Making the most out of obscurity

Benjamin Franklin invented the glass harmonica when Mozart was a small child. The instrument was immensely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and many composers included it in their works. The Adagio by Mozart, which I discuss in this blog, is one of the many pieces written for it. Franklin’s glass harmonica has a range of 37 notes (some three octaves) in the upper range of the piano, and articulation is rather difficult when the sounds are produced by pressing wet fingers against rotating glass bowls. So what can Mozart make out of all these limitations? As it turns out, quite a bit. And rendering the work on the piano raises several intriguing questions.