Victor-Charles Mahillon's theories on the construction of mouthpieces for brasswinds
Stewart Arlen Carter

Victor-Charles Mahillon’s (1841-1924) monumental treatise Eléments d’acoustique musicale et instrumentale (Brussels, 1874) is the most comprehensive of several works on acoustics by this important instrument maker, collector, organologist, and theorist. Though certainly not the first to apply acoustical theory to the construction of musical instruments, Mahillon was one of the earliest to pay close attention to the acoustical properties of mouthpieces. He devoted a small but important section his book to this topic, illustrating it with cutaway drawings. He expanded on his ideas in an article in Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau in 1883. Near the end of his life, in 1916, he drafted extensive revisions to Eléments d’acoustique, apparently with the objective of publishing a second edition that unfortunately never came to fruition. My paper examines Mahillon’s theories of mouthpiece construction, comparing them with those of his contemporaries, those of more recent writers, and with existing mouthpieces. I also address the alterations he made to his drawings of mouthpieces in the 1916 draft.
Mahillon’s treatment of the acoustical properties of mouthpieces unfortunately is less rigorous in a scientific sense than his discussion of other aspects of brasswinds, for some of his remarks are decidedly anecdotal. Nevertheless, his comments on the depth of the bowl, the curvature and depth of the cup, and the vibration of the lips mark him as one of the very earliest writers to address the issue in a meaningful and systematic way. Much of what Mahillon said about mouthpieces more than 135 years ago is still relevant today.

Stewart Carter
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA