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Robert Adelson receives the Densmore Prize


Robert Adelson

The Frances Densmore Prize is awarded annually by AMIS for the most distinguished article-length work in English which best furthers the Society's mission. The 2019 award considered papers published in the year 2017.


The 2019 Prize has been awarded to Robert Adelson for his article "A Museum of Its Own" - The Musical Instrument Collection of Antonio Guatier (1825-1904) in Nice. It was published in the Galpin Society Journal, Volume LXX, 2017.


Robert Adelson’s article is much more than a brief history of how this collection was formed, accompanied by a basic checklist. Rather, it is an in-depth investigation of Gautier’s life and activities (as a musician and civic leader as well as a collector) based on numerous recently discovered sources and enhanced by the author’s residence in the same city where his subject lived and his intimate knowledge of this collection.


Although Nice’s municipal collection of musical instruments, with the Gautier Collection at its core, is today the second largest in France, after that of the Musée de la musique in Paris, until now very little information about it has been published, especially for an international audience. Himself a dedicated amateur player of bowed string instruments who hosted a weekly salon for both local musicians and visiting artists, Gautier’s collecting interests ranged well beyond this category to include plucked strings, woodwinds, and brass as well as a significant number of non-European instruments. All of these are carefully enumerated in a 17-page inventory appended to the article itself, which also discusses the varied fortunes of the collection in the century-plus since Gautier’s death.


Adelson’s engagingly-written essay not only provides welcome documentation of an important collection formed during the late 19th century and largely still intact, but also succeeds in bringing to life the personality of the collector and the milieu in which he lived and pursued his passion for music. One can also see that the plight of a collector wanting to create a secure home for his/her collection, was a difficult issue then, as it is now.


About Robert Adelson

Robert Adelson is professor of music history and organology at the Conservatoire de Nice. He is a specialist on the history of the harp, and has also published widely on the piano, the clarinet, opera, and the sociology of music. His books include The History of the Erard Piano and Harp in Letters and Documents, 1785–1959 (2 vols., Cambridge University Press, 2015), Erard, l’invention de la harpe moderne 1811-2011 (Editions Nice Musées, 2011), a critical edition of the opera Le Mariage d’Antonio (1786) by Lucile Grétry (AR Editions, 2008) and Women Writing Opera: Creativity and Controversy in the Age of the French Revolution (University of California Press, 2001). He has also published numerous articles in such journals as the Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, the Galpin Society Journal, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments among many others.


Between 2005 and 2016, he was curator of France’s second largest collection of historical musical instruments, housed in the Musée du Palais Lascaris in Nice. He is also the curator of the first permanent exhibition of the Camac Collection of historical harps at the Château d’Ancenis (Loire-Atlantique). He has taught at Towson University, Georgetown University, the University of Maryland, Boston Conservatory, the University of Utah, and Utah State University. Mr Adelson has recently completed a monograph on the history of the Erard harp, and has begun work on a companion volume on the Erard piano.


The 2019 Densmore Prize Committee Michael Lynn, chair

Allen Roda Thomas MacCracken