Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dear Abbé

Professional musicologists offer answers and advice. Free.*

DEAR ABBÉ:

I was doing some genealogical research concerning my grandmother, Theodosia Harris. There was a newspaper article in the Los Angeles Herald of 3 February 1907 about the coming concert by the Ethelo Quartet (which included Miss Harris). “Miss Elsa Mattern,” it read, “is one of the vocal soloists and will play an accompaniment upon the new instrument, `The Ethelo,′ which was invented last summer.”

I have never heard of the ethelo, and didn′t find anything mention in a quick web search. Can you provide information about this instrument, and perhaps even the Ethelo Quartet?

                                                                                   HOPEFUL IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

 
DEAR HOPEFUL:

We asked our Select Committee on the ethelo (Jonathan Glixon, Basil Considine, Maribeth Clark, Michael Henry) to hit the search engines, with this result:

The ethelo was invented c. 1906 by Edward Hill Amet (1860–1948), known for his 35mm movie projector, the Anet Magniscope. His papers are in Los Angeles County Natural History Museum (see HERE), and the Lake County, Illinois, Discovery Museum maintains a webpage and a collection of artifacts related to his work

Here is a description of the instrument from the Arizona Republican, 5 June 1906:

Lake County
Discovery Museum
Mr. Amet's latest invention is that of a musical instrument known as the “Ethelo,” though he does not pretend to be a musician himself. He has merely applied his other knowledge to the production of sweet sound mechanically. The ethelo is a stringed Instrument, played exactly as a violin is played, and any violin player can play an ethelo at sight. But the ethelo must be learned the same as the violin. The difference in the appearance of the instruments is in the shape and construction of the ethelo. It does not look like a violin save that it has the strings and is played with a bow. But the real difference in the instruments is in the transmission of the tones of the strings, those in the ethelo being fuller and sweeter, a better vibration. There can be no freaks in the manufacture of the ethelo. Every instrument built true to measure and of similar material is bound to give the same result, while in the violin two instruments may look exactly alike, but there is a difference in the vibrations of the tones, due either to some slight difference in the construction, or material. or some other technical thing which sometimes cannot be accounted for at all.
The US Patent Office filing (21 January 1907; patent US893771 A granted 21 July 1908) for what is almost certainly the same invention is HERE, with diagram HERE.

Vivian Ramalingam, meanwhile, reminds us that “ethelo” is not only a Biblical term, but also the name of a decision-making software program.

We hope readers will be able, unlike ourselves, to find the instrument itself.

                                                                                                                      ABBÉ
Abbé welcomes your inquiries: e-mail musicology-now@ams-net.org. 

*With proper homage to Joseph Kerman, who had this idea first. See 19th-Century Music 7/2 (Autumn, 1983): 178-82.

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