Musical clocks

 

My previous post in this blog was on clocks in opera. How about opera in clocks?

The Handel House Museum is the London home where the composer George Frideric Handel lived from 1723 until his death in 1759. In the 1730s, Handel provided music for a series of musical clocks created by the watch and clockmaker Charles Clay. These more than man-sized, elaborate pieces of furniture were fitted with chimes and/or pump organs that at the hour and every quarter played musical excerpts from popular operas and sonatas. Until 23 February the Handel House Museum presents an overview of Clay’s clocks in an exhibition ‘The Triumph of Music over Time’. The centrepiece is a clock on loan from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; other clocks are presented as photos on text panels. These panels are all on-line here where you can also listen to some of the music that Handel arranged for Clay’s musical clocks, including two pieces from his opera Arianna in Creta. So there you have it: opera in clocks.

Charles Clay’s musical clock, dated 1730, currently on display in the Handel House Museum, is a loan from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust)

Charles Clay’s musical clock, dated 1730, currently on display in the Handel House Museum, is a loan from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (photo courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust)

Close-up of the Clay clock. In the painted and cast bronze relief below we see Father Time, with hourglass and scythe, overcome by the power of music, which is represented by Apollo with his lyre and a woman personifying music

Close-up of the Clay clock. In the painted and cast bronze relief below we see Father Time, with hourglass and scythe, overcome by the power of music, which is represented by Apollo with his lyre and a woman personifying music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The organ mechanism concealed in another of Clay’s musical clocks, which is at Windsor Castle. It plays arias from three of Handel’s operas (image kindly provided by Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynn www.goetzegwynn.co.uk)

The organ mechanism concealed in another of Clay’s musical clocks, which is at Windsor Castle. It plays arias from three of Handel’s operas (image kindly provided by Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynn www.goetzegwynn.co.uk)

 

 

Another 18th century maker of beautifully crafted musical clocks was George Pyke. A fine example, dated 1765, is on display at Temple Newsam House in Leeds. Standing over 6 foot tall on its pedestal, it strikes the hours and has a pipe organ that plays eight tunes. The innards of the Pyke clock are shown below; more photos and details of the clock are here on the website of Brittany Cox, who has made a condition study of the clock and hopes one day to be able to restore it to its former glory.

The organ and the clockwork in the George Pyke musical clock of 1765 (photo courtesy of Brittany Cox)

The organ and the clockwork in the George Pyke musical clock of 1765 (photo courtesy of Brittany Cox)

 

 

Although a bit off topic – it is not a clock – you may like to know of a musical automaton that Brittany Cox restored to working order during her studies at the Clocks and Related Dynamic Objects Department at West Dean College. A miniature ship, a mere 15mm wide, rocks to and fro, as in a storm, while ‘God Save the King’ plays on a plucked comb; see and hear it here. For this project Brittany was awarded the annual AHS prize for 2012. For a full description see this article which she wrote for our journal Antiquarian Horology.

The musical ship automaton mechanism after restoration, in a purpose-made shagreen covered silver box (photo series courtesy of Brittany Cox)

The musical ship automaton mechanism after restoration, in a purpose-made shagreen covered silver box (photo series courtesy of Brittany Cox)

The musical ship automaton mechanism before restoration (photo courtesy of Brittany Cox)

The musical ship automaton mechanism before restoration (photo courtesy of Brittany Cox)

 

With thanks to Ella Roberts, Communications Officer at the Handel House Museum, for her help.

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