There it sits, marooned in the National Museum of Decorative Arts in Dublin: the last of its kind in the country, looking - to the casual eye - more like a display case than a once-famous musical instrument. The museum sign calls it by its technical name: idiophone, but it was popularly known as the Angelic Organ, the Glass Harp, the Glass Armonica, or the Singing Glasses. The arrangement of tuned wineglasses is played by rubbing a finger against the edges. Invented in 1742 by an eccentric County Monaghan character named Richard Pockrich, this Irish musical instrument became a popular sensation and conquered the concert halls of Europe.
While it beguiled the mainstream composers who wrote for it: Mozart, Gluck, Beethoven, Donizetti, Tchaikovsky and others, it was eventually accused of causing spontaneous miscarriages and death to its listeners, and of driving its virtuoso performers crazy.
Although today it appears in television commercials and is played by street buskers throughout Europe, it is forgotten in its native country. No one in Ireland plays the instrument.
This documentary taps into the secret life of Richard Pockrich's Glass Harp, celebrating its music and exploring the strange career of its wild and wacky inventor - about whom Irish musicologist Barra Boydell says " Not even Hollywood in its wildest dreams could imagine such an eccentric life."
Produced by Chris Brookes
Music performed by Robert Tiso on the glass harp
First Broadcast August 3rd 2013
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