From the mid-19th Century, fairgrounds became increasingly popular drawing countless thousands in search of thrilling entertainment. Mechanical fairground organs were used to provide essential music and add to the sparkle.
Originally these instruments would have been operated with a pinned barrel which gave a limited repetoire of condensed tunes. In 1892 the Paris-based mechanical organ builders Gavioli & Co., patented a revolutionary new operating system using punched cardboard "books" which you will see many organs use today.
Although small barrel organs were used in many countries by street musicians, from 1875 large and increasingly ornate machines became particularly popular in the Netherlands and the "organ man" was soon established as a regular feature of Dutch town and city life.
The "organ grinder" simultaneously earned a living and became the unmistakable aspect of Dutch culture, filling the streets with the sound of cheerful music in those days long before record-players and radio. A Dutch Street Organ in a city or town is still a common sight today.
Subject to the whims of fashion, Dance organs changed dramatically through the years to keep up with trends. Cafe's across the continent are filled with these sounds, still to this day.
Used primarily in Belgian cafés and dance halls, these mechanical jazz bands supplanted the need for costly orchestras and could play all evening without stopping. They reached into the "art deco" era and many organs had huge façades made in that iconic style.
One of the earliest forms of Mechanical Music. From the 18th century, the wealthy carried a variety of fancy snuff-boxes created by craftsmen, and some of them contained a musical movement that played a little tune. Musical boxes then developed from table top items to large pieces of furniture. By the end of the 19th Century, most music boxes were gradually replaced by player pianos, which were louder and more versatile and melodious, when kept tuned, and by the smaller gramophones which had the advantage of playing back voices.
In the 19th Century, the streets were filled with the sounds of the Barrel Piano, busking for pennies. These uncomplex mechanisms hammered out a tune with hammers reiterating back and forth, striking the strings when moved slightly forwards by a pin in the barrel.
Before Radio and the Gramophone, having a piano would provide hours of entertainment, but not everyone could play one. The Self playing Piano was a stunning invention as it’s such a complex instrument to automate. Each note needing to be struck with a different force to control the dynamics of the performance.
An Orchestrion was a ‘step up’ from the self playing Piano. Containing pipework and percussion effects. Sometimes even stringed instruments such as a violin were automated. Incredibly complex and dynamic. An Orchestra in the home.