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  • Hunter Coblentz
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.


This article serves as an introduction to the twentieth- and twenty-first-century musical practices that have made use of glass instruments and objects. Emphasis is placed on those practices that use glass in a raw, acoustic manner, and those that take advantage of the precision with which glass can be tuned. First, a general history of glass music is presented, followed by an overview of the physical and acoustic aspects pertaining to the material that are relevant to those composers wishing to integrate glass into their works. Finally, the composers, performers and instrument builders who have made significant use of glass in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are surveyed.



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1 Zeitler, William, The Glass Armonica: The Music and the Madness (San Bernardino: Musica Arcana, 2013), p. 16. I am indebted to William Zeitler, and his book, for much of the historical summary that follows.

2 Gaffurius, Franchinus, Theorica Musicae (Milan: Philippium Mantegatium, 1492), p. 36.

3 Bacon, Francis, Sylva Sylvarum (London: William Rawley, 1627), p. 34.

4 Galilei, Galileo, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences, trans. Crew, Henry and de, Alfonso Salvio (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914), pp. 99100.

5 William Zeitler, Excerpts from Deliciae Physico-Mathematicae (accessed 19 September 2018),, trans. from Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, Deliciae Physico-Mathematicae (Nuremberg: Jeremiae Dümlers, 1636), vol. 2, p. 147.

6 In this article the terms ‘Glass Harp’ and ‘Musical Glasses’ are used interchangeably.

7 Gottfried H. Stölzel, Volles Vergnügen ausnehmende Freüde (H. WK A 1,1, 1732).

8 Pilkington, John Carteret, The Real Story of John Carteret Pilkington (London, 1760), p. 61.

9 Two historical instruments of note are the Parisian Glasschord and the Glass Harmonicon, developed c. 1785 and 1830, respectively. Both instruments are a kind of glass xylophone, the former controlled by a small keyboard, the latter struck conventionally with mallets.

10 Mozart, Adagio in C, K356 and Adagio and Rondo, K617; Beethoven, Leonore Prohaska, WoO 96; Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor; Saint-Saëns, Le carnaval des animaux; Richard Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten.

11 Cope, Kevin, 1650–1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era (New York: AMS Press, 2004), p. 149.

12 George Benjamin, Written on Skin (2005).

13 Christina Kubisch also used glass in her installation work Sechs Spiegel (Six Mirrors, 1995), in which vibrating glass panes were situated within a large reverberant church.

14 As one rubs their finger around the rim of a glass, a ‘stick-slip’ action sets the glass into vibration not unlike the way in which a bow excites a string. A performer will find it helpful to thoroughly clean their fingertips of oils and grease.

15 This phenomenon is described in the Babylonian Talmud (c. 500 CE), Baba Kamma, 18b: ‘In the case of a cock putting its head into an empty utensil of glass where it crowed so that the utensil thereby broke, the payment must be in full‘ and also underpins Dawn Scarfe's installation piece Lenses (2008).

16 From lowest to highest in pitch: 770 ml Burgundy, 325 ml White Wine, 185 ml ‘short’ flute, 200 ml ‘tall’ flute.

17 For one approach, see Anthony French, ‘In Vino Veritas: A Study of Wineglass Acoustics’, American Journal of Physics 51/8 (1983), pp. 688–94.

18 Two nodal diameters, zero nodal circles.

19 Rossing, Thomas D., Science of Percussion Instruments (Singapore: World Scientific, 2000), p. 184.

20 Skeldon, Kenneth, Nadeau, Valerie and Adams, Christopher, ‘The Resonant Excitation of a Wineglass Using Positive Feedback with Optical Sensing’, American Journal of Physics 66/10 (1998), pp. 851–60.

21 Kathy Hinde, Tipping Point (accessed 14 November 2018),

22 Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894) developed glass resonators specifically for this purpose. See Helmoltz, On the Sensations of Tone (1863) and Dawn Scarfe's Listening Glass (2009) series.

23 Generic glass bottles can also be heard in the music of Dutch composer Paul Panhuysen (1934–2015). See Number Made Audible – Blowing (1993). Another composer inspired by Fluxus activities, Henning Christiansen (1932–2008), also made use of glass in his work Gibbon in Glass – Sound (1985).

24 Harry Partch, Genesis of a Music, 2nd ed. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1974), p. 306.

25 Les Bachiques (1963).

26 Toward (1971).

27 More on this instrument in François Baschet, Les Sculptures Sonores (Chelmsford: Soundworld, 1999).

28 The Crystal Harp and Rod Harps.

29 Galbraith's Flame Organ is a distant relative of Georges Kastner's (1810–1867) nineteenth-century ‘Singing Flames’ organ.

30 Annea Lockwood, e-mail to the author, 19 November 2018.

31 Miguel Frasconi, ‘Glass Orchestra’ (accessed October 27, 2018),

32 Miguel Frasconi, e-mail to the author, 3 October 2018.

33 Miguel Frasconi, e-mail to the author, 3 October 2018.

34 Frasconi can be heard performing on three releases: LP (1978), Tales from Siliconesia (1981), Verrillon (1982).

35 In what Polansky calls ‘psaltery order’: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 3, 6, 12, 9, 5, 10, 15, 7, 14, 11, 13, 17; a general thrust from simple to more complex harmonic relationships.

36 Harrison, Lou, Music Primer (New York: Edition Peters, 1971).

37 Stage name, Justice Yeldham.


  • Hunter Coblentz
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.


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