The Basel Historical Museum is in possession of Switzerland’s largest collection of musical instruments, numbering more than 3,000 items. Some 650 of these are permanently on display at the Museum of Music. Housed in a former prison, the museum spread over three floors uses the twenty-four former cells as showrooms where visitors can view individual instruments as well as calling up further information and even music samples on an interactive screen.

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Music in Basel

The section called "Music in Basel" sheds light on the many different musical activities that have been an integral part of life in Basel since the 16th century. The exhibits here range from instruments used only on ceremonial occasions, such as drums and fanfare trumpets, to objects associated with Basel’s many different music societies and Fasnacht festivities. Another cell is devoted to the 20th-century revival of “ancient music”, in which Basel had a leading role to play. On show in the main exhibition space are several historical keyboard instruments that were made, or at least played, in Basel. A number of paintings, among them a large-format allegory of music from the 16th century and two oil paintings by local artist Joseph Esperlin (1757), show scenes of music-making in Basel.

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Concerts, Choral Music and Dance

“Concerts, Choirs and Dancing” shows European musical instruments in their specific musical contexts from 15th to 20th century. One cell is devoted to Baroque chamber music, for example, while another tells the story of the saxophone and its inventor. Others still showing wind, stringed and bowed instruments provide an insight into the extraordinarily varied world of music.

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Parades, Marches and Signals

The section called “Parades, Fanfares and Signals” describes the famous collection of historical brass instruments and drums which pastor Dr. h.c. Wilhelm Bernoulli-Preiswerk bequeathed to the museum in 1980. Drawn from all over Europe, the exhibits illustrate both the amazing variety of instruments in existence and how they have evolved over the centuries. The range extends from natural objects that are blown or beaten to much more sophisticated contraptions, from military signals to instruments reserved for fanfares and parades.