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History of Technology of Music

Page updated 14 October 2014

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The Nineteenth Century to the 1890s

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1800++ -

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1801: Appearance of the Viennese key trumpet, a wide-bore bugle.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1804: Piano-maker G. Hoffman of Berlin produces a symmetrically rounded piano. He is followed in 1867 by Bluthner exhibiting a similar instrument in Paris in 1867, and Bluthner was followed by Carl Mand of Coblenz and Spathe of Gera. Gunther of Brussels used a similar shape for small grands.

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1807: Paris: Ignace Pleyel (1757-1831) the piano-builder founds his piano-building firm in Paris. He is already a composer and music publisher; the firm is backed by Mehul. When Ignace died, the firm was led by his son Camille (1788-1855). Composer Chopin liked the Pleyel piano for his "singing technique", and Liszt and Rubinstein made their debuts in Paris on Pleyel pianos. The piano-builders Erard and Pleyel as rivals both prospered and by 1900 had each made 100,00 instruments or more (by when the English market had been well-invaded by German-made pianos). Oddly enough, both Pleyel Senior and Erard Senior died in 1831, their sons Camille Pleyel and Pierre Erard both died in 1855.

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new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1810: Part of the career of the military bugle (though this story may merely be apocryphal). Joseph Halliday, Master of the Band of the Cavan Militia, in Dublin at the time, has a bugle with a hole in it sent to him. He notices that the hole affects the pitch, and developed an idea to make an instrument with five closed keys, which he patented in 1810. His instrument could play a complete chromatic scale. Halliday sold his patent to Dublin maker Matthew Pace, who seems to have made the first key bugle, which became known as the Royal Kent Bugle, named in honour of HRH Duke of Kent, commander-in-chief of the British Army. The bugle became known for its "agility", and was the first fully melodic treble brass instrument. By 1817, the Paris maker Halary (J. H. Aste), produced a series of key bugles, including a bass instrument, the ophecleide, a bass bugle which had a heyday in England 1830-1890.

1811: Viennese piano-maker Bleyer considers the older upright piano design and remarks, "When we examine this action closely, we observe the drops of blood shed by its inventor".

1813: More to come

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1814: More to come

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1815: The trumpet is "rescued from musical insignificance" in Germany by the invention of valves by Stolzel and Bluhmel.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1815: Invention in Germany of valves for brass instruments, which can now demonstrate a homogeneous chromatic scale of up to four octaves. This opens the way for the invention of quite new brass instruments - whole new families. The invention was preceded about 1790 by "the double Chromatic Trumpet and French Horn" patented in London by Charles Clagget. The 1815 work was product of two Silesians, Heinrich Stolzel, a horn player, and Friedrich Bluhmel, who took out a joint patent in 1818. Stolzel it seems first made a demonstration in 1815 in Berlin, so he can perhaps be given greatest credit. The makers Griessling and Schlott took up the idea. The first valve was possibly tubular, the 1818 version was rectangular. Quite a few variations on horn valves appeared in later years. The rotary valve was probably invented by Joseph Riedl, of Vienna, who patented his Rad-Maschine in 1832.

1818: Origins of Christmas carol Silent Night: In 1818, Franz Xaver Gruber an organist in Austria wrote music for a poem, Stille Nacht by Fr. Joseph Mohr. The carol was first sung to guitar by two men at Midnight Mass.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1818-1848: Appearance in Europe of a "new family of musical instruments, today seen as the harmonium, the accordion and the harmonica. They all utilise the "free-reed", as Baines puts it, a metal-tongue that is screwed or riveted over an accurately-cut aperture in a metal frame and is caused to vibrate by air-pressure created by mouth or a bellows system. The accordion becomes very popular in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. But the mouth-organ arose first in China by 1100BC if not earlier.

1818: Haeckl in Vienna produces a bellows harmonica, or Physharmonica. It is a small reed organ foreshadowing the harmonium.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1820: Harp-maker Egan of Dublin patents or portable, gut-strung harp, three-feet high, which has an improved mechanism but preserves the old shape of the Irish harp.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1821-1822: The "father of the mouth-organ" is C. F. L. Buschmann (1805-1864), of Berlin, who takes out patents 1821-1822 for instruments he named variously as aura or aeoline. Buschmann also invented the Hand-harmonica, or, accordion, and the mouth-organ (Mund-harmonica).

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1823: Piano innovation: Johann Andreas Streicher (1761-1833) and Erard both produce improved actions for the piano. (Erard has a double escapement action.) Streicher's new action - the Patent-Flugel - hammers the string from above, delivering more force, a design he later abandoned, taking Beethoven's advice to strengthen construction and increasing volume, partly with a second soundboard. (Flugel = "grand piano".)

1823: Founding in US of noted piano manufacturing firm Jonas Chickering (1798-1853) and Sons, of Boston and New York.

1824: Premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The composer/conductor is deaf, the musicians are told to ignore his conducting, a violinist wrote that B "threw himself back and forward like a madman". As marked up by Beethoven, the manuscript is now regarded as a founding document of modern Western Civilization. (The Ninth was the most widely played symphony in the Third Reich.) See Esteban Buch, Beethoven's Ninth: A Political History. University of Chicago Press, 2003.

1824: The great French virtuoso and music teacher, Louis-Francois Dauprat, publishes his monumental book, Tutor.

1824: Premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The composer/conductor is deaf, the musicians are told to ignore his conducting, a violinist wrote that B “threw himself back and forward like a madman”. As marked up by Beethoven, the manuscript is now regarded as “a founding document of modern Western Civilization”. (The Ninth was the most widely played symphony in the Third Reich.) (See Esteban Buch, Beethoven's Ninth: A Political History. University of Chicago Press, 2003)

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1825: Piano progress: Alpheus Babcock of Boston (who is imitated a year later by Pape and Pleyel in Paris) patents a one-piece, cast-iron piano frame to which in 1832 he adds pape's system of cross-stringing. This became the prototype of the modern American piano - the iron-frame piano, due to improved US metallurgy. This innovation however decreased the resonance of the strings, which was later adjusted by increasing string-size. (Later, Pleyel substituted forged iron and rolled steel as lighter than cast-iron.)

1826: Pleydel introduces his unicorde.

1827: Beethoven died of lead poisoning, but it is not known how or why: For some time before he died aged 56 in 1827, up to 30 years, genius composer Ludwig van Beethoven suffered digestion problems, chronic abdominal pain, irritability and depression. He also had a foul body odour and bad breath. Aware of problems, Beethoven left instructions that his body be examined after his death so that others might be saved from such distress. He had up to 60 times more lead in his system than is regarded as average today. A few locks of his hair were taken, some of them ending up in possession of William Meredith, head of the Beethoven Centre at San Jose State University. Some skull-bone fragments from his body ended up in a tin box owned by an old woman in France, the mother of US-Californian entrepreneur Paul Kaufman. Kaufman's mother died in 1990 in France, he returned to her house to clear it out, and found a key that opened a tin box in a bank safety deposit box – home of the skull fragments. Meredith in 1999 approached Kaufman with an idea that both the hair and bone fragments be examined, and this was done a few years later. The hair and bone matched as samples, but how Beethoven had so much lead poisoning is still a mystery. (The Australian, 8 December 2005)

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes 1827: Anglo-French rivalry: As late as to 1827, to justify a prize awarded in France to a French piano, the instrument is complimented as "equal to the best English pianos". To about 1875, England supported up to 200 firms making or selling pianos.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes 1828: Piano progress: In 1828, Henri Pape of Paris (born 1789 at Sarstedt near Hanover, Germany), "an ingenious German builder" originates the system of cross-stringing the piano. Pape arrived in Paris in 1811, to work in Pleyel's workshop, then to set up for himself. He first made square pianos with English actions, then turned to the pianoforte. He was an innovative genius and patented 137 inventions for the piano, in particular, from 1826, the felting of hammers. Before this, hammers had been covered in sheepskin or buckskin, which gave a hard, dry tone, or flannel (wool and cotton mixture). Pape introduced his own cross-stringing system for piano in 1839. He approved the idea of the hammer striking a string from above. In 1828 Pape produced "the piano-console", somewhat between a square and an upright piano. In 1834 he amused himself building a circular piano. Over time, he reduced the weight of a piano by about 200 pounds. He also made enormous pianos called "sarcophaguses" for export to America.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1829: Cyril Demian in Vienna presents the world with his Accordion, and in 1829, Charles Wheatsone (1802-1827) patents his Symphonium, a mouth-organ. By 1844, Wheatsone gave the world the concertina.

1830s: The Hawaiian guitar arose in the 1830s-1860s as Mexican cowboys work in in Hawaii, and the Hawaiians discover slack key tuning. The actual invention of the Hawaiian guitar is credited to one Joseph Kakooya.
Bob Brozman on ABC TV Guitar Show (Australia) on 20 January 2004, the US musicologist and expert on Hawaiian guitar.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1833: Piano progress: In New York, an American firm, Bridgeland and Jardine, exhibit a piano which has the bass strings crossed over the treble. Meiszner in 1834 does similar in Vienna. In 1835, Pierre-Frederic Fischer patents a similar system in London, though cross-stringing had already come in vogue in England from a design by Theobald Boehm (inventor of "the Boehm flute"), and a manufacture by Gerock of Cornhill, London. The Belgian piano-maker took out a similar patent in 1847.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1833: Belgium: Piano-maker Frin patents the first Belgian piano with an iron frame.

1834: Green in London in 1834 produces an early reed organ (with keyboard and foot bellows), which fails to impress due to its harshness of tone.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1838: Adolphe Antoine Joseph Sax (1814-1894) creates a bass clarinet (a Franco-Belgian design?) (His father, C. J. Sax, was a maker of wind instruments and also pianos. C. J. Sax took out many patents for piano innovations.)

1839 and later: Popularisation in Paris of upright piano as made chiefly by Pape and Pleyel.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1839: Boisselot in 1839 introduces his clediharmonique.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1839: Paris maker Perinet brings out a piston valve for brass instruments which with modifications is still in use.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1840: Band of Kleefeld about 1840 invents a square-built button accordion, part of a new wave of enthusiasm for reed instruments.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1844: Charles Wheatsone (1802-1827) invents the concertina.

1844: C. Kutzing, Das Wissenschaftliche der Pianoforte Baukunst. Bern, 1844.

1845: In France, General du Rumigny chairs a commission to examine on reforms for French army bands. He happens to have a preference for instruments by Sax, who then falls foul of established French instrument makers, who try for up to ten years to have his patents revoked as Sax has invaded their former market with the army. A view is that this does incalculable harm to the French musical instrument industry. At the end of the battle, a number of makers including Sax are ruined.

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1846: In England, Henry Distin, son of noted instrument maker John Distin, sets up in London with a business to import instruments by Sax in France, and later makes instruments in his own right.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1845-1846: Experimenter with woodwinds, Sax, produces the saxophone, perhaps as some say, though it is disputed, after trying to simplify the fingering of the clarinet. A different view is that he wanted to make a conical instrument with a wide-bore allowing loudness, but not blaringness, to give an improved "middle" for a military band. Sax planned the saxophone to become a family of instruments, and he turned from wood to using metal. Sax patented his saxhorns in 1845.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1847: Boehm produces his new flute after earlier innovations of 1832 (a conical flute). His 1847 model had a cylindrical bore with a parabolic head. Since the holes were too large for fingertips, he added padded plates. The 1847 model proves popular in England.

In review: 1848: Hector Berlioz, Instrumentation. Paris, 1848, London, 1858.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1848: Debain in Paris patents a new reed instrument, the harmonium.

Mid-C19th: Both wood and metal-working technologies for musical instruments are greatly improved, encouraging Adolphe Sax to combine a wooden instrument with a brass instrument, resulting in the Saxophone.

1850: By now, the tension of piano strings corresponds to a weight of 12 tons, while later in the twentieth century it is increased to more like a pressure of more than 20 tons.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1851: Gisborne of Birmingham in England brings out a combined cornet and flugel horn, while McNeil in Dublin brings out a combined trumpet, cornet and flugel horn.

1854: Guitar designer Antonio Torres from 1854 produces guitars with greater tonal qualities, tending to remain standard to today. One view is that the modern history of the guitar begins with Francisco Tarrega (1854-1909), who abandons the piano to take up the guitar. Tarrega renewed and invigorated many playing techniques (including more right-hand work), and extended repertory by transcribing livelier or more colourful piano music by contemporary Spanish composers, as well as music by Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Tarrega's life work was further extended by Segovia.

1855: Karl August Andre, Der Klavierbau. Frankfurt, 1855.

1856: Russian nobleman Makeroff offers prizes for original compositions on the guitar. Winners are Merz and Coste, whose works can still be played today.

1856: Near Dusseldorf, Germany, workers quarrying limestone hit their shovels on what they think are bear bones embedded in a thick layer of mud in a cave sixty feet above a valley floor - the valley is named Neandertal after an obscure C17th poet and composer named Joseph Neander. Hence the name for some old relatives of humanity, the Neandertals. Once the remains were examined properly, a noted German anatomist (Herman Schaafhausen) declared that if these were the bones of the oldest man, then the oldest man was a freak! (The post-cranial architecture seemed rather weird.) He did however believe in the idea of [a] primitive man. The idea even then of an "oldest man" had its own history. In 1726, a Swiss physician Johann Scheuchzer claimed to have found a fossil representing "A Human Witness of the Deluge and Divine Messenger" on a hill in Franconia. This "antedeluvian man" turned out to be fossilised salamander. Perhaps, Scheuchzer began the custom of digging up old bones, a habit which would finally disprove his own views? (Shreeve, Neandertal).

1857: A seventeen-year-old Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky sits at a piano - which still survives though in bad condition - to write his first serious music, a romance for voice and a waltz named after a beloved former governess, Anastasia Petrova. His piano after his death went to a museum in Klin, north of Moscow, but was later moved to a new museum in Votkinsk, his home town. Today, about 110,000 people per year visit "the old Tchaikovsky homestead", which shows how life was for the Russian upper class of his day.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1857: Matthias Hohner at Trossingen founds a firm to manufacture Mund-harmonica - mouth organs. Hohner introduces the slider stop, which switches the instrument to a second set of reeds tuned a semitone above the first.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1859: An international congress in Paris fixes the note treble A (the A of the one-foot organ pipe) at 435 cycles per second. Today however, the pitch regarded as standard is New Philharmonic, which places A at 440cps.

1860: Edward Francis Rimbault, The Pianoforte: Its Origin, Progress and Construction. London, 1860.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1864: Gautrot of Paris in 1864 patents a device which embodies the principle on which the double horn is based. He uses the name systeme equionique. The system is conceived of as a "compensating system" to improve the intonation of of certain notes on instruments of the euphonium class.

1864: Birth of Richard Strauss, composer of Salome.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1862 and 1867: World Exhibitions in Paris, and a sensation is caused by showing of new-design iron-frame pianos. One such exhibitor is Chickering of USA. In time, Pleyel used forged iron and rolled steel as being lighter and stronger. In 1867, Steinway and Chickering both spent about 400,000 francs (US$16,000) on promoting their instruments. Steinway had a letter from Rossini saying his pianos were "great as thunder and storm and sweet as the piping of the nightingale on a spring night". Chickering had a letter from Liszt which said that before dying, Liszt wished "to see three things: the prairies of America, Niagara Falls and Chickering's pianos". Liszt was known as "a terror" to piano makers.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1865: Kaps of Dresden reduces the grand piano to a length of five feet. His model becomes a great success.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1866: Career of brass instruments: Schreiber Cornet Manufacturing Co. of New York patents a home-grown actuating mechanism for brass instruments, the so-called American or string action.

1868: H. Kohler, Der Kalvierunterricht. Leipzig, 1868.

1868: Oscar Paul, Geschichte des Klaviers. Leipzig, 1868.

1869: Francis Buch, Du Piano. Rouen, 1869.

1870s: Microphone: From the Greek: micro means “small” and phone means “voice”. The word “microphone” appeared first in 1683 dictionary, referring to the use of megaphones and ear trumpets, defined as “an instrument by which small sounds are intensified”. The first modern or electronic microphones appeared in the 1870s. Microphones reply on the speaker's voice setting off pressure waves which shortly land on and impress a diaphragm, which is attached to a set or coil of thin wires. The coil either is inside a hollow magnet, or has a hollow magnet inside it. As the diaphragm and the coil move in unison relative to the magnet, electricity flows through the wires of the coil. This electricity is then amplified and sent through speakers.

1870: Heinrich Welcker von Gontershausen, Der Klavierbau. Frankfurt, 1870.

1872: Carl Engel, Catalogue of the special exhibition of ancient musical instruments. London, 1872.

1874: Victor-Charles Mahillon, El'ements d'asoustique. Brussels, 1874.

1874: Carl Engel, A descriptive catalogue of the musical instruments in the South Kensington Museum. London, 1874.

1875: H. von Helmholtz, (Trans. by A. J. Ellis), The Sensations of Tone. London, 1875, 1885. (Acoustics)

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1876: A Monster Piano: Mangeot in Paris on the specifications of Polish pianist Joseph Wienawski (1837-1912) builds a piano with reversible keyboards. This actually uses two grand pianos. The second keyboard ran from right to left, so that its bass fell immediately over the treble of the first keyboard. Both keyboards could be played by the same hand.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1878: Career of brass instruments: In 1878, D. J. Blaikley patents "compensating pistons" for brass.

1880: S. Blondel, Histoire anecdotique du piano. Paris, 1880.

1880: Alexander Ellis, The History of Musical Pitch. London, 1880.

1883: J-C Fillmore, History of Pianoforte Music. 1883.

1884: Eugene de Briqueville, Les anciens instruments de musique. Paris, 1884.

1885: A. Marmontel, Histoire du Piano. Paris, 1885.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1887: Thomas Edison makes the first sound recording as he recites nursery rhyme, Mary Had A Little Lamb.

1887: Birth of the Gramophone: Invented by Emile Berliner in USA in 1887. The first "home sound device", and manufactured by Berliner Gramophone Company. Essential technical principles of the device were ousted in the 198s when digital-signal-using compact discs became popular.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1887: Hard on the heels of Edison's invention, Gramophone (record player) is invented in US by Emile Berliner, the first electronic reproducer of "home sound" as home entertainment. The machine played pre-recorded flat disks, which had been earlier in the form of round cylinders incised with grooves. At first, the grooves on the flat discs were cut by a machine acting in unison with a recording of a live performance. Once the recording was manufactured, a needle could be placed over the spinning disc and its vibrations amplified into sound projected by a sound-horn. A motor was needed to spin the disc so the sound remained at regular tempo, or "musical speed", and of course the motor was later driven by electricity. (HoTM can remember wind-up gramophones as seen by a child in the homes of older people in country Australia in the 1950s.) The Berliner Gramophone Company produced work by such popular artists as Dame Nellie Melba. Much later, vinyl was used as a base for sound recordings made on this principle, and the 33rpm speed for long-playing records (LPs) was an innovation for its time, when the spinning surface turning the record was called a turntable - now regarded since the 1980s as "old technology" due to LPs being replaced by music CDs.

1888: Alfred J. Hipkins, Musical Instruments: historic, rare and unique. Edinburgh, 1888/London, 1921.

1889: Edgar Brinsmead, History of the Pianoforte. London, 1889.

1890: Birth of great classical guitar player, Andres Segovia.

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