Not long ago, while poking around the internet on the trail of research, I encountered an instrument that I’d never heard of – an instrument which has a body of work behind it that includes compositions by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven.
The device is essentially a rolling post that spins glass rings, so the sound is similar to that of rubbing a wet finger about the rim of a bit of stemware.
Its popularity didn’t last beyond the 18th century, apparently, and there seems to be some split in opinion as to why.
My personal guess is that the device was just too inconsistent, and too fragile, to garner a lot of players – but I like the romantic ideals of this suggestion made by wikipedia:
Some claim this was due to strange rumors that using the instrument caused both musicians and their listeners to go mad. […] One example of fear from playing the glass harmonica was noted by a German musicologist Friedrich Rochlitz in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung:
“The harmonica excessively stimulates the nerves, plunges the player into a nagging depression and hence into a dark and melancholy mood that is apt method for slow self-annihilation. If you are suffering from any nervous disorder, you should not play it; if you are not yet ill you should not play it; if you are feeling melancholy you should not play it.”