Unusual Paris Museums and Galleries
The Musée de la Musique is the "jewel in the crown" of the Cité de la Musique, in the Parc de la Villette; it houses one of the richest collections of musical instruments in the world – over 4500 pieces from the 200 year old National Conservatory on five floors of 2800 square metres, although only 900 are on display at a time.
There are a some early instruments from other times (a flute made of vulture bone from around 2,500 B.C.) and other regions (delicate harplike instruments from Africa and a complete Gamelan from Java). But really the museum recounts the history of European music from the French point of view.
A museum that is not silent
What makes the museum special is that it is not silent. You may come across musicians from the nearby Conservatory of Music playing early instruments and explaining how different they are from their more familiar successors.
Basically, the museum takes you through the history of music and instrument-making in Europe from the beginning of the 17th century to the end of the 19th century, ending with a representative overview of music and instruments outside Europe.
Nine chapters have been defined to illustrate the main periods. To show you how a famous piece of music was played in its period, rooms have been set up as they were at the time. You can see the instruments which were used as well as a large model of the location in which the chosen work was composed, along with background information, and paintings and engravings which complement the exhibit.
As you move between different displays of instruments, headphones provided at no extra charge offer commentaries in English or French as well as recordings of relevant music.
The Contemporary exhibits are especially interesting. They include a Selmer guitar which belonged to Django Reinhardt and Frank Zappa’s modular E-Mu synthesizer.
There is also a wide choice of guided tours with the added benefit of the presence of musicians or storytellers, but they’re of limited interest if you don’t speak French. These tours, aimed at adults or young people are often combined with practical music or instrument-making workshops, so they’re worthwhile if you’re bilingual and have some time.
An unhurried visit to the museum will probably take two hours, especially if you want to hear the complete pieces of music playing through your headphones!
Tip: The Café de la Musique in the Cité is an OK place for a meal or a snack, and for a complete change of pace, the Museum of Science and Technology is a brief stroll away across the Parc de la Villette.
Musée de la Musique
Cité de la musique
221 Avenue Jean-Jaures, 75019 Paris
tel: 01 44 84 45 45 00)
Website: Music Museum
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