cover image Angelic Music: The Story of Ben Franklin’s Glass Armonica

Angelic Music: The Story of Ben Franklin’s Glass Armonica

Corey Mead. Simon & Schuster, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8303-1

In this charming and fascinating book, part musicology and part cultural history, Mead (War Play) looks at how Benjamin Franklin developed his most cherished invention, the armonica—a mechanized instrument based on “musical glasses” and consisting of glasses of various sizes arranged on a spindle that could be turned by a foot pedal, allowing the musician to play it with both hands, much like a harpsichord. Franklin’s armonica produced such a heavenly sound that he and others believed it had healing powers. The instrument gained enormous popularity in the 18th century in America and Europe. Marianne Kirchgessner proved such a virtuoso on the armonica that Mozart wrote two pieces for the instrument for her; novels by George Sand and E.T.A. Hoffmann feature the instrument and its effects on listeners; Franz Mesmer, the father of hypnotism, used it as part of his séances because he believed its music promoted the animal magnetism necessary for healing. By the 19th century, as Mead wonderfully explains, detractors blamed the armonica and its haunting sounds for illness, insanity, and even death, and the instrument fell into obscurity until 1960, when the German glassblower Gerhard Finkenbeiner encountered the armonica in a museum. Mead’s lively storytelling opens a window into a (as it were) mesmerizing chapter of music history. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Oct.