Museums of Music: Barcelona

IMG_0956Exhibiting music highlights the challenge of presenting the intangible, through tangible and digital objects, with fragmented collections. In this post I explore these topics as experienced in various Museums of Music across the world while arguing that music can help close the gap between culture and heritage. In this post: Barcelona.

Museu de la Musica – Barcelona (visited May 2018)

The collection originates from 1921 when the City of Barcelona accepted the donation from a number of music lovers to create the Museum of Theatre, Music and Dance. The collection of ancient musical instruments was later moved to open as a new Museum of Musical Instruments at the Palacete Albeniz. The project gained attention after the war and the museum was reopened as part of the Conservatory in 1946, housing a collection of nearly a thousand instruments. The collection grew and the museum reopened in the Palacio Quadras in 1983, housing over 1,300 instruments.

The museum was opened in its current location in 2007 as part of a new City of Music project that includes the Auditorium, the School of Music, the Historic Archive and the Library. The Museum is ‘dedicated to the experimentation and reflection around musical activities’. It strives to increase awareness of the role of music in constructing social and individual values and emotions, while documenting and conserving musical heritage.

The physical museum is organized to present several stories. First of all, the museum presents the collection of instruments per family in a chronological manner. Along the sides, there is a story on music notation and printing, as well as the history of sound recording, where sheet music and printing elements are displayed. These are the tangible elements in the collection.

These objects serve to document the impact of human creation and of technological innovation. “How would it ever be possible to write down something as evanescent as a melody?” (Isidore of Seville, c.600). By 800s, the first musical notations, called ‘neumes’, were developed. By the 1200s, ‘notes’ were used to define the duration of sound and allowed the writing of polyphony. Music was printed as early as 1470, marking the beginning of mechanical sound fixation and the democratization (popularization) of music. The notation of percussion in musical scores was first introduced in the Classical period and developed in the twentieth century, when experimental notation techniques were standardize to increase the notation of expression.

The museum also presents the intangible side of music where sound is presented through an audio-tour (which I did not follow) and sound pods along the hall. The exhibition also presents the meaning of music, showcasing results from an extensive research program. Music is a language arising from the need to communicate

The first element of recognition of musical sound is rhythm, which consists of the ordered combination of sounds and silences in the course of time…. Music, as language, exists only while it sounds. Instruments and musical notation are two resources that have been used to fix music and reproduce it.

In the temporary exhibit about Enrique Granados during his visit in Paris, his diary is made available to the public (copied and laminated) and the influence of the literature and the visual arts (specifically the paintings by Francisco de Goya) is discussed. Granados understood the economic value of self promotion and published musical scores, made gramophone recordings, and gave a photographic portraits as gifts.

Music is presented as instruments, sounds, sheet music, iconography, individuals, but also serves to understand society, technology, economy, innovation, and daily life. My favourite was the interactivity section: a cello, a harp, an electric guitar, and a gamelan were available for anybody to play !





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I am a researcher on the historic and economic aspects of digital heritage. In my free time I sing and paint.

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