Classical Music Written for the Franklin Armonica
There were at least 300 works of classical music written for the glass armonica. The most famous composers associated with the instrument are Mozart, Beethoven and Donizetti.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was first introduced to this instrument by concert performer Marianne Davies. He was inspired in 1791, the year of his death, to write two pieces for the blind performer Marianne Kirchgessner: Adagio in C, K 356, and the Adagio and Rondo for Armonica, Flute, Oboe, Viola, and Cello, K 617.
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a fragment for the instrument, a little melodramatic piece written in 1815, in the opera Leonora Prohaska.
Donizetti's famous mad scene in the opera Lucia de Lammermoor was originally written for the Armonica in 1836. Unfortunately by that time the instrument's popularity was waning and there was no one capable of playing the music the way it was written, so the composer reworked it for flutes.
Other early composers writing for the Armonica include Galuppi, Hasse, Haydn, Jommelli, Martini, Naumann, Reichardt, Rollig, and Richard Strauss. Some of these works were written for Rollig's extinct keyboard version devised in Hamburg in 1787.
Some historical references to the Franklin Armonica
19th century Instrumental Dictionary: "they have a sweetness, an almost celestial purity"
Benjamin Franklin's love of music
Benjamin Franklin was keenly interested in music and had an extensive musical knowledge. This multi-talented man is said to have played the violin, harp, and guitar with some proficiency and perhaps even the violoncello. He even composed a rather unusual string quartet. He attended concerts often, including one notable performance where "the sublime old man Handel was led to the organ and conducted the Messiah for the last time eight days before his death."
Franklin as Armonica performer
In 1762 Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend about how he played on his Armonica: "This instrument is played upon, by sitting before the middle of the set of glasses as before the keys of a harpsichord, turning them with the foot, and wetting them now and then with a sponge and clean water. The fingers should be first a little soaked in water, and quite free from all greasiness; a little fine chalk upon them is sometimes useful, to make them catch the glass and bring out the tone more readily. Both hands are used, by which means different parts are played together. Observe, that the tones are best drawn out when the glasses turn from the ends of the fingers, not when they turn to them."
On the armonica his preference for tunes was for "Scotch airs" whose melodies were unadorned by many embellishments. Franklin was much loved and enjoyed a very lively social life in England and Europe. He usually brought his Armonica along to the parties. It seems that word about this got back to the colonies much to the chagrin of Thomas Penn who wrote a complaining report to Governor Hamilton that Benjamin Franklin was happily spending his time in "philosophical matters and musical performances on glasses."
Mrs. Franklin thought she was dead
There is a story printed in an early Irish musical dictionary of how, upon his return to America, while Franklin's wife was asleep, he went up to the attic of his Philadelphia home and set up his Armonica which she had not yet heard. Upon completing this, he started to draw forth its "angelick strains." Floating down from above, these sounds were apparently so heavenly, that "his wife awakened with the conviction that she had died and gone to heaven and was listening to the music of the angels".