends on strangers, who often hardly understand it and therefore cannot make us appreciate its flavour... while, every day, the bronze maker, the cloth merchant, the simple shopkeeper finds the normal use of his activity and, in any case, his large share of the universal light. Blame only yourself if your ambition remains unfulfilled, happy painter who has the sun!
Let us return to the wall: we can curiously examine many objects intended for music and particularly for the manufacture of our instruments; many tools, and raw materials more or less worked: the ivory of the piano keys, the varnish of the luthiers, the tin plates which are used for engraving; punches, clichés, supplies of all kinds; small and large mouthpieces, mouthpieces of clarinets, piano strings, false silver or gold wire for the strings which must be covered with it; and the escapement hammers, and the felt which is going to garnish them, and the "gut strings" which the sheepsheads^ supply to the violinists. ... These poor sheep that graze on the grass of the meadows have never suspected the role that their innocent entrails have to play in music! Let us not wish them to be better informed on this point.
Among the tools used in violin making, several are of recent invention and worthy of attention for the simplifications they have brought to the work, helped by steam; but we can only point out the fact.
We are told that French instrument making represents a commercial value of more than twenty million a year, and that about half of its products are exported to all countries, especially to South America. This is a fact of civilisation, which is not the least significant.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée