Last night Meera, the boys, and I had the pleasure of hearing a glass armonica concert titled "Endangered Crystal" featuring William Zeitler, kicking off the 2011 season of The Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, Endangered Musics. Ethereal and enchanting.
Previously I had only ever seen and heard glass armonica in the form of wine glasses filled with water. I'd seen photos of Ben Franklin's design, glass bowls lined up concentrically on a rotating cylinder, and was inclined to think perhaps it wasn't practical as far as resonance and amplitude. This concert demonstrated that to be a false assumption. Now I suspect wine glasses are just easier to acquire. The advantage of the Franklin design is that once the glass bells are made, no further tuning is required. Wine glasses with water must be kept in tune by keeping the water levels just so.
Water is required to invoke the tone, and Mr. Zeitler claims that Arrowhead bottled water for some reason produces the best results. He also noted that distilled water doesn't work well at all.
Here he is performing Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy". He played an unaccompanied version of this at last night's concert, the only item on the program that wasn't composed specifically for the glass armonica. We heard chamber and solo music by Mozart, Beethoven, and lesser known composers of the late 18th Century, K.L. Roellig and J.A. Schmittbauer, as well as works by William Zeitler himself.
Here is the wine glass Glass Armonica, the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor by J. S. Bach, performed by Robert Tiso: