A new discovery for me this year is the cluster of buildings up at La Villette (the former slaughterhouse district of the 19th arrondissement) that consists of institutions all devoted to music. One of François Mitterand's "Grands Projets", it was designed by architect Christian de Portzamparc, and opened in 1995.
Thankfully, we have the play, and for those interested in some really unusual musical instruments, we have this museum that boasts a collection of close to 1,000 mostly European instruments, and mostly from the 15th to the 20th century, but including quite a few gems from Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Certainly one, the lute, has been known since antiquity, brought to Europe by the Arabs and called by them "al ùd" (the wood). But there are lutes and then there are "archiluths" like this one, with its six pairs of gut strings, that appeared in the 16th century and was largely used as a solo "tenor" instrument. I had a hard time picturing how one person could "handle" such a large and complicated instrument, let alone pluck the strings.
By the late 16th century, the "archiluth" had been joined by the "theorbo", as demand for an extended "bass" range grew. I had been given a set of headphones and a player when I entered the museum. When I punched in the code for the "theorbo", I was amazed by the large volume of sound it produced.
Then there was this Italian spinet ("épinette") from 1523, whose inscription underneath the keyboard has led historians to believe it is the oldest surviving one of its kind. The Arabian-style decoration was very popular in Venice at the time. It sat on its table, just gleaming with its dark chocolate brown veneer and sparkling white ivory.
Then there were the obviously experimental instruments, like this violincello on the right, built by Jean-Nicholas Lambert in the 18th century. A little trapdoor in the case allowed an adjustment in the treble ranges.
In the woodwinds section, there were some astonishingly large bassoons and flute/recorders, like this "flûte à bec basse". Many of these instruments were produced by the Hotteterre family, a veritable dynasty of woodwind makers in 16th and 17th century France.
Maybe that's why, today, most bagpipe players are confined to the glens and hills of the outdoors, like on Mount Vision in Inverness, California, at the Fall Equinox! Whether Duke Orsino would have appreciated their haunting wail is another question. I suspect he would have stayed within the fascinating realms of La Musée de la Musique, whose surface I barely scratched on my visit. Clearly, I need to return one day...