Five minutes walk from the Grand Place at the centre of Brussels, you will find MIM, the Musical Instrument Museum1. The museum holds one of the most interesting displays of musical instruments in the world.
The MIM collection began in 1877. Formerly it was housed in a very small building, where it was only possible to see a few instruments at a time. The present building was opened in 2000; it is huge and over 1500 instruments are on display.
Visitors to the museum are provided with infrared-controlled headphones. Standing beside an instrument, you will hear music played by the instrument on the headphones. The music is usually in the traditional style for this instrument, so for example, a Finnish Kantele will play traditional Finnish tunes. Not every instrument has been recorded yet, but you will certainly get a feel for the sounds of most of the instruments.
Every instrument is carefully labelled in French and Dutch with the name, country of origin, and date. No attempt is made to label anything in English. There is an expensive guidebook (EUR 16) with descriptions of everything in English, but this is not necessary for an enjoyable tour of the museum.
There are four floors displaying instruments in the museum:
Basement - Mechanical Instruments
Music boxes, barrel organs, pianolas and so on. The ingenuity of some of these machines is fascinating.
Ground Floor - Traditional Instruments
Traditional wind, string and percussion instruments from around the world. Of special note are the giant Chinese stone chimes. This set of hanging stone 'bells' is believed to be the only instrument which uses stone to make music, and the only one of its type outside of China.
First Floor - The Development of Modern Orchestral Instruments
The instruments of the modern orchestra, along with all the primitive instruments they descended from. Of particular interest are the two schools of instruments which were based in Brussels itself: In the 17th and 18th Century, Brussels was a great centre of recorder making - these are well represented here, with the famous Rottenburgh Alto recorder. In the 19th Century, Brussels was the home of Adolphe Sax, and there is a good selection of instruments invented by him, including saxophones, saxhorns and other more unusual instruments.
Second Floor - Strings and Keyboards
While string and keyboard instruments are well represented on the other floors, this floor is dedicated to these. Here you will find clavichords, spinets, virginals, organs and pianos, as well as more unusual and unsuccessful instruments. You'll also find all sorts of violins, mandolins and guitars, as well as a violin maker's workshop, showing all the tools and equipment for the making of these instruments.
There is also a concert hall, a somewhat expensive rooftop restaurant with panoramic views of Brussels, a research library and a gift shop. Exploratory seminars are organised for schools and the museum has an extensive instrument restoration workshop.
The building in which the museum is housed has a beautiful Art Nouveau façade, being the former Old England department store.
Entry fee is EUR 5 for adults, and children under 12 enter for free. Detailed opening times are at the official website; note that the museum is closed on Mondays.