If you were to make a list of Yale’s romantic hotspots, the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments on Hillhouse Avenue might not be the first place to come to mind. (Or the second. Or third.) Yet this museum will spellbind visitors with its many hidden charms.
The dusty smell of old artifacts, leaflets, and books greeted me as I walked into the museum, where curator Susan Thompson took me on a tour of the three main galleries. The collection was founded in 1900 when local piano dealer Morris Steinert gifted his personal instruments collection to Yale, and continued to grow through various acquisitions and donations. I was immediately struck by the array of finely wrought, antique instruments. Many of the instruments in the collection were dedicated to romance, among which the stunning Viola d’Amore, or “viola of love,” stood out. Thompson passionately explained that the viola had flame-shaped F-holes and “sympathetic strings,” additional strings which lend it a richer, more ethereal sound than the four-string viola. Countless cupid’s heads crowned the tops of other instruments, many of them blindfolded to illustrate the adage that “love is blind.” At the rear of the gallery, an 18th-century guitar made by craftsman Joachim Tielke is on display. Inlaid with ivory, tortoise shell, and mother-of-pearl, it boasts numerous richly carved medallions on its sides and back. Love scenes unfold, with inscriptions in—what else—the language of love, French.
Many of the restored instruments are still in use—a concert series is held year-round where students can hear world-class musicians perform with them. Here you might see a performance on any one of an exquisite set of keyboards stored in the upper gallery. One particularly beautiful keyboard that you might see in concert, a Flemish double virginal called the “Moeder und Kind”—mother and child—shows a graceful picture of Apollo defeating Pan in a musical contest.
I cannot guarantee that you will find your soulmate at the Collection of Musical Instruments, but at the very least, you’ll find yourself immersed in the romance of music and music-making. Go, peruse the exhibits, and fall in love with musical instruments for an hour or two.