A new tune
The Music Museum has hundreds of instruments on display
“The museum is a jewellery shop,” smiled Romà Escalas, director of Barcelona’s recently re-opened Museu de la Música. Although he’s talking about the fact that each visitor is going to have their own favourites out of the many instruments on display, once inside the museum, the description seems very apt—the floor and bottom of the display cabinets are covered with plush red carpet, and delicate spotlights focus on the exhibits’ gleaming curves.
Barcelona has had a Music Museum since the Thirties, but its previous incarnation, located in the Palau Quadres, closed to the public in 2001. Over the next six years, work was done to rehouse it next to L’Auditori, in the same building as the Escola Superior de Música de Catalunya. Escalas explains that the new museum “has a different concept from the old one, in its presentation and audiovisual support. Music is the protagonist, not the instruments.”
It’s true to say that the museum is more than just a range of guitars, pianos and trumpets. And although it can be hard to tear oneself away from some of the stunning pieces on display to read the information explaining what music is and its evolution, it is worth doing. Topics include rhythm, how different cultures record their music for posterity and 20th-century technologies. Romà Escalas describes the thematic order of the museum as “not a history of music, [but] those moments when there is a ‘click’. Something happened and we don’t know why, like the invention of opera.”
Of the 500 instruments on display, from the 1,900 the museum owns, there are many familiar ones, but some with unexpected features. One such is the Bolivian charango, a 10-string instrument with an armadillo back. And the 19th century violí bastó, or walking-stick violin, a long thin instrument that slips into its cover to become a walking aid.
Seeing these and the others on show may give visitors itchy fingers to try some out—an itch that can be scratched in the Interactive gallery. It’s small and easy to imagine crammed with children making as much noise as possible (despite Escala’s rather wistful declaration that visitors can “play but with restraint”). For budding Eric Claptons, there is an electric guitar available for strumming, as well as a harp and cello. The room also has computer games for learning about different instruments (in Catalan) and models explaining how sound is produced by vibrations.
Of course, the museum is not just aimed at frustrated rock stars, and Escalas points out that its success will not only be measured by the number of visitors. “Museums have an obligation to look after, conserve and disseminate heritage”, as well as enable research, he said. The museum’s sound archive is a good example of how to fulfil these responsibilities, with a digital collection of recordings including a selection from Asia, especially India, Nepal and the southeast of the continent, with music that it’s now impossible to hear in its natural habitat.
Perhaps the one negative thing about the museum is, ironically, its soundtrack. Moving round the museum, each section has a different type of music playing to accompany it—so where rhythm is being described, there is rhythmic drumming. However, all these sounds overlap with each other, occasionally reaching a disconcerting level. Luckily, there are closed-off areas that allow visitors to enjoy the relief of just one musical style.
Despite this anomaly, the Museu de la Música is full of gems worth seeing, learning about and, in a few cases, playing.
Padilla 155, 2ª; Tel: 93 256 3650; www.museumusica.bcn.cat