New instruments in France and Germany exhibits help tell new stories

More than 3,600 instruments are on display at MIM, and the galleries are constantly being refreshed. Our curators ensure that the stories told in each exhibit are comprehensive and properly represent contributions by significant makers and innovators. New instruments and perspectives in the recently updated and redesigned France and Germany exhibits give guests the opportunity to discover unique themes and refocused narratives on each country’s instrumental developments.

New acquisitions and loans in the France exhibit highlight the country’s strong traditions in making woodwinds, violins, and bows.

A partial view of the France exhibit, which features new acquisitions such as a violin made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume

“The development of the bow is a French story,” says Matthew Zeller, curator for Europe. “At MIM, we seek to show how people and cultures innovate, adapt, and learn from one another. French bows illustrate the combination of Brazilian material, the influence of Italian performers, and continental watchmaking skills to create artistic masterpieces capable of drawing the finest beauty out of their instrument counterparts.”

Helping to tell this story are bows made by two of the finest bow makers of the mid-19th century: Jean Pierre Marie Persoit and Dominique Peccatte. Persoit and Peccatte worked for Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, one of the most influential violin makers of the 19th century and the inventor of the octobasse. Vuillaume, too, is new to the France exhibit: an 1848 Stradivari model violin from the maker’s middle working period, an important new acquisition, is on display next to the bows.

Also among the 17 new instruments are a pochette (pocket fiddle) used in the court of King Henry IV of France; a crystal flute made by Claude Laurent in the 1800s, which was on display in MIM’s previous special exhibition, Rediscover Treasures; and a pristine nine-key oboe made in 1830 by noted French woodwind maker Guillaume Triébert.

Updates to the Germany exhibit help it present a more comprehensive overview of the country’s contributions to Western music. Among the 15 new additions are several stellar acquisitions, including a flute made by performer and inventor Theobald Boehm. In the 1800s, Boehm completely redesigned the flute, using math and acoustics to determine the best places for tone holes. He also developed a key system to cover and uncover them. His design became the standard by which nearly all Western woodwinds are made. The Boehm flute helps highlight other major innovations by German makers and complements a section dedicated to the country’s influential role in developing valves and making brass instruments.

A flute made around 1860 by innovative German inventor Theobald Boehm

Other new objects on display include an extraordinary pair of timpani from the state of Hesse, which were likely used ceremonially at court and represent the transition of kettledrums from the military field to the concert hall, and one of four surviving single-action pedal harps invented by innovative harp maker Jacob Hochbrucker, which was on display in Rediscover Treasures.

One of four surviving single-action pedal harps made by Jacob Hochbrucker, built around 1720

Many of these notable new acquisitions—including the Vuillaume violin, Boehm flute, and Hochbrucker harp—were made possible through the generosity of the Robert J. Ulrich and Diane Sillik Fund. They are just some of the latest results of our curators’ continued efforts to bring to MIM instruments of remarkable historical importance and exquisite craftsmanship. They exemplify MIM’s mission to present an astonishing variety of instruments that are the finest examples of their kind.