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Improvements to the Armonica

Date: 1783, Aug 10
From: A. C. G. Deudon (Paris)
To: BF (Paris)

e honor to present to you two suivans volumes, of the same work, as they paroitront.

Perhaps you will still remember Sir, that, under the auspices of Mister Diderot, you did me the honor, just passed, of enabling me to see your armonica, which you had the kindness to explain to me the mechanism of it and that I took the liberty then, to communicate the projects to you, that I had formed to add some improvements to this charming instrument. After many attempts and tests, which showed more or less the advantages or the defects, I determined what follows. One or more wet cloth bands fixed on one end of the instrument, the other end lying on the glasses, and it is by the interposition of this cloth that the fingers make them sound. The width of these bands should not war exceed the higher part of the bells, and the number of these bands must be determined, on different glasses, according to some preliminary tests.

By means of this simple process, I obtain a purer, softer and more intense Sound initially than with the bare fingers. The bare fingers in truth get more silvery sounds, more penetrating than cloth; but this one in the other hand, gives a softer and more tender sound. In the second place, the extreme notes, both higher and lower, speak with difficulty and only respond to the finger slowly; with cloth on the other hand, they sing more easily, especially the high ones. In third place, glasses speak more quickly with my manner and the intonation is less Brusque. Finally, once wet cloth, they remain so for a long time: it is necessary on the other hand to frequently wet the fingers. Here are at least the results which I found on my instrument of glasses made at the factory in Liege and I believe that it be thus in the same way with crystals blown elsewhere, more especially as Their Royal Highnesses, currently governors of the low countries, have asked me to spend a few months, to mend broken glasses on their Armonica made in London, I added to it, after having repaired it, the Bands of cloth, from which I come to have had the honor to speak to you and one was so satisfied so much with the beauty of the sound, and the ease of playing, that the court musicians completely gave up the touch of the bare finger nud, and have substituted my method.

To this small perfection, I have added some more important, though of greater simplicity. You know Sir, how much the transpositions from one key to another are difficult to do in music and which require nothing less than long practice, of a dedicated musician who can acquire the skill. However I transpose without effort, to all the keys, without leaving even the natural range and here is how. You say in your letter to the Father Beccaria, when giving him the description of your charming instrument, that you colored the edges of your glasses using  the seven prismatic colors, and the sharps in White so that the eye of the player can easily recognize the key: this clever idea, inspired in me another, by generalizing yours, which I imagined as follows. Instead of painting the glasses, I propose behind them and opposite the player a slat of wood, thin, the width of two or three inches: this slat, which follows the slope of glasses, is painted in White, bearing over all its width narrow bands colored with the 7 colors of the Spectrum of Newton and of which each one is with respect to corresponding glass. The Semitones are painted of black and instead of making whole Bands of them, they occupy only half of the width of the slat, which imitates rather well, the look of an organ keyboard. If I want to transpose an unspecified air, for example of a half tone lower than that in which it is written, I substitute for the first slat which I remove another slat, whose coloured Bands all are successively placed a semitone lower than the first: so that the red band, or C of this one, is opposite the glass which previously had been indicated by the purple one or the sign of Si. However as there are twelve semitones in a compete octave, it is clear that by means of as many different slats, on which one can as many times move the prismatic colors, one will have available one for each of them, with all glasses, consequently with all the keys of the instrument of kind thus, which one will be able to transpose at will; what is of greater utility in many cases and of an advantage on any marked good, for the armonica, because of its short width. I hope Sir, that you will want to forgive the length of my letter, with the enthusiasm which betrays me, for the most flattering and most harmonious of the instruments, which you so ingeniously invented , as with the zeal that I have to add something to it while walking in your footsteps.

Il vous souviendra peut-être encore Monsieur, que, sous les auspices de monsieur diderot, vous m’avez fait l’honneur, l’étée passé, de me permettre de voir vôtre armonica, que vous avez eu la bonté de m’en expliquer le méchanisme et que j’ai pris la liberté alors, de vous communiquer les projets, que je m’étoit formés d’âjouter quelques perfections, à ce charmant instrument. Après bien des tentatives et des essais, qui avoient plus ou moins, des avantages ou des deffauts, je me suis déterminé pour ce qui suit. Une ou plusieurs bandes de drap mouillé et fixées à la partie antérieure de l’instrument, sont couchées sur les verres d’un Bout-à-l’autre et c’est par l’interposition de ce drap, que les doigts les font sonner. La largeur de ces Bandes, ne doit guerre excéder la partie supérieure des timbres et la quantité de ces bandes doit être déterminée, sur les différens verres, d’après quelques essais préliminaires.

Au moÿen de ce procédé Bien simple, j’obtiens en premier lieu un Son plus pur, plus doux et également intense qu’avec les doigts nuds. Les doigts nuds à la vérité, procurant des sons plus argentins, plus pénétrans que le drap; mais celui-ci en revange, en donne des plus moëlleux et des plus tendres. En second lieu, les tons extrémes, tant supérieurs, qu’inférieurs, parlent difficilement et n’obéissent que lentement au doigt; le drap au contraire, les fait chanter plus aisement, sur-tout les aigus. En troisieme lieu, les verres parlent plus vîte à ma manière et l’intonation en paroit moins Brusque. Enfin le drap une fois mouillé, le reste pour long-tems: il faut au contraire, mouiller souvent les doigts. Voilà du moins les resultats que j’ai trouvé sur mon instrument fait de verres de la fabrique de liege et j’ai tout lieu de croire qu’il en seroit de même, avec des cristaux soufflés ailleurs, d’autant plus que Leurs Altesses roÿales, gouverneurs actuels des paÿs bas, m’aÿant fait demander quelques mois passés, de remettre des timbres cassés, à leur Armonica, faite à londres, j’ÿ ai ajouté, après l’avoir racommodé, les Bandes de drap, dont je viens d’avoir eu l’honneur de vous parler et l’on a été tellement satisfait tant pour la beauté des sons, que pour la facilité du jeu, que les musiciens de la cour, ont totalement abandonné le toucher du doigt nud, pour ÿ substituer ma méthode.