Sabine Flaschberger, what is a serpent?
Its snake-like form and dark goatskin-cover are the most striking features of the impressive serpent, which also stands out from the circle of European musical instruments in terms of sound. Conceived in France in the 16th century as a bass instrument to accompany Gregorian chorales, the sound volume of such a fingerhole horn was adequate enough even for open-air performances. Standing or on horseback, it was played vertically, but sitting crosswise. Today, the tuba usually assumes its function, while modern reproductions made of wood or carbon imitate the sonorous tonality of the historical serpent. Our specimen is one of around 250 historical instruments donated by Musikhaus Hug to the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich in 1963. The serpent is currently on display at the “Collection Highlights” exhibition on Ausstellungsstrasse. Under the critical gaze of a bizarre widow, it communicates with new neighbours from the collection, whose dark metallic glazes emit mysterious flashes. In the plastic decoration of a ceramic plate, on the other hand, a naturalistic snake is amazed at the hitherto unknown musical relative floating above the display.
Listen to a serpent: «Der schene neue Aufzug»
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Ausstellungsstrasse 60, Zurich
Tuesdays–Sundays 10am–5pm, Wednesdays 10am–8pm