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Family History in Objects: Metronome; a Skilled Pianist, Childhood Memories and Technical Information

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Family history is important to me. I have cherished objects which hold stories, historical events and so many memories.

This metronome has known me all my life. It stood on top of my mother’s piano and surveyed the scene; house-to-house, good times, tantrums and all! Its tick-tock measured many a day, intriguing me, soothing me, making me feel safe. It was a comfort in its predictability.

Later, I played with it, as long as I was careful, being aware that it was not a toy but an important machine to aid the pianist or indeed any instrumentalist. I found much hilarity in making the pendulum swing as fast as possible. A slow sway evoked reflection or sadness. For me, it emphasised the importance of rhythm and mood. A bell announced the start of each musical tempo, so a waltz would be 1-ding!, 2, 3.


The Pianist

My Mum’s love of music started at an early age, though I don’t know exactly when. She was an only child, so whiled away many hours lost in her piano-playing. I do know that she wanted a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, a prestigious institution which was difficult to get into. Sadly, though the expertise was there, the family did not have the finances to send her.

Nowadays, the Royal Academy say that,

‘[the] Entrance audition is tough and counts for the most, with "evidence of professional performing potential in your principal study, sound general musicianship and a good aural response" being the main priority.’

She certainly had all those things. I can imagine her disappointment at not being able to go but I know she wouldn’t have complained, such was her nature.

As I grew up, I listened to her playing with rapt attention. She played Rachmaninov, especially his Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor (which she said 'made her toes curl'!), Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and many more. Her taste was eclectic; Gershwin and later The Beatles were among her contemporary favourites as well as others in our family music collection. My parents did not mind my or my sister’s records blaring from the old Dansette.


Mum with Piano in background

Mum with Piano in background

Concerts, Piano v Organ, and My Own Efforts

Mum played not only at home. She and a friend would hold charity evenings and play duets. I went with her now and then and became part of a much older but amiable group of women. Despite enjoying playing at those intimate concerts, she preferred playing at home, using it as her comfort and stress-buster at a time when my grandmother was ill and rather demanding. Her hands caressed the keyboard and she swayed with the music. Touch was important; she hardly ever used the sound pedal.

A constant, though amicable, argument between her and Dad was his appreciation of organ music. To Mum, there was no opportunity for emotional interpretation; the organ could not be manipulated, rather one relied more on the impact of the musical composition itself.

When I was 8, I had piano lessons. Oh dear! Although I tried, my heart wasn’t really in it. The teacher was rather old-fashioned, not like the upbeat (literally!) music teachers of today. I persevered for a while, for Mum’s sake, then she realised it wasn’t for me and I finished lessons. Mum still continued teaching me a little now and then, so it wasn’t all in vain. The piano always had a prominent position wherever we lived.


Keeper of the Metronome

Mum’s metronome now belongs to her younger granddaughter who used to play with it and seemed fascinated by its mechanism and rhythms, as was I. It’s a treasured item, an important link to the past, a memory of a much-loved Mum and Grandma who often had a wistful smile as she played.

At her funeral, Mum's coffin entered to the music of her beloved Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto Number 2 in C Minor. As we filed out after the service, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue serenaded her.


Workings of a Metronome

  • it is a spring and cog driven timing device aimed at providing a musical tempo or audible aid for musicians.
  • it comes either with or without the addition of a bell, which operates generally at four settings with a ring at either 2,3,4 or 6 swings of the pendulum.
  • the button at the side can be pushed in to turn the bell off.
  • the speed of each tempo of a mechanical metronome is altered by sliding the pendulum weight up ( slower ) or down ( faster ).
  • it is a rarity to find a fully working and accurate unit that could be used as a reliable time-keeping aid, that is over 50 years old.

Mum’s metronome is still accurate.


Pendulum with Weight and Key - Behind on the yellow strip, are the Italian terms for the Varied Speeds; Allegro etc.

Pendulum with Weight and Key - Behind on the yellow strip, are the Italian terms for the Varied Speeds; Allegro etc.

Marvellous 'Metronome de Maëlzel': Potted History of this Magical Object and its Maker

Antique Metronomes provided me with the following information:

  • Johann Nepomuk Maëlzel (1772-1838) registered the metronome patent in 1815 after devising the musical scale for a device largely constructed and invented by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel a year earlier.
  • Maëlzel started production of the metronome in Paris 1816, gaining praise and publicity from none other than Beethoven himself, whom he was later to fall out with over rights issues for ‘The Battle of Vitoria’.
  • He was widely travelled, twice visiting the West Indies, as well as going to Munich, Vienna, Paris, London and the United States.
  • Whilst travelling, he promoted and sold numerous musical inventions and automated wind and cog driven devices, ranging from ear trumpets, chess players, pan harmonicons, rope-dancers and speaking dolls.
  • Although greatly respected and successful in his own right, Maëlzel also had an ability to seize on the ideas and works of others and use them to his benefit.
  • There are two reports of how he died in 1838, neither of which have been confirmed; the first, that he died from alcoholism on a ship in the harbour of La Guarira, Venezuela, the second that he died while sailing on a brig, the ‘Otis’, travelling from Havana to Philadelphia.
  • By his death, he had established a highly successful musical accessory business.


Inscription on the Front Lozenge

Written in the middle of the irregular hexagonal lozenge is

'METRONOME DE MAËLZEL'

and stamped on each side, is (from the top, clockwise)

FRANCE, AMERIQUE, BELGIQUE, PARIS, HOLLANDE, ANGLETERRE

How exciting to think of such objects all around the world, surveying music rooms and accomplished pianists who gave many so much joy!


Sources

http://www.antique-metronomes.com/index.html

© 2020 Ann Carr

Comments

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on December 02, 2020:

Thank you JC!

JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on December 01, 2020:

Very nice article.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Mary, thanks for your valuable comments. I'm glad you enjoyed this and that you learned a little about metronomes.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Hello Shauna! Thank you for your lovely comments. Yes, I'm very fond of the piano even though I don't play. It has a purity and a simplicity, yet it can evoke such emotions and moods. You're lucky you had a great teacher.

I certainly do cherish all these things I have from family now gone. I'm someone who believes that my ancestors have forged who I have become. They are a part of me and therefore any memories evoked by any object, are valuable beyond compare.

Good to see you today! Take care.

Ann

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 30, 2020:

This is totally new to me although I have seen Metronomes before but I did not know anything about it. I enjoy the connection to your Mom's love for music and her playing the piano.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 30, 2020:

I enjoyed learning about your mom's love for music, Ann. To me, the piano is the perfect instrument because it needs no accompaniment.

I used to play piano when I was younger. I was about your age (8) when I took lessons. I was taught by a hip concert pianist. She was really cool. I ended up quitting lessons because my mom made me practice an hour a day. Although I enjoyed it, I rebelled because she told me to practice. I was bratty like that! Talk about cutting off my nose to spite my face, huh?

You have some really awesome mementoes and family heirlooms, Ann. Cherish them!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Ankita, I'm glad you enjoyed this and thanks for the compliment. Much appreciated.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Linda, good to see you and thanks for such kind words. Glad you enjoyed this.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Thank you, John, for your comments. Never thought of Darth Vader and the light sabre: I can see what you mean though! Did you know that Dave Prouse, who played Darth Vader, died yesterday at 80+. He was from Bristol, with the accent to go with it, so someone else did the voice-over - but they didn't tell him until it was done - oops!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Linda, thanks for your lovely comments. I certainly hope there are pianos in heaven. Mum would've been entertaining them during the last 12 years and enjoying every moment!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Peggy, I'm glad you enjoyed this. It was great to listen to her and the object itself comes alive when it reminds us of the history stored within it. Great to see you and thanks for commenting.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 30, 2020:

Pamela, don't worry! I've been called many things in my time and I appreciate your reading and commenting, always.

Ankita B on November 30, 2020:

It was interesting to know about the metronome and I loved the photos. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Wonderfully written.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 29, 2020:

You have some lovely memories of your mother playing the piano. Thank you for sharing the interesting information about the metronome and its creator. I enjoyed learning about them.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 29, 2020:

This was very interesting and an enjoyable read, Ann. A metronome would be no good to me as I can’t play a piano or any other musical instrument, but they are an attractive implement. Actually, the photo you have of the metronome open reminds me of Darth Vader holding a light saver lol.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on November 29, 2020:

Ann, I had a metronome that looked very much like the one you have pictured here. I have no idea what ever happened to it. Thank for sharing more of the story of your mother; what a beautiful, talented soul. I look forward to meeting her. I know there must be pianos in Heaven.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 29, 2020:

I truly enjoyed hearing your story and your mother's story. It must have been wonderful growing up listening to her piano playing. It is so nice that the metronome still is a treasured item in your family.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 29, 2020:

Ann, I am sorry I called you Liz. I don't know what I was thinking. I truly enjoyed your beautiful article.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 29, 2020:

Yes, indeed, Nithya. The object itself is beautiful and the memories even more so - very special indeed.

Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

Take care.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 29, 2020:

Thank you so much, bill. You brought a tear to my eye. She was lovely, never raised her voice and giggled a lot with me and my sister. Indeed, both my parents were great and taught me much. Your suggestion of a dedication is touching and much appreciated; thank you.

I hope the rest of your weekend is filled with peace and fun, bill.

Ann

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on November 29, 2020:

Thank you for sharing memories of your childhood. The metronome must be very special to you, a warm, melodious memory of your dear mom.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 29, 2020:

Lovely memories, my friend. I would have liked your mother very much. Oddly, I have a Hub coming out Wednesday, which your mother would have liked very much. I will add a dedication to her, if you don't mind.

Thanks for sharing a small portion of your mother with all of us. I am touched by her love of music, and the beauty she added to this world.

bill

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 29, 2020:

Thanks, Eric! We have 'apps' for everything now, don't we? Well, most do, but I don't; trying to avoid them!

I find that objects remind me of so many things; it's family history which takes me right into my various homes and that makes me feel warm and cosy.

Take care.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 29, 2020:

Thanks, Pamela, for your lovely words. There are many who don't know about the metronome.

Keep safe and well!

Ann

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 29, 2020:

Really cool. We are learning about this in our home as my young one is learning -- sorry but now they are an "app", of course not at lessons.

What a nice way to write a family history.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 29, 2020:

Good to see you, manatita! Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, definitely destined for other things; Mum sewed, knitted and played and I do none of those. Both parents drew and wrote, and she painted too, so at least I inherited something!

She was elegant and had a great eye for colour. Thanks again.

Ann

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 29, 2020:

Liz, this is an interesting and heart-warming article about the metronome and your mum. We did not have a piano or metronome when I was growing up. I would have liked that. The history of the metronome was new to me also.

manatita44 from london on November 29, 2020:

A beautiful write! I particularly loved the intimacy expressed in your mom's history, nature and ambition ... her love for music and the piano. Seems you were destined to do other things.

The metronome looks powerfully exceptional and the history that goes with it is very noteworthy. Thanks for your mom's studious photo. She seems to be reflecting on something. An elegant woman!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 29, 2020:

Thank you Liz. It holds so many memories that I had to curtail my wandering thoughts! A mere object can evoke so much, can't it?

I appreciate your visit today.

Ann

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on November 29, 2020:

Thank you Dora, for your kind words. As you can tell, it's close to my heart. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Ann

Liz Westwood from UK on November 29, 2020:

This is a fascinating and skilfully written article. I appreciate the way you start with the metronome and draw out so much interesting detail from it.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 29, 2020:

Who would have thought that facts about the metronome could make such an interesting article? Perhaps because you skillfully weaved in the memory of your mother and her music. Thanks for a beautiful read!

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