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Music, Theater, Dance: An Illustrated Guide

Collection of Musical Instruments

The information in this guide is based on a 1993 publication and has not been updated.

Instrument collecting in the Music Division began with the generosity of Mrs. Gertrude Clarke Whittall. Well known in Washington for the soirées musicales which occurred frequently in her home, and wishing to have her own quartet of well-matched stringed instruments, she enlisted the aid of famed violinist Louis Krasner, who was able to locate no fewer than five excellent instruments by Antonio Stradivari which she purchased in 1934 and 1935: the "Castelbarco" cello (1697); the "Cassavetti" viola (1727); and three violins, the "Ward" (1700), the "Castelbarco" (1699), and the "Betts" (1704). Five Tourte bows accompanied the instruments. Mrs. Whittall also provided an endowment to ensure professional in-house use of her instruments as well as other music making within the scope and traditions of the Music Division. In addition, her gift included funding for the construction of a pavilion to house and display her instruments: the Whittall Pavilion, which adjoins the Coolidge Auditorium, was completed in 1939.

Musical instruments at the Library of Congress
A collage showing various images of musical instrument collections: (top left) Wilkins Early Stringed Instruments Collection; (top right) Dayton C. Miller Collection of Wind Instruments; (bottom left) Stringed Instruments Collection; (bottom right) Musical Instruments from Thailand. Library of Congress Music Division.

What is now sometimes called the Cremonese Collection received its sixth instrument in 1938, when Mrs. Robert Somers Brookings of Washington, D.C., presented the Library with her husband's fine violin, the "Brookings" (1654) by Niccolò Amati. The seventh arrived in 1952 when the great Austrian musician, Fritz Kreisler—American by naturalization--presented the Library with his manuscripts and memorabilia, the half-size violin on which he began studies as a young child, a fine violin bow made by Hill & Son, London, and one of his greatest violins, the "Kreisler," by Giuseppe Guarneri (1733).

In the early nineteenth century, the Cremonese instruments at the Library all received the then-standard alterations designed to increase their volume to a level demanded by players, and expected by audiences. While of continuing interest to numerous violin makers, who are sometimes commissioned to build replicas of them, the Library's strings remain performance instruments and are well known for the extensive duty they have served here. The Budapest String Quartet was the first major ensemble selected to play four of the Stradivari instruments on a regular and long-term basis. In 1962, the Juilliard String Quartet was selected to continue that tradition and is still the ensemble which plays those instruments in the Coolidge Auditorium performance series.

The following collections are considered museum objects and comprise a unique museum element within the library community at large. Selected objects from these collections, which can safely sustain playing conditions, have been treated and used in performance for early music and other scholarly events which seemed worth the risks that might apply to such usage. In general, these collections are used mostly by visiting researchers and craftsmen for various publication and instrument replication projects.

The second instrument collection that came to the Library consists of six early stringed instruments donated in 1937 by Dr. H. Blaikiston Wilkins, the former Honorary Curator of the Cremonese Collection. The Wilkins Collection includes a pardessus de viole (five-string treble viol), by Louis Guersan, Paris (1749); a fourteen-string viola d'amore by an unknown German maker (second half of the eighteenth century); a twelve-string viola d'amore by Ferdinando Gagliano, Naples (1763); a seven-string bass viol attributed to Pieter Rombouts, Amsterdam (early eighteenth century); a quinton (a five-string combination of violin and treble viol) by François le Jeune, Paris (1760); and the remains of a late-seventeenth-century bass viol (possibly by Joachim Teilke, Hamburg) which was converted into a cello, probably early in the nineteenth century.

The third instrument collection to arrive at the Library was included in a bequest from Dr. Dayton C. Miller (1866-1941), a well-known physicist and professor at the Cleveland Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University). Dr. Miller was an avid amateur flutist, and over a sixty-year period he assembled the world's largest collection of flutes and flute-related materials.

In addition to over 1,600 instruments, the Miller Collection contains enormous library holdings, about 10,000 pieces of music and 3,000 books, some being editions not known to exist elsewhere. The Library materials also include many diverse documents such as patents in nearly all wind instrument categories, letters, portraits, photographs, bills, concert programs, extensive personal correspondence, articles, news clippings, and trade catalogs from nearly every wind instrument manufacturer who was active during Miller's lifetime.

Three-dimensional objects, prints, and other works of graphic art are also generously represented in the collection: they include over six hundred prints and engravings, three bronzes, and nearly sixty statuettes and figurines. Almost all feature representations of a flutist or player of pipes.

The instruments include flutes and other wind instruments from nearly all cultures of the world. They date from about 1100 bc to the 1970s and range from toys and simple folk instruments to sophisticated and complex mechanical specimens intended for professional use. Materials range from clay, bone, and bamboo to jade, ivory, and gold. Other instruments include a dozen oboes, thirteen clarinets (one of ivory), three bassoons, several bagpipe chanters, diverse folk reed instruments, and piano rolls for electric and pneumatic instruments.

At least 460 European and American makers are represented. Highlights include forty flutes from the Munich workshop of Theobald Boehm, Rodolf Greve, and Carl Mendler; a late Beethoven-era Viennese English horn; recorders by Rippert, Bressan, and Hotteterre; an early eighteenth-century oboe by Hendrik Richters, Amsterdam; an early American clarinet by Samuel Graves, Winchester, N.H.; and a Quantz-model traverso once owned and used by King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The Miller Collection is also very strong in Native American instruments.

The fourth collection received at the Library was a presentation in 1960 from King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. It consists of ten elegantly crafted Siamese-style folk instruments including a pair of ching (finger cymbals), one thon and one rammana (small hand-played drums), two khlui (vertical flutes, small and medium) with red and gold brocade covers, one ja-khe (a three-string zither somewhat similar to the Japanese Koto) with a red and gold brocade cover, two saw u, and two saw duang, the last four instruments being two forms of a two-string (one course) fiddle played in upright position. Each of the saw u and saw duang has a lacquered wooden case with blue plush lining, and the ching, thon, and rammana all share a fifth such case.