January 29th - The Cradle of Harmony

William Sidney Mount was an American painter who specialized in "genre" works portraying life in and around his hometown of Stony Brook, Long Island. He was especially fond of scenes of music and merrymaking, often happening in the exact same barn:

Part of the reason Mount loved these scenes so much is that he was himself a musician - a fiddler who routinely played dances throughout Long Island. This album contains selected tunes from his extensive library of dance music, some from books, some notated himself, and one piece written by Mount himself (In the Cars on the Long Island Railroad).

All of these pieces are played on the "Cradle of Harmony" - a type of violin that Mount designed. 

Mount's design for the Cradle of Harmony, from the liner notes

This instrument was designed by Mount to be louder and easier heard at a raucous dancing party; to that end, both the top and bottom of the fiddle bends upwards, rather than bending slightly in different directions, which apparently prevented a "compress[ing] of the fibers of the wood composing the sounding board in front as to alter, interfere with or impair its sonorous and vibrating qualities." I can't speak to whether or not this claim actually makes any sense but apparently the instruments produced with this design are extremely loud, as attested to by luthier Don Rickert, and as heard on this record the Cradle of Harmony does sound extremely rich. Gilbert Ross plays the selections with lightness and heart; there's nothing extremely spectacular here but it's a nice collection of period fiddle music, played on an interesting instrument with an interesting history.

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways