I came to see music boxes, but I unexpectedly found art

Siegfrieds’s Mechanical Music Cabinet in Rudesheim, a town full of interesting tourist activities.  The Niederwald monument  is located nearby and there is a gondola to people from Rudesheim to see it.

The  Drosselgasse, a narrow cobblestone street, lined with interesting ancient buildings and restaurants serving schnitzel and beer–with live German music.  And at the top of the Drosselgasse is Siegfired’s Mechanical Music Cabinet.

The Bromserhof and the courtyard.

The Bromserhof and the courtyard.

Filled with over 350 mechanical musical instruments, it is is one of the stranger places on the Rhine River.  The instruments, most built before recorded music was a reality, filled a need for music without musicians.   Of course, there are many iterations of music boxes like the little ones available today, but these were MUSIC BOXES.  These were huge machines, some filling part of a room, playing just about any kind of instrument a person wanted to hear, piano, violin and trumpet etc.  The largest and most elaborate were the orchestrions,  able to fill a room with sound so loud that it drowned out conversation. Some included built in entertainment, furnished by real violins being played  by a mechanical hands, or had animated figurines playing away. Some of them have huge punched metal disks, like the Regina; some use slowly turning metal cylinders, with which engaged with metal strip to make music,  Others had huge cylinder  rolls of punched paper,  sometimes called piano rolls.  The collection includes gramophones, which used wax cylinders,  one of the earliest way to record the human voice.

The puppet orchestra, part of one of the larger Orchestrions.

The puppet orchestra, part of one of the larger Orchestrions.

 

A ballerina performs to the music of an Orchestrion

The mechanical music was unexpected, but the really unexpected art was painted on the walls of the Bromserhof hundred of years ago.  The building dates to the 15th century, some parts are even older.  One section was exceptional, the old chapel,  where the walls, ceilings, doors are covered with painting.  There were made by using the fresco technique, where the images are painted on wet plaster.  Any mistake is immediately noticed and hard to remove.  Michelangelo used the technique in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

A door in the Bromserhof, surrounded by fresco painting.

A door in the Bromserhof, surrounded by fresco painting.

I was captivated by the paintings of the birds, captured forever in the plaster walls.  It felt like I had a window into the past, when these birds flew above the town, sat on the roofs of the buildings and pecked at insects in courtyards.  Europeans believed the stork brought  good luck to peasant homes, if it decided to build it’s nest on their chimney.  The peacock, a beautiful bird native to Asia, was familiar to the artists of Rudesheim.  Of course, there were dogs in the town, now jumping forever.

Birds, including a peacock painted on the wall of the original chapel in the Bromserhof.

Birds, including a peacock painted on the wall of the original chapel in the Bromserhof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum was the idea of Siegfried Wendel and his wife Gretel, who spent their honeymoon in Los Angeles in the early 1960’s.   He saw the huge music machines and fell in love again. Built in the 19th century they were out of date and headed for the junk yard, but he thought that he could  save some by rebuilding them and bringing  them to Germany, where he believed that people would them.  He began to purchase  and send them to Germany and learned how to restore them.  It was interesting to see that many of them were made in the United States, several of the most elaborate machines were built in Chicago. It is also ironic that this form mechanical music reached its apex at the time that  recorded music was becoming possible and available to the public. Most of them became obsolete as soon as they were installed.  Wendel found it difficult to find a permanent home for his growing collection in Germany, so while he searched, he exhibited it all over the country.  Eventually, the Bromserhof  in Rudesheim became available, which delighted Wendel, since the town was already a  tourist destination. He opened the museum in 1969.  It took a little while to catch on, but today  the museum is is a popular stop  for the river boat cruisers when they dock in Rudesheim.

A stork, a bird that brings luck, a dog and a chicken fresco decoration on the walls of the Bromserhof chapel.

A stork, a bird that brings luck, a dog and a chicken fresco decoration on the walls of the Bromserhof chapel.

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