I can’t tell you how pleased I am about this: Here, on a site dedicated to the iconography of the bagpipe, are two pictures of mirlitons (scroll down to see them), placed as I have always suspected within the general category of kazoo-like instruments, in French termed “flûte eunuque, kazoo, mirliton ou bigophone”. ‘Danse des Bigophones’ has a certain ring, n’est-ce pas? The pictures clearly show the the swirling stripes as they are seen in the mirliton costumes of some productions.
A history of my search for the meaning of mirliton
in case you didn’t know, I’ve been perplexed and annoyed by the term ‘Mirliton’ in The Nutcracker for years – how does this thing turn from marzipan, to reed pipes, to shepherdesses. What is a mirliton? Why do people talk about them as if we’ve all seen one (I never have). I’ve posted on mirlitons as cakes before, but I still have never seen evidence of the supposed mirliton-as-reed-pipe. My mind is finally at peace on this issue and I shall have a happier Christmas.
Update on 27th May, 2012: Here’s another picture of a mirliton from a site about traditional instruments of the Iberian peninsula. There’s also a sound clip if you want to know what Tchaikovsky may have had in mind. Though I’m still rather convinced that the piece is a pun on Mirlitons de Pont-Audemer, as I wrote in a previous post, with a double pun lurking in the background, since pastushka (Russian for shepherdess) and pastiche (French for pastry) are so close in sound.