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Music museum opens in Seewen

A museum housing Europe’s biggest collection of old mechanical musical instruments has been inaugurated in the countryside of Canton Solothurn.

This content was published on March 28, 2000 - 16:08

A museum housing Europe’s biggest collection of old mechanical musical instruments has been inaugurated in the countryside of Canton Solothurn.

It is in the small village of Seewen because that was where the collection of some 1,000 objects began. The instruments were accumulated over a long period by a Basel businessman, Heinrich Weiss-Stauffacher, who in the 1950s bought land in Seewen to build a holiday home.

Over the years his collection grew and grew, forcing him to add two extensions to his home to make room for all the instruments. In 1979 he opened a private museum on the premises, and in 1990 donated the entire collection to the Swiss Confederation.

The exhibits range from a tiny musical finger ring made in 1802 to a giant orchestral piece from the early 1900s which produces dance music. In between are barrel organs and other mechanical instruments in all shapes and sizes, often assembled as a cottage industry by farmers who were also skilled craftsmen.

"A Geneva watchmaker, Antoine Favre-Salomon, made the first music box in 1796," said museum director Eduard Saluz, "and the city became the main centre for their manufacture."

One section of the museum enables visitors to see exactly how music boxes were assembled by the Geneva pioneers, complete with work benches and precision instruments.

But for many the highlight of a visit will be a recreation of a late 19th century salon, where it is possible to sit on antique chairs, and listen to Chopin waltzes played automatically by a Steinway piano. "Only the wealthy could afford the Steinway and most of the other objects in this collection," said Saluz. "A hundred years ago such a piano would cost the equivalent of a small house."

by Richard Dawson





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