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Hidden Gems: The Rare and Unusual Instruments of Classical Music

Classical music, revered for its profound complexity, owes much of its captivating charm to the instruments that breathe life into its melodies.

While many are familiar with violins, pianos, and trumpets, there exists an undercover realm of rare and unusual instruments that have shaped classical compositions.

In this exploration, we delve into some of these unique instruments and their influence on the world of classical music.

Glass Harmonica

Invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1761, this sonic marvel consists of a series of glass bowls or goblets of varying sizes that emit sounds when touched by wet fingers.



A brainchild of Leon Theremin (Lev Sergeevič Termen) from the 1920s, the Theremin is an instrument played without physical contact.

It operates through the musician's interaction with two antennas that detect hand positions. Its haunting soundscapes have graced the soundtracks of classic films, including "Forbidden Planet."

Ondes Martenot

Ondes Martenot

Pioneered by Maurice Martenot in the 1920s, this instrument is a precursor to the synthesizer. It employs a keyboard to dictate pitch, while a metallic ring modulates the tone.

Esteemed composers like Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, and Olivier Messiaen have harnessed their ethereal and experimental sounds.


This petite, stringed instrument, akin to a barrel organ, rendered sweet melodies reminiscent of bird songs. In the 19th century, it was often employed to train domestic canaries in song.

Hydraulic Organ

Hailing from the epochs of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, the Hydraulis is a testament to early musical innovation.

This water-driven organ, recognized as the precursor to modern pipe organs, utilized a sophisticated hydraulic mechanism, granting musicians the finesse to modulate both volume and tonal quality.

Lira da Braccio

Lira da braccio

Resembling a violin, this ancient stringed instrument was played using a bow and held significant popularity during the Renaissance. Its distinctive shape and gentle sound made it a staple in the courtly music of the era.


This wind instrument, bearing a serpentine shape, was in vogue from the medieval period to the 19th century. Its curved form and deep sound often found a place in religious and military ceremonies.

These rare and unusual instruments have bestowed classical music with extraordinary and distinctive melodies.

While many have faded into obscurity, their legacy endures through the compositions crafted for them. Classical music remains an ever-evolving, captivating realm with secrets and wonders waiting to be unearthed.

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