Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Curator of Musical Instruments, Royal College of Music, London and Professore di Musicologia e Storia della Musica, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Florence

Collezioni di strumenti musicali e la riscoperta della musica antica: prima l’uovo o la gallina?

The first public collections of musical instruments were created in Europe during the 19th century, mostly as a result of the efforts of the newly established national conservatories. At least since the work of Charles Burney, in fact, musical instruments began to be regarded as key sources toward the reconstruction of the history of music, either directly, through the study of early instruments, or indirectly, through the study of instruments belonging to the so called ‘primitive’ populations, and therefore representative of earlier stages of development of the Western civilization.

The very idea of collecting musical instruments, documented at least since the end of the 15th century, acquires here a new perspective: from the accumulation of precious and decorated objects, usually functional for the current repertoire, to the interest towards instruments that were not necessarily exceptional, but were representatives of earlier stages of the history of sound and music.

Theories of tonality exclusively based on organological evidence appear among others in the work of Burney, Fétis and Carl Engel, and comparative discussions on different musical traditions occur in the long and articulated forewords to collection catalogues, culminating in the prominent role that the studies on musical instruments will occupy in Guido Adler first articulation of musicology in 1885.

This paper will follow the transformation of the idea of musical instrument collecting between the 18th and 19th centuries and individuate some key cases in which the role of museums changed the perception of music and music history in the same period.