The Yale Collection of Musical Instruments comprises nearly one thousand objects including instruments, accessories and related items, the majority of which document the Western European and American art music traditions. A growing minority represent the cultures and traditions of Asia, Africa and South America. A significant number of the instruments have been restored and are maintained in excellent playing condition allowing for their use in performances, demonstrations, lectures and tours.
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The art of the luthier is well represented in the Yale Collection, with a wide selection of examples from the Italian, German, French and English schools of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Important examples from the Steinert and Skinner Collections as well as individual donations are set in the context of the extensive Emil Herrmann Collection of string instruments presented to the University by Hugh W. Long in 1962. Most of the violin-family instruments are in playing condition as are representative examples of the viol and plucked-string families.
Over the past three four decades an active program of acquisition has greatly enhanced the Collection’s holdings of wind instruments. In addition to a core collection of fine examples by important 18th and 19th-century European makers, the flourishing school of makers on this side of the Atlantic is now especially well represented at Yale.
Noted for its balance and depth, Yale's collection of keyboard instruments is unsurpassed in the world. The Collection's holdings comprise nearly a hundred examples, including organs, clavichords, harpsichords, spinets, virginals, and pianos from the workshops of the most important makers representing all the major regional schools over a span of three centuries. Over half of the keyboard instruments on display have been restored to playing condition and are regularly featured in the live performances and demonstrations that take place in fine acoustic of the second floor gallery.
The small group of Asian instruments that came to Yale with the Belle Skinner Collection has been steadily augmented with further examples from Asia, Africa and South America. The acquisition of the Robyna Neilson Ketchum Collection of Bells greatly increased the Collection’s holdings of idiophones from all over the world. Future acquisition policy will be directed to growth in this area.
In addition to musical instruments, the Collection includes numerous accessories, such as bows, practice keyboards, mutes, etc., as well as paintings, drawings, books, and other publications that pertain to the instruments and the musical cultures from which they derive.