In 1871, an enterprise known as the Musical Telegraphy Company was incorporated in New York State to apply “electricity to musical instruments…so as to enable one or more musicians to play simultaneously many instruments.” Its president was George P. Hachenberg (1824-1904), a man who probably did more than anyone else to shape American popular thought during that period about the new artistic possibilities that would come from coupling electricity with music.
Hachenberg comes up briefly in some histories of electronic music (e.g., here) and radio (e.g., here), but his work has never received much serious attention, and I believe there are two reasons for that. One is that he never managed to put his plans for what he called “electro-music” into practice, unlike—say—Thaddeus Cahill with the Telharmonium. If we’re interested only in instruments that were actually built, or music that was actually performed, then Hachenberg’s work might seem out of scope, or at least less worthy of investigation. But if we want to trace the idea of applying electricity to music, then I’d argue that Hachenberg’s writings and lectures should assume central importance. I can’t offer solid statistics, but I suspect more people must have heard Hachenberg lecture about electro-music, and been inspired by his words to imagine what it might sound like, than ever had the privilege of listening to Cahill’s Telharmonium. If we factor in the readership of his published writings, then his impact becomes even greater. But that brings us to the second reason why I think Hachenberg’s contributions may have languished in obscurity. Although he submitted a few articles to national scientific and technical journals, some of his most revealing writings about electro-music appeared only in local newspapers, as did most summaries of his lectures. Until recently, these sources would have been prohibitively difficult and time-consuming to find, and variant spellings such as “Hackenberg” and “Hachenburg” make keyword searching more complicated and frustrating than I’d like even today. However, my digital trawling efforts have turned up a total of forty-one significant articles by or about Hachenberg and his work in musical telegraphy, and you’ll find the texts of all of them presented in full below.
I’ve focused here pretty narrowly on electro-music, but I should emphasize that this was only one of the noteworthy interests Hachenberg pursued over the course of his life. By profession, he was primarily a physician—he authored a hefty Medical Consultation Book, published in 1893—and secondarily a beekeeper. However, he also tackled many other interesting projects, most of which receive at least passing mention in an article by J. M. Coleman, “George P. Hachenberg, an American Leonardo da Vinci,” in Southwestern Historical Quarterly 61 (1957-58), available online here. For example, he suggested the basic idea of the lie detector in 1887 (see his articles “On Electro-Pulsimantia—A Method of Detecting the Guilt of Crime by the Electro-Sphygmometer” and “Mental Impressions Solved by Pulsimantia”), right around the same time Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso is credited with originating it. His plan for an elevated bicycle railway also got a lot of attention in the 1890s. A more holistic review of Hachenberg’s endeavors might well turn up some cross-pollination between them that I’ve missed.
George Peter Hachenberg was born at Freeburg, Washington Township, Ohio, on July 24, 1824. His father, Daniel Hachenberg (1798-1891), is listed as a “farmer” in the 1850 census—the family was then living in Green Township in Clark County—but he may have been the same Daniel Hachenberg who printed The American Interpreter / Der amerikanische Dolmetscher (1831), a German-English language instruction book by Freeburg schoolteacher George Gundrum, in nearby New Berlin (now North Canton). If that’s so, the family would have been associated the first printing presses in that part of the country, with the privileged access to miscellaneous information that would have implied. In any case, a biographical sketch published in 1893 reports that “in his early youth,” George Hachenberg “received his business education in his father’s store. At the age of twenty [i.e., in 1844 or 1845] he qualified himself as a dentist, and in that profession defrayed his expenses at Marshall College [now Mercersburg Academy, in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania]. After leaving college, he took up daguerreotyping, and in that art defrayed the expenses of his medical studies. He graduated in the medical university of the city of New York in 1850. For about ten years thereafter he practiced medicine in Springfield, Ohio, where he made his debut as a medical writer, in which capacity he served many medical journals of this country.” His inaugural thesis on “music as a therapeutic agent” doesn’t seem to survive, but for another typical example of his early writings, see “A case of Hæmoptysis treated by the Tourniquet” in the Western Lancet of Cincinnati for September 1851.
Hachenberg claimed that the idea of applying electricity to music had first occurred to him about the time he’d returned from his studies in New York City to practice medicine in Ohio. “When traveling in a mountainous country, midst a violent thunder-storm,” it was reported, “the idea came to him why could not electricity thus operate upon the music of mankind” (#8). But he wrote that the possibility of long-distance transmission of sound had suggested itself to him even earlier—in 1847, while he’d been living in Madisonburg, Pennsylvania—when he’d heard the noise of workmen passing more than a mile through a water-pipe undergoing repairs (#33). He also referred to some early experiments he’d carried out with acoustic apparatus of his own design, including a telescoping stethoscope with multiple focal membranes he claimed to have invented in 1850. Judging from the explanations he gave of this work years after the fact, he was trying to simulate not only the ear as a transducer of sound vibrations, but also the nervous and circulatory systems, all of which—as a physician—he ought to have understood better than the average person (#19, #33).
As for when Hachenberg’s ideas began to jell in the more specific direction of electro-music, he would later claim he had “been giving attention to the subject of musical telegraphy” since 1860 (#6). He was verifiably giving serious thought to telegraphy in general by that time. A letter from him dated July 27, 1860, was published in the Scientific American for August 11, quoting another letter he claimed had been published “immediately after the laying of the Atlantic Cable”—which would have been in 1858—in the Ruralist of Springfield, Ohio, a newspaper of which, unfortunately, no copies are reported to survive, making its earlier publication impossible to confirm. In it, he proposes to use a central wire of silver surrounded by copper to take simultaneous advantage of the conductive properties of both metals.
During the Civil War, Hachenberg served the Union Army as a field surgeon, but we read that he “resigned” in the spring of 1863 “owing to disability from sickness contracted on the battlefield of Antietam.” He reports that it was during this “temporary relief from [his] military service” (#38) that he first revealed his idea of “music by telegraph” to the public. The first publication I’ve been able to locate appeared in the Scientific American of August 29, 1863 (#1), but elsewhere Hachenberg recalled that he’d first announced his plan in the Cincinnati Commercial (#31) or in “one of the Cincinnati papers” (#38). At this time, he was proposing to set up a stock company based on the plan of connecting a thousand pianos distributed around a city by means of electrical wires to a controlling instrument that a single operator would play upon at a central “depot or studio” (#1). Depending on demand, he could “have the playing go on day and night,” such that a subscriber could simply “put on a metal stopper” to listen to music at any desired time (#3). Hachenberg admitted that his proposal hadn’t received much attention in the United States at the time because of the war, but he noted that it had attracted more interest overseas (#38), and articles based on his proposal did in fact appear during this period in both England (#3; unlocated source of #5) and New Zealand (#4). Meanwhile, Hachenberg’s respite from his duties as a military surgeon proved short-lived, as he was ordered to the battlefield of Chickamauga on September 21, 1863, and remained in the field until his discharge on April 17, 1865.
So far, Hachenberg hadn’t put forward anything particularly new. The principle of transmitting music and other valued sounds over a solid network, sometimes called “proto-broadcasting,” wasn’t original with him. It had been clearly articulated since the 1820s, starting with the first public demonstrations of the transmission of music through a solid conductor via Charles Wheatstone’s enchanted lyre:
Who knows but by this means the music of an opera performed at the King’s Theatre may ere long be simultaneously enjoyed at Hanover Square Rooms, the City of London Tavern, and even at the Horns Tavern in Kennington, the sound travelling, like gas, through snug conductors, from the main laboratory of harmony in the Haymarket to distant parts of the metropolis; with this advantage, that in its progress it is not subject to any diminution? What a prospect for the art, to have music ‘laid on’ at probably one-tenth the expense of what we can get it ourselves! (Repository of the Arts, Sept. 1, 1821, p. 175)
In 1855, the Builder (London) concluded another account of an enchanted lyre exhibition: “The experiment proves that music might be laid on to the houses of a town from a central source like gas. A well known joker proposed the establishment of a band-ditty company on the spot” (see the text reprinted here and here).
The idea of attempting something similar with electric telegraphy likewise predates Hachenberg’s first known publications on the subject. George Prescott covers it at some length in his well-known book History, Theory, and Practice of the Electric Telegraph, the first edition of which appeared in 1860—the same year, we’re told, in which Hachenberg seriously took the idea up himself, and perhaps an unacknowledged source for it. Prescott describes a supposedly common practice of the time in which geographically separated telegraph operators tapped out the rhythms of songs for each other, and then he outlines how specific musical notes could be sent as well by transducing their frequencies as electrical pulses at a rate of between twelve and fourteen thousand times per second. “The adaptation of this power to the production of music upon telegraphic piano-fortes at any distance which may be desired,” he concludes, “is a matter of the utmost simplicity, capable of being successfully carried into practice by any one who has the money and taste for the experiment.” And as for the cultural and artistic implications:
That a pianist in Boston should execute a fantasia at New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and New Orleans at the same moment, and with the same spirit, expression, and precision as if the instruments, at these distant places, were under his fingers, is not only within the limits of practicability, but really presents no other difficulty than may arise from the expense of the performances.
Hachenberg’s initial plan seems to have resembled the one Prescott describes pretty closely, relying on transmitting sound waves via “electrical waves” at the same frequencies, but he soon abandoned that approach as impractical (#30). Instead, he shifted to a plan centered on transmitting simpler electrical signals to govern the dynamics of when and how notes would be sounded—an arrangement more analogous to MIDI than to the kind of musical telephony described by Prescott. His early technical statements are vague enough that it’s difficult to pinpoint the timing of this conceptual shift with certainty. Secondary accounts published overseas in 1863-64 suggest that his project still relied at that time on “the production of electrical vibrations at a velocity equal to those of musical notes” (#4) or on “sympathetic vibration” (#5), but his own writings from that period don’t specify this, as far as I’ve seen. In any case, the shift seems to have taken place by 1867, when Hachenberg elaborated four interrelated scenarios (#6):
- Making a single instrument instantaneously responsive to the player’s touch on the keyboard. The usual pedals on a piano would be dispensed with, and complete means of expression would somehow be built into each key.
- Enabling a single person to play multiple instruments connected together by electricity from a single keyboard.
- Using a “musicometer” to execute pre-programmed music automatically, whether the goal was “to test the merit and accuracy of difficult musical compositions” or—in the proto-broadcasting scenario—to fill gaps in the daily program of “live music” performed at the depot. Hachenberg himself actually uses the term “live music” in this context.
- Erecting a grand concert hall with electrically controlled musical instruments variously arranged about its interior.
The idea of using electricity to trigger sounds at a distance—not through individual vibrations as with the telephone, but in more “ordinary” ways—likewise predated Hachenberg’s brainstorming efforts. Bells had been sounded by electricity since the eighteenth century—see e.g. the work of Jean-Baptiste Thillaie Delaborde—and playful proposals had been put forwards in the 1840s to use telegraphy for remotely operating androids that would synthesize speech with reeds, bellows, and the like—see e.g. “The Speaking Automaton on Railways,” Punch 11 (July-Dec. 1846), 143, or Joseph Henry’s remark: ““if an immage [sic] of the kind were placed in each pulpit of the several churches of the same denomination in the episcopul [sic] for example and a set of wires were conducted to some central place the same sermon might be delivered at the same moment to all” (Letter of January 6, 1846, in Reingold and Rothenberg, Papers of Joseph Henry, 6:362). The organist Henry John Gauntlett took out a British patent in 1852 covering electrical control mechanisms for organs, pianofortes, and seraphines, played both by hand and automatically by barrel (see here and here), and some organs with electro-pneumatic action were built in the late 1860s, although the principle wasn’t implemented satisfactorily enough to become popular until the 1880s (see here). Other examples could be cited besides, although in some cases the details are frustratingly unclear, as with Matthias Hipp’s “electromechanical piano” of 1867 (see here); but the bottom line is that this part of Hachenberg’s scheme was not an innovation without precedent.
With all that said, I believe two points still distinguish Hachenberg’s proposal of 1867 from anything that had gone before. First, it aimed to combine a number of different scenarios—including telegraphic proto-broadcasting and “local” electrically controlled music—into a single coherent system with inter-operable parts. Second, Hachenberg’s vision of an elaborate concert hall full of musical instruments coordinated by electricity seems to have been unique. This was also the part of the plan he seems to have tried hardest to fund in the years that followed. What he had in mind was apparently a kind of electrically-controlled orchestrion, something like a gargantuan, immersive theater organ. In 1891, he wrote that an Electro-Musical Hall could have multiple musical instruments “incorporated with the entire inside lining of the building,” although a prima donna might still be placed on a traditional stage within it (#38).
Hachenberg had given his first public lectures about these ideas by early 1868 (#7, see also announcement here). That spring, he was sent out West for a stint as a military surgeon during which he spent much of his time on a side project of “collecting” Native American skulls for craniological study—a.k.a. grave robbing—as described in Ann Fabian’s The Skull Collectors. However, his musical telegraphy project continued to get some press during this period, as well as a new name, as the Boston Post of December 28, 1868, announced: “The post surgeon at Fort Randall, Dakotah, claims to have invented ‘electro-music,’ by which one performer can play a brass band in half-a-dozen different cities at once.” By the spring of 1869, Hachenberg had returned to his lecturing, with the term “electro-music” now appearing in print both with and without a hyphen—although in digital scans of microfilmed newspapers it can be difficult to tell the difference (#8). He gave one especially prominent lecture at Crosby’s Opera House in Chicago in April 1869, which he later claimed Elisha Gray had attended (#38)—the implication being that his lecture had helped inspire Gray’s own musical telephone of 1874. But it’s evident that Hachenberg lectured on “musical telegraphy” or “electro-music” in a great many other places besides during this period; indeed, he advertised that he would give his “great lecture on musical telegraphy” anywhere in the United States for $50 plus expenses (see e.g., New-York Tribune, September 23, 1870, p. 7, under “Lectures and Meetings”). He sent chatty letters from the road back home to the Hudson Daily Star for publication, and while I’ve only located a couple of these so far with anecdotes specifically about his lectures (#9, #10), I suspect a more thorough day-by-day perusal of the Star might turn up more, maybe even allowing for a reasonably complete reconstruction of his itinerary. Sometime in 1869 (#15), Hachenberg also described his electro-music scheme to Joseph Henry, who supposedly offered him the use of the upper floor of Smithsonian Institution for experiments, although he had to turn down the offer (#38; “prior to 1860” is presumably a typo). “I remember he laid great stress on the peculiar timbre created by musical telegraphy,” Hachenberg wrote, “where the same note is expressed at once throughout the whole space of the hall” (#30). Perhaps drawing on Henry’s remarks, Hachenberg would later claim of electro-music that “notes reaching the tympanum from different points gives [sic] the music a timbre that is both grand and peculiar” (#38).
Hachenberg’s biographical sketch states: “After his lecture tour [of 1869], he took charge of the surgical work of a medical house in the city of New York, and there performed some of the most heroic surgical operations on record. In 1871 he took charge of the Rochester Infirmary, and conducted that institution for three years.” It was also in 1871 that the New York state legislature authorized the incorporation of the Musical Telegraphy Company in Rochester through a bill put forward by assemblyman George P. Lord (1831-1917), a politician, merchant, and banker representing Yates County. Hachenberg was listed as president, but other members included Godfrey N. Frankenstein (1820-1873) of Springfield, Ohio, a painter best known for his moving panorama of Niagara Falls, and Morgan Henry Chrysler (1822-1890) of Kinderhook, New York, who had been a Union Army general in the Civil War. A circular was issued in the new company’s name, dated April 10, 1871. This invited recipients to subscribe for $10 shares, with actual stock to be issued once $20,000 had been guaranteed towards the construction of ten pianos with electro-musical attachments, and it also promised to supply a print copy of Hachenberg’s electro-music lecture on request (#16), although this still hadn’t been published as of several months later (#23). “The list was headed, ordering a liberal amount, by the Hon. Charles W. Briggs, Mayor of the city,” Hachenberg later recalled, but ultimately the venture failed to materialize: “As the amount was not guaranteed the stock was not issued” (#38).
Repeated efforts to tie the launch of electro-music to major public festivities proved equally fruitless. After the Chicago lecture of April 1869, some locals had put forward the idea of holding an electro-musical event there in celebration of the imminent completion of the Union Pacific railroad (#8, #9, #15), but this had fallen through, as Hachenberg explained: “When these gentlemen in their ardor proposed my superintending the construction of my Musical Telegraphy they were unaware of the time and money required for the consummation of this enterprise” (#15). Instead, the completion of the Union Pacific was more famously commemorated by the driving of the “golden spike” at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869. A proposal to incorporate electro-music into the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia was favorably received (#25, #27), and it was on this pretext that Hachenberg met with pianist Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) for an interview about the viability of the scheme around November 1872 (#26). On February 19, 1873, Hachenberg lectured on musical telegraphy before the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and it may have been this talk that inspired the local Schomacker Piano Company to offer him $20,000 worth of their pianos to defray the cost of building ten electro-musical attachments to be applied to pianos of their make at the Centennial (#28, #38). “I could not accept their offer, owing to certain conditions,” Hachenberg stated (#38), and he ended up suspending the Centennial arrangements altogether for “financial reasons” (#31). He had also moved to Texas for his health in 1873, ultimately settling in Austin for the rest of his life, which may have interrupted his negotiations in the East. In the end, Alexander Graham Bell’s new telephone didn’t have to compete with Hachenberg’s electro-music for attention at the Centennial after all. The idea of introducing electro-music at the World’s Fair of 1883 in New York fell through when plans for the fair itself fell apart (#30). Next, the manager of the St. Louis Electrical Exposition of 1890 offered Hachenberg “material aid” to get his invention ready to exhibit there, but the inventor reported that “the time allotted to comply with his request was entirely too short, and I declined to take action in the matter” (#38). He did submit a musical telegraphy proposal to the commissioners of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 (#34, #35, #37, #38), but nothing came of that either. In the end, no electro-musical equipment or performances were ever to materialize under Hachenberg’s supervision. He claimed that his ideas had at least provided the inspiration for an actual instrument or two: “In 1868 M. Speiss, on the basis of my “Musicometer” exhibited an Electro-automaton piano at the Technological Society in Paris; and we have information that an Electro-Organ was one of the main attractions at the Exposition of the American Institute of 1869” (#15; see also #13). However, both of the cases he cited could just as well have been informed by other, earlier suggestions along similar lines.
Even though Hachenberg never translated his plans for musical telegraphy into any tangible reality, his lectures must still have helped to popularize the general idea of combining electricity with music and to stimulate his listeners’ imaginations in certain specific directions. He was probably more influential than any other person in shaping Americans’ expectations about a future art of electronic music during the late 1860s and early 1870s—an art that was to differ qualitatively from the music of the past and would not simply transmit music into new contexts in a manner analogous to later radio broadcasting.
At the time the Musical Telegraphy Company was incorporated, Hachenberg’s main selling point for it was the enhancement of effect he thought electro-music would offer in terms of both control and variety. By applying “sound reflectors” and “electrical dampers” to multiple instruments, he claimed, a single note could be given as many as four hundred different expressions (#16). The result would be no mere novelty, Hachenberg insisted, but music “of the highest order,” whether played by hand in real time or programmed in advance on the musicometer, with all the potential that would entail for mathematical precision and extreme complexity: “many thousand notes may be given in a single musical expression” (#18). Indeed, the nuanced form of this new music might so far exceed anything that had come before that it would be “beyond auditory appreciation without artificial means,” requiring electro-musical audiences to augment their hearing with stethoscopes much as they had hitherto augmented their sight with opera glasses (#19).
One question Hachenberg struggled to resolve to his critics’ satisfaction involved artistic agency. To some extent, he thought electro-music would heighten the control a traditional performer could exercise over a musical instrument. For example, he argued that his scheme would eliminate any delay between when a performer triggered a note and when it would be heard: “As the touch is, so will be the music” (#21; see also #20). But in the first print version of the interview with Rubinstein, published in 1872, Hachenberg began to hint at a division of labor in which traditional performers might need to cede some of their artistic control to other participants. Specifically, he explained to Rubinstein that electro-music would have a greater dynamic range than other music, which could be controlled in one of three ways: (1) by pedal work; (2) by the “vertical keyboard” of an electrical attachment; or (3) by an assistant. Rubinstein is supposed to have objected to the loss of “individuality” option three would have entailed (#26), but that’s the option on which Hachenberg had decisively settled by 1882: a separate “musical director” would be in charge of “expression” and “individuality,” while someone else—such as Rubinstein—would be responsible only for keying in the notes (#30). That same year, he published a revised version of his ten-year-old interview with Rubinstein, arguing that it was the “genius and skill” of the musical director that would produce “the highest artistic effect,” and that “by bringing different instruments with electrical readiness within his control, [he] would infuse a grandeur and spirit into the music the performer himself could not possibly do for want of a musical instrumental area.” According to the latest plan, the musical director’s fingers were supposed to rest on a special keyboard, with each finger controlling one of ten different pianos. The pedals of both the musical director’s console and the “key-piano” operated by the traditional performer (like Rubinstein) would be linked to the pedals of the other instruments, but Hachenberg didn’t explain how differing or contradictory instructions from the two sources would be harmonized (#31; he seems to have dropped his earlier plan to dispense with pedals on the “key-piano” sometime between 1867 and 1871). Elsewhere, Hachenberg recalled that he had “tried to make [Rubinstein] understand that [individuality] must be sacrificed, if the music itself can be advanced” (#38), and he pointed more generally to the ignorance of electricity among musicians, or the lack of common understanding between musicians and electricians, as a regrettable stumbling block (#31, #38). I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to understand the division of labor Hachenberg had in mind here as anticipating the later division of labor between musicians and the people who control sound boards.
If the live operator of the “key-piano” were limited to the grunt work of keying in musical notes while a musical director was responsible for controlling musical expression, there would seemingly have been little reason not to rely instead on automatic music programmed in advance on a musicometer. One commentator parsed “musicometers” as “mechanical contrivances containing the music stored up in them, as gasometers contain the provision of gas, the one letting off the music when turned on, the other the gas,” speculating that this was “only a new name for a revolving drum, like that of a barrel organ” (#23). Hachenberg’s musicometer was indeed to be cylindrical (#20) and worked by clockwork like an Elgin watch (#11); it “was something like a music box, only it was dumb, and the projecting pins in the drum were movable, that is, placed on a slide, and so constructed as to set them to play any piece of music on the 10 pianos” (#38). Hachenberg also suggested substituting an ordinary music for the musicometer in his system (#38, #41).
Most of the scenarios Hachenberg spelled out after the mid-1860s involved using electricity to control the action of ordinary musical instruments rather than to transmit or synthesize sound vibrations as such. However, he did bring up the idea of incorporating electro-vibratory bells into his plans, or of causing piano strings to vibrate by the same principle (#21). He also imagined using some kind of diaphragm-based telephone arrangement to connect the sound-boards of multiple pianos with each other to ensure “synchronous vibration” (#36) or to transmit singing through the instruments for “harmonic effect” even when the instruments themselves weren’t playing (#30).
Hachenberg was of two minds about the telephone. On one hand, he claimed to have invented it based on some of his earliest statements about electro-music and how it would work (#32, #33). “It was rather remarkably co-incident (as I was told afterwards),” he wrote, “that Professor Bell lived in Rochester at the same time and was working on his telephone [not true]; and I was likewise informed that Dr. Gray heard my Chicago lecture in 1869″ (#38). On the other hand, Hachenberg argued that the telephone had nothing positive to offer music, and that he’d been right to turn away from it: “All telephonic experiments in improving music will end unsatisfactorily” (#31); “it never would benefit the art of music, but rather impair it” (#33). Specifically, he found that the telephone did a poor job of transducing timbre, although he claimed to have “greatly remedied this defect by placing a small feather cushion between the receiver and the ear,” pointing—he thought—to some “peculiar relation existing between feathers and electricity” (#38).
None of these considerations kept Hachenberg from writing to Alexander Graham Bell for his opinion on electro-music and proudly circulating the resulting testimonial: Bell had “no doubt that very beautiful and wonderful effects would be produced by a combination of musical instruments electrically connected and controlled by one performer” (#30). Hachenberg also cited, but didn’t quote, an allegedly supportive letter from Thomas Edison (#31, #32, #38, #39).
Hachenberg went into specifics about some parts of his scheme, as we’ve seen, but he kept some others consistently vague, alleging that the details ought to be self-evident to anyone well-versed in electricity: “Electricians will understand what an illimitable power we control over each note” (#21); “Any intelligent electrician, from this brief account, can in his mind’s eye see the full modus operandi of this arrangement of applying electricity for musical purposes” (#31). Given that he never elaborated any further, I suspect these remarks might actually have concealed his own uncertainty about how everything would have to be configured in practice to make his ideas work. We certainly don’t have enough information to try to build an instrument to his specifications today if we wanted to do so.
But Hachenberg’s contribution lies less in any technical specifics than in its sheer imaginative scope. He plainly expected the application of electricity to music to be artistically revolutionary. On one hand, it was supposed to transform music. “A great deal might be said,” he stated, “as to changes which would take place in the construction of music after the introduction of musical telegraphy” (#39). The cultural status of electricity was expected to undergo a transformation as well. As Hachenberg wrote, “the mysterious hand of electricity in a new role shows its power to please, where heretofore we only associated it with force and terror” (#38). Meanwhile, in case anyone were still uneasy about new technologies intruding into the world of high art, he drew some reassuring analogies with photography and the engraving of banknotes (#20, #28).
It’s difficult to tell how seriously Hachenberg’s proposals were taken at the time. When a writer raises the prospect of a single conductor filling a hall with music in place of a sixty-piece orchestra (#17), for example, I sense sarcasm rather than wonderment, but it’s hard to be sure. That said, some commentators were more open about their skepticism, as when we read that “there is no more likelihood that this telegraphic music will take the place of ordinary performances, than that telegraph writing or messages will supersede ordinary correspondence” (#1). “The thing is, no doubt, perfectly feasible,” conceded one critic, “though, of course, it would be useless when done” (#4). The Manufacturer and Builder recalled that it had proposed the formation of a musical telegraphy company as a joke back in April 1870, “little dreaming that any one would be foolish enough to execute so absurd a proposition” (#24). The most elaborate critique I’ve seen was written by Peter Henri Vander Weyde (1813-1895), who saw no advantage in causing ten pianos to play all at once in the same place and argued that it would be more productive to place them in different locations around a city for transmitting a daily program of music to subscribers, an idea he implies Hachenberg hadn’t had (#23). Of course, Hachenberg had brought up this possibility, although he downplayed it as a “novelty” relative to the coming wonders of the Electro-Musical Hall (#26). He also advanced the idea of piano teachers using musical telegraphy “to instruct simultaneously many pupils at the same time,” as well as “for the exchange of instrumental music between musical friends” following the model of a telephone conversation between two points (#38).
George Hachenberg’s musical telegraphy scheme was an interesting one that warrants more attention from historians of the electrification of music than it has received in the past. At the same time, Hachenberg himself doesn’t come across as a particularly sympathetic figure, and while I hope the information I’ve presented here will help flesh out the historical record, I’m not eager to champion Hachenberg’s cause as such. In the anecdotes he shared about robbing Native American graves in the West—you can find some of these quoted in Ann Fabian’s The Skull Collectors—he boasts in cringeworthy terms of outwitting people he plainly considered to be his intellectual and racial inferiors. A similarly patronizing attitude surfaces alongside a cruel sense of humor in some of his medical writings, as in this example:
In 1849 I had a practice in the epidemic of cholera, in Ohio. I was fully impressed that the exciting cause of the disease in many cases was mental, disturbing the equilibrium of the circulation. This I brought to a test in a case of obstinate constipation that came under my treatment at the time. The subject was a man of full habits; and, after taking some half a dozen different cathartics without effect, he got alarmed and sent for me. I found him with a full, strong pulse and flushed surface. With a grave face I felt his pulse, shook my head, which at once inspired him with fear. He anxiously asked me what I thought of his case. “Why,” I replied, “you are going to die.” The poor fellow collapsed at once; he turned deathly pale. Soon I heard the glad tidings of borborygma [rumbling in the bowels]. I gave him no medicine. I left the house for about half an hour; and, when I got back, I was told that he had an enormous passage. I now congratulated him and told him that he was all right. “But, Doctor,” says he, “you said that I was going to die.” “So I did,” I answered; “but did I tell you when? I only aroused your fears as a powerful cathartic.” It may be unnecessary to state that he never appreciated the remedy.
Further evidence of Hachenberg’s character can be found below where he describes convincing some Irishwomen not to attend his musical telegraphy lecture because he thought they were too stupid to understand it (#9) and tricking another woman into taking a dose of hellebore, a.k.a. sneezewort, by promising it would sweeten her singing voice (#10). But then I suppose there’s no reason why a forgotten visionary should also have been an exemplary human being.
ANTHOLOGY OF PRIMARY SOURCES
1. Scientific American, August 29, 1863, p. 134.
Music by Telegraph.
MESSRS. EDITORS: —The idea of introducing music into families within the limits of a city, by means of electricity, has at times been the beau ideal of my inventive speculations for the last several years. That every parlor of a city could be furnished with music, and music too of the highest order, as the most of houses are furnished with gas and water, should not be considered one of the impossibilities of the age. From the attention I have given to the subject, I believe the plan is highly practicable, its merits being—simplicity in mechanical construction, perfection in operation, and affording a novel, but most exquisite pleasure to many private families and social circles, at a trifling expense.
To explain what would constitute the mechanical construction of this happy invention. In some central part of the city locate the musical depot or studio, say of a highly skillful performer on the piano, melodeon, or organ; we will select the piano. To this instrument there is an electrical attachment, which may be made to communicate with a thousand other pianos in the city, these again having their own peculiar magnetical attachments. In this arrangement there would be a half an inch thick electrical conductor or poles, running through different parts of the city, as the means of communication from the operator’s piano to those connected therewith throughout the city. Here is a state of affairs where one person may be playing a thousand pianos at the same time! There would be no speculation as to the perfect success of the operation. From what we know of electrical velocity, and its precision of action, there is a certainty, that as the music is performed at the depot chamber, so will it be reproduced precisely at the player less piano in each dwelling with which it may be connected.
In regard to the financial character of this invention, it would not require much of an effort to be made popular; and to make it popular would be to make it profitable. We are of the opinion, it would be a stock operation that would pay, probably better than any other. Those taking an interest in this invention who wish further information on the subject, may address the subscriber.
G. P. HACHENBERG, M. D.
Springfield, Ohio, Aug. 9, 1863.
[The above is certainly a novel use for the electric current. But there is probably no practical difficulty in the way of its successful accomplishment. Things more wonderful are done every day through the agency of electricity. We would, however, advise all our young lady friends to continue the study of music with as much zeal as ever; for there is no more likelihood that this telegraphic music will take the place of ordinary performances, than that telegraph writing or messages will supersede ordinary correspondence.—EDS
2. Newspaper report, circa early September 1863. The text as quoted below appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 4, 1863, here; as “Novel Musical Instrument,” in Albany Journal, Sept. 12, 1863, p. 4 (in America’s Historical Newspapers database); and in Daily Alta California, Oct. 5, 1863, here. Another variant appeared as “Novel Musical Instrument,” beginning: “Dr. Hachenberg, ef [sic] Springfield, Ohio, now of U. S. A. Hospital No. 1, of Nashville, has hit upon…,” in The Nashville Daily Union, Dec. 16, 1863, here, cited as from the Independent. Abridged versions naming “Dr. Hachenberg, of Springfield,” also appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel, Dec. 25, 1863; and Portland (Maine) Weekly Advertiser, Dec. 26, 1863.
A physician of Springfield, Ohio, has hit upon an instrument which, as singular as it may seem at first sight, is not the most unpromising one for the general diffusion of a taste for music and of an economical enjoyment of a skilled musical telegraph for the purpose of extending music from competent performers into every family, as cheaply almost as our gas and water. His mode of applying it is to locate, in some central part of the city, a musical depot, presided over by some highly skillful performer on the piano or melodeon. To this instrument an electrical attachment may be made to communicate with a thousand other pianos in the city, these again having their own peculiar magnetic attachments.
3. The Musical World (London), October 31, 1863, p. 693.
NEW YORK.—An American, C. [sic] P. Hachenberg, who, to judge by his name, is of German extraction, makes the following announcement:—I have determined, by means of electricity, to supply every house with music, just as it is supplied with gas and water, by means of pipes. About the middle of the town I erect the central station, the music-manufactory. It will include a piano as the machine, and a first-rate pianist to work it. Every one who subscribes will be provided with a piano. Every such piano is connected by electric wires with the central piano, so that when my distinguished pianist plays the overture to Don Juan, with the utmost virtuosity and the deepest feeling, all the pianos connected with the central one will perform the overture at the same time and in the same manner. If the demand is large, I will have the playing go on day and night. It is only necessary to put on a metal stopper and the melodies will continue to flow in uninterrupted joyousness.”
4. Newspaper report, Lyttelton Times (Canterbury, New Zealand), December 29, 1863, here.
Musical Telegraphy, a device for connecting a pianoforte by electric wires with another instrument at a distance, which other being played sets its fellow in a state of sympathetic vibration, is made the basis of a scheme, promulgated in an American paper by Mr. Hachenberg, who announces that he will thus be prepared to lay on music to any desired number of houses. A distinguished artist is to play at a central instrument in electrical connection with the rest, and every subscriber will thereupon have the option, by means of a little private tap, of turning on the stream of harmony into his own drawing-room. The thing is, no doubt, perfectly feasible, though, of course, it would be useless when done. It depends simply on the production of electrical vibrations at a velocity equal to those of musical notes. Vibrations, for example, ranging from 50 to 1,000 per second would give a range of between four and five octaves.
5. English newspaper report reprinted in Godey’s Lady’s Book, March 1864, p. 314. Hachenberg later stated that the source was the London Times, but I haven’t been able to locate the article there.
THE following is from an English paper, no one in this country has yet heard of it:—
“Have you heard, too, of the new American invention—musical telegraphy? By means of it dulcet strains are to be laid on, like water or gas, at so much per annum for each house! A pianoforte is to be connected by means of electric wires with any number of instruments, and on being played, the sympathetic vibration will cause a regular stream of harmony to permeate every room in communication with the central depot. A distinguished professor is to be kept playing, and subscribers are to turn on music at will by means of a small tap. If this sounds a little mad, I can only assure you that it is a scheme gravely propounded by Mr. Hackenberg, an American gentleman, who states his plans to be matured, and that he is ready to supply music at a given rate per annum to all the world. Fancy the ‘sympathetic vibration’ between two kindred souls separated by an adverse fate, but who agree to enjoy the same sentimental strain at the same hour! It sounds like a leaf out of the ‘Arabian Nights;’ but I am assured on scientific authority that the scheme is practicable, and that, with a proper number of subscribers guaranteed, it is perfectly feasible that the very best musical skill may be brought within the reach of all householders willing to pay a small additional rate. Does not Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World ask at a ball why the ladies and gentleman go through all that hard work themselves, instead of paying servants to do it for them? The labor of ‘practising’ at the piano will, if this scheme succeed, be at an end; for what young lady would have the heart to pound away at her ‘Battle of Prague’ when a professional player is competing with her in the same room, and when the superior strains of such player are to be constantly heard by the simple process of turning on a tap? Let me suggest Shakspeare’s line,
‘Where should this music be? i’ the air, or the earth?’
as an appropriate motto for Mr. Hackenberg’s invention.”
6. “Musical Telegraphy.” In The Telegrapher, Dec. 7, 1867, pp. 122-23, here, cited as from Musical Review, and followed by the piece from Godey’s Lady’s Book (#3 above), to which it alludes (“Shakespeare’s quotation given below”). It also appeared in Watson’s Art Journal 8:3 (Nov. 9, 1867), pp. 38-39, here, without the reprinted Godey’s piece, but prefaced by a reprint of a satirical article of 1847, “The Electro-Harmonic Piano-Forte,” which had “foreshadowed an idea which it is now claimed has been made practical, but which is most probably a reproduction of the same pleasantry which we first published, only rendered solemnly absurd by an affectation of scientific surroundings.”
BY GEORGE P. HACHENBERG, M. D., HUDSON, NEW YORK.
Since the year 1860, I have been giving attention to the subject of musical telegraphy; that is, to apply electricity as a mechanical means to play key musical instruments, such as the organ, piano, and melodeon.
On this subject, I have completed my invention to meet three different indications: 1st. The application of electricity limited to one instrument, in order to make the touch and the action on the note strictly simultaneous, thus putting each note under the full subjection of the will. 2d. To connect electrically a number of instruments together, and have them played upon simultaneously by one performer. 3d. The construction of a musicometer in order to test the merit and accuracy of difficult musical compositions. It is automatic in its action, and can readily be adjusted to play any piece of music.
1. Under this heading, we propose to bring the accuracy and perfection of music produced on key instruments, by the manipulations of skillful musicians to the highest degree. The player’s touch is to be his music. Time and harmony are to be under the full control of his skill and conception. Not only this, but the whole concord and harmony connected with a given note can be centred in one touch, thus giving volume and compass to the expression of that note which otherwise could not be accomplished. A piano thus arranged, has no pedals to regulate the expression of music; but each individual key is so constructed as to secure any expression in playing it the performer may see fit.
2. Under this arrangement, the object is to afford the best music for the million. This is to be accomplished by the following arrangement: A depot piano or other instrument is stationed in a room in the central part of a city, which is under the management of expert players. This instrument has an electrical attachment connected with a cable which is to communicate with different parts of the city. Each distal instrument has likewise its electrical attachment, however, differently constructed from the one connected with the operator’s instrument. As the musician plays on the instrument at the depot-quarters, so will be the music on all the instruments that hold an electrical communication with it. Thus one person on the piano may play more than a thousand pianos at the same time. The communication of instruments may even be as extensive as to have thousands of musical instruments of different cities so connected as to be played by one person. Through American skill, capital, and energy, it is an event that may yet be consummated, for our distinguished pianist, Jerome Hopkins, to give us a musical entertainment at the Academy of Music in New York, that will not only be simultaneously represented in well-filled houses in different cities of the United States, but the same music may issue forth from the piano in the Queen’s chamber in the Windsor Palace! The cable used in this invention is less than an inch in diameter, and is composed of a strand of more than fifty insulated wires.
3. The musicometer is virtually a self-playing instrument, and is composed of several parts; the musical instrument itself, its electrical attachment, the musicometer, its clock-work machinery, and its electrical appliances. The music is arranged on the musicometer, and of course is expressed by the instrument. There is no miserable, uncouth, drum-like arrangement about this part of the invention, as some perhaps may suppose. Expression is likewise perfectly given in this kind of music, as the concord and harmony of any given note can with it be simultaneously given. The musicometer could likewise be used with extraordinary effect at the depot-chamber, described above. It would not only serve well for interludes in “live music” performed by players at headquarters, but can be made to serve thousands of families with unceasing sweet, sedative music at all hours of the night, to lull to sleep the colicky babe, the nervous mother, or conscience-stricken father. On this instrument, we bring all manipulations in making music to the most exact standard. In time, it will not err in the millionth part of a second. As the playing is automatic, with electrical exactness, no deviation from its perfectness can take place. By the use of the musicometer, with a certain combination of notes, a Chickering can be made to warble its notes more beautiful and charming than those of a bird.
By the combined use of the above inventions, one of the finest musical effects could be secured that probably could be conceived by the most sensitive imagination. For this purpose, a large musical hall, possessing special acoustic effects, would be necessary. Within this hall we would arrange, at different angles, all around the audience, a large number of musical instruments, electrically connected. These are to be played in concert harmony, either by one or more performers, or in connection with one or more musicometers. By certain adjustments of several instruments of the latter, the intonation of many thousand notes could be given in a single expression, and still so soft and sweet as to have its harmony broken by the fall of a pin. With such extraordinary intonations as these, not emanating from fixed places, but in combination, coming in sweet harmony from all points, so to speak, to engulf in music the audience at once—sure enough, leaving them in wonderment to feel Shakespeare’s quotation given below. Virtually, in this hall they would be listening to a harp with a thousand strings, strung to mortal ear, the world all over.
Part of these inventions I made public a few years ago. It was with the same motive I have now; that is, to induce capitalists to take interest in the consummation of an invention that would prove an honor to the inventive genius of this country, not for the purpose of making music a great wonder, but to bring it to its most perfect standard. This can only be accomplished through the agency of electricity. In this, I am perhaps less selfish than many may suppose. The work before me can not be the work of one man, or of one age to complete it; but still, for all that, the immediate investment of a hundred thousand, even for theatrical purposes, would yield its millions in less than ten years.
The following is an extract from Godey’s Ladies’ Book, taken from an English paper….
7. Prophetic Times 6, no. 4 (April 1868), p. 96.
The New York papers of the 31st ultimo, announced Dr. G. P. Hachenberg’s lecture on Musical Telegraphy. I heard this remarkable lecture, where the Doctor demonstrated the practicability of one pianist playing a thousand or more pianos at the same time, by having them electrically connected. Not only this, but by an arrangement with a number of Musicometers of his invention, whose action are automatic, concert music is to be performed where many thousand notes are often given in a single expression; thus affording music grand beyond description. The lecture was not only very sprightly, but highly scientific, and attracted not only considerable attention, but no little excitement.
In one part of his address he touched upon the subject of the second advent of the Messiah, pretty much in these words, which I give you, as the subject of his words are not foreign to your paper:
“The most striking figure of the present age is that we are fast becoming a musical world; more musical than learned, and fully as practical as musical. With joy we hail this universal indulgence in a pleasure, that carries with it no vice…. This country was wonderfully revolutionized in music by the Swedish Nightingale. She taught us how pure and sweet a thing music is. Her voice sweetened the voices of millions….
“But do not believe that these extraordinary changes take place in the tide of human affairs, without some great purpose. What is it we do not know? Many of the clergy of different denominations, now teach us that we are living in a prophesied epoch, and the sounding of those notes that announce the second advent of the Messiah, may fall upon us even before our separation here in this house; or to use their language, when least expected. These, in a measure, appear to be the teachings of Cummings, Gregory, Newton, Baxter, Ryle, and other divines of the day.
“They closely study every event of the day. They watch the movements of the rulers of every nation; count the dead of every epidemic; scan closely the issue of every war; examine every occurring convulsion in nature; and in every great invention they see the index finger that points to what harbor mankind is drifting. But it is strange that they with David taste but see no prophetic signs in the progress of Jubal’s art. There is a certainty, that music is to be the prelude of that great joyous event. Born in Heaven, it will sweep itself over the face of the earth, and vibrate in each ear accords sweet or terrific, as the man may be prepared for it. Each clarion vibration will bring sentence to each mortal man, in language better understood than our children now understand the simple Saxon utterances of their mothers. Every man and woman will be inspired with the genius of music, to be well capacitated to read the voice of God in the trumpet sound, blown by the holy breath of Gabriel.
“Let us ask again why we are becoming a host of Davids, with skill to touch the harp as never heard by Saul?”
A good story is told of one of the Doctor’s lectures he delivered in a church in one of the Hudson River towns. When he came to the expression we gave in italics, a wag that was clever on the bugle outside the church, no doubt aided by an accomplice inside, commenced blowing vigorously on the bugle. The audience being so intently occupied with the remarks of the speaker, before they could understand the situation, many of them were thrown into the wildest excitement; men rushed from their seats, and some women even fainted. There was a general hearty laugh, after the Doctor here interrupted his lecture by these remarks: “My friends, as long as we cannot tell the difference of the music between a fool’s horn and Gabriel’s trumpet, the pious will have to rejoice, and the wicked to fear prematurely, many a time as you now.” W. P.
8. Hudson (NY) Daily Star, April 15, 1869, reportedly reprinted from the Chicago Times.
We find the following in the Chicago Times of Saturday last:
Dr. G. P. Hackenberg delivered an interesting and entertaining lecture last evening, in Crosby’s Music hall, on the great American invention of electro music [“electro-music”?]; or the science of performing on many instruments by a system of telegraphy. The subject was first thought of by the doctor some 20 years ago. When traveling in a mountainous country, midst a violent thunder-storm, the idea came to him why could not electricity thus operate upon the music of mankind. That night the subject was thought upon considerably, and it has ever since been his aim to put to practical use this invention. As years went by so went all difficulties, until now he feels satisfied that the thing will soon be a fixed fact. The modus operandi is the same as the using of Morse’s machine, only that a magnet for each note must be used. For instance, 100 pianos of a [sic] seven octaves each could be played from one central point by 84 wires radiating from one piano through the others, until the circuit was completed. The electricity is applied to make the notes simultaneous, and as the touch is, so will be the music. In fact according to the theory adduced by the lecturer, one man can play a thousand instruments, or more.
The lecture concluded, the speaker was asked by Prof. McCoy, would he undertake to put in practical operation his system in this city on the occasion of the celebration of the completion of the Union Pacific railroad soon to be held in this city, provided the expenses of such an attempt were met by the committee? The doctor replied in the affirmative, and said that he could with the aid of a thorough musician, an electrician, and the necessary instruments, do all they would wish to in the way of a monster concert. The idea as given by the lecturer will, in all probability be acted upon by the citizens’ committee having in charge said celebration.
9. Hudson (NY) Daily Star, April 27, 1869. Excerpt from longer published letter by George Hachenberg dated Springfield, Ohio, April 13, 1869.
I spoke in the Crosby Opera House on Electro Music, notice of which you find in Chicago papers of the 10th inst. The Chicago Times of that date I have sent to you.
Permit me to give you a few amusing items relating to the lecture. At the door, on account of the absence of the regular ticket man Mr. Crosby himself sold the tickets, a thing he has probably never done before. But it shows what a practical gentleman he is, and a kindly feeling in behalf of the lecture. I stood with him, about twenty minutes, as he sold the tickets, amused at remarks and inquiries made by the purchasers of tickets in regard to the subject of our invention. The purchasers were mostly of the elite of the city men of science and learning who take an interest in scientific novelties. They were pointed out to me by Mr. Crosby as they passed in. But there is no American crowd without its characteristic variety. Three Irish women stepped up. One in true Hibernian brogue interrogated Mr. Crosby, thus, “And please Mr. Ticket man is it true, that there is a Dutchman up stairs that is going to play music with thunder and lightning, and will it be safe for a poor motherless child to go to?” As one of them laid the money on the counter, I said to them, “No music at all up stairs—only a lecture on things you don’t understand, so if you go in you will be humbugged.” She threw back her ticket and demanded her money. As she pocketed the money paid back to her she said “I wish I could only see that fellow up stairs, that people say is going to make lightning play tunes.” After the lecture, Professor McCoy, and other gentlemen inquired into the details of the invention. The lecture was virtually followed by an interesting scientific discussion touching Musical Telegraphy. Professor Wilson a distinguished electrician was very critical and minute in his inquiries, but admitted the practicability of the scheme. Professor McCoy asked whether I would put in practical operation this system in this city on the occasion of the celebration of the completion of the Union Pacific R. R. soon to be held here, provided the expenses were met by the citizens’ committee having in charge the celebration.
10. Hudson (NY) Daily Star, September 16, 1870. Excerpts from longer published letter by George Hachenberg dated Monroe, Wisconsin, August 16, 1870.
At this place [Waukeegan, Illinois, to which he’d journeyed after leaving Chicago] I met the Rev. Mr. Wilkes, of the Presbyterian Church, who magnanimously opened for me his Church, for my lecture on “Musical Telegraphy.”….
[Then Hachenberg traveled to Freeport, Illinois, by way of Racine and Burlington.] At this place I delivered a lecture on “Electro-Music” before the Y. M. C. A. A learned merchant of the place, Newton by name, and a Newton in capacity, took pains to burden one of the city papers with a lumbering criticism on my invention. He finds fault with me because I did not compare some of my ideas with Grant, instead of, with Bismarck and Napoleon. Apart from this, I was O. K. From Freeport I came by stage to this place [Monroe, Wisconsin]….
There are some fine buildings in this place, the largest in the way of churches, is the Universalist, which I secured for my lecture.
That you may know what idea some people have of “Electro-Music,” let me relate the following: A lady physician of this place called on me, on a day of the lecture. She said, “I have an Electrical Battery I use for curing people; will you please tell me how to apply it to my own case, that I will be able to sing sweetly, for I believe in “Electro-Music.”
My friend, Professor ————, was present when the inquiry was made, and hardly refrained from laughing outright, but a significant frown from me sobered him into silent attention. I replied to the lady, “In your first experiment to enable you to sing sweetly, first snuff into your nose a little Hellebore to clear your vocal organs, and rouse them to the highest action, then under the influence of your battery, sing “Old Hundred,” and you will be astonished at your own music.”
At the lecture that evening, a lady occasioned no little disturbance to the audience by her sneezing, and when asked by a friend what was the matter with her nose, she replied, “———— ’tis hell—(a terrible sneeze) bore—“Electro Music.”
11. Hudson (NY) Daily Star, October 28, 1870, reportedly reprinted from Evening Journal (Quincy, Illinois).
Dr. J. [sic] P. Hachenberg, formerly of this city, receives the following notice in the Evening Journal, published at Quincy, Illinois:
On the evening of the 22d, J. P. Hachenberg, of Springfield, Ohio, delivered his celebrated lecture on musical telegraphy in the Opera House, in this city, before a large and intelligent audience. The discourse was one of great interest, and delivered with fine effect. In describing his Musicrometer [sic], the inventor is oblidged [sic] to draw heavily on the skill and enterprise of this State, but for which he gives the parties due credit. He says: “It is, as we have intimated, a self-playing instrument, and is very complicated, and delicate piece of machinery. It is worked with great uniformity, by clock work machinery, after the fashion of the Elgin watch made in our State, which is probably the most lasting time piece ever constructed by man; but the music itself is by electricity.”
We are informed that capitalists have taken Dr. Hachenberg’s invention in hand, for the purpose of bringing electro-music before the public for concert purposes. We will predict that it will prove the greatest rage in the [remainder of article cut off in online scan]
12. Bloomington (Illinois) Daily Leader, November 7, 1870, NewspaperArchive.com.
Lecture on Electro-music.—By request of several prominent citizens of this city, Dr. G. P. Hachenberg delivered, last Saturday night, in the Academy of Music, his celebrated lecture on Electro-music. The lecture was well attended and listened to with great interest. It was emphatically a lecture on a new subject, for once, we were going to say, in the course of our life. The first debut of Electro-music for concert purposes, we are informed, will be made soon. Dr. Hachenberg is now on his way to New York to engage practical electricians and musicians to construct his first electro pianos for concert purposes. Much is expected from this great American invention, and the most skeptical that understand the art of telegraphing have but little doubt of its consummation.
13. Bloomington (Illinois) Pantagraph, November 9, 1870, NewspaperArchive.com.
Last Saturday night Dr. G. P. Hachenberg entertained, in the Academy of Music, of this city, a large and intelligent audience on the subject of Musical Telegraphy. The idea of a musician performing simultaneously on a house full of pianos, or on all the pianos of a city, if electrically connected, is surely a matter of novelty and surprise. From the fact that several electro-musical instruments have already been on exhibition, both in Europe and in this country, made on Dr. Hachenberg’s invention, its practicability is beyond a doubt. Dr. Hachenberg’s great object is the construction of a grand Electro-musical Hall, which, in all probability, will be built in one of the Eastern cities. Capitalists have ale ady [sic, “already”] manifested an interest in this matter.
14. Announcement of the incorporation of the Musical Telegraphy Company. Given below as reported in the Hudson (NY) Daily Star, April 8, 1871, but with minor typographical corrections checked against other publications in the Journal of the Telegraph and the Cincinnati Commercial, April 25, 1871, p. 5.
The Musical Telegraphy Company.
A bill for the incorporation of a company with the above title has, we are informed, passed the Legislature. It constitutes Dr. Hachenberg (formerly of this city,) President, provides for a large capital stock, &c. The bill was introduced by Assemblyman George D. Lord. The most important section, naming the members of the company and its objects, is as follows:
Section 1. George P. Hachenberg, D. Wilson, M. H. Chrystler, Isaac Van Schaack, Samuel Miller, J. J. Jackson, Joseph E. Libby, Alex. N. Webb, John L. Unger, Peter L. Hachenberg, Godfrey Frankenstein, and such other persons as they may associate with them, are hereby authorized to form themselves into a corporation by the name of “The Musical Telegraphy Company,” for the purpose of improving instrumental music by the application of the ready action of electricity to musical instruments, as the piano-forte, organ and other key instruments, so as to enable one or more musicians to play simultaneously many instruments, when properly electrically connected; and such other means of introducing electro music for public and private entertainments as its board of directors shall approve, with power for such purpose to take, by purchase or devise, subject, however, to all existing laws relating to devises and bequests by last wills and testaments, or otherwise, and to hold, transfer, mortgage and convey real and personal property, to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars.
15. “On Electro Music,” Part 1, in Hudson (NY) Daily Star, June 7, 1871. The Columbian Republican for December 17, 1867, mentioned here as containing a Hachenberg essay, isn’t listed as surviving in any known library.
On Electro Music.
FOR THE STAR.
Rochester, N. Y., June 5th, ’71
Permit me to submit to the public, through the columns of your paper a series of short articles on the subject of Musical telegraphy; or, the method of playing musical instruments by the ready action of electricity.
For the last twenty years I have given attention to this subject, and I claim to have first attracted the attention of the scientific world to it, and if I am charged with being an enthusiast on the subject of my invention, scientific investigation will award me the credit of wielding a matter of stupendous importance to the Art of music, as well as of contributing to the future happiness of a civilized race.
All great inventions or discoveries in the world have been usually received with distrust, and as innovations on approved usages of the existing age, and their projectors denounced as visionary or enthusiastic.
That musical Telegraphy is practicable, and will prove the means of creating perfect music, we will endeavor to prove by our articles. And perfect music with true time—an electric readiness of execution, with an expression governed by fixed principles is a consummation not hitherto reached by human ingenuity. But through the agency of electricity perfection in music may be accomplished.
Ten years ago, I presented the subject of Electro-music to the public. One of my articles on the subject appeared in the Columbia Republican of your city, on the 17th of December, 1867. I have written freely on the subject for several papers, as well as lectured on it in different parts of the United States, and I know by experience that the introduction of this great invention is no small task. Yet I am happy to say, that in my attempts to mould public opinion in favor of my cause considerable has been accomplished of late years. In 1868 M. Speiss, on the basis of my “Musicometer” exhibited an Electro-automaton piano at the Technological Society in Paris; and we have information that an Electro-Organ was one of the main attractions at the Exposition of the American Institute of 1869. In 1869 Prof. Henry, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, and the most learned electrician of the age, offered me a hall in the building of the Institution for experimental purposes; a similar courtesy I once received from the Cooper Institute of New York; but when accepting it on certain conditions it was unaccountably rescinded. In 1869 I delivered a lecture on the subject in the Crosby Opera House in Chicago. After that lecture Prof. McCoy and other scientific and prominent citizens of that city proposed to make the introduction of Electro-music a Chicago enterprise, and make it an important feature in the celebration of the completion of the Union Pacific Rail Road. When these gentlemen in their ardor proposed my superintending the construction of my Musical Telegraphy they were unaware of the time and money required for the consummation of this enterprise.
Last winter I made this city my point of operation. A definite course was decided upon. A company was organized and incorporated by the State Legislature, through the instrumentality of the Hon. Geo. Lord, under the name of the “Musical Telegraphy Company.” I will enter upon the subject in my next.
G. P. HACHENBERG.
16. Circular, Hudson (NY) Daily Star, June 8, 1871.
OFFICE OF THE MUSICAL TELEGRAPHY CO., ROCHESTER, N. Y., April 10, 1871.
To The Public:
We take the liberty to announce that we have legally organized ourselves into a company, and are prepared to proceed with the construction of our appliances to create Electro-Music for public and private entertainments.
This like any other enterprise, cannot be brought to a successful issue, without generous patronage from the public. This we believe will not be withheld, when it is known that the investments in the enterprise will be properly applied, and will be safe and profitable.
In bringing Electro Music before the public, our first step will be to construct ten “Electrical Attachments” for ten pianos. With these instruments we will be able to give the highest order of musical entertainments in different parts of the United States and other countries. The cost of these instruments will be about $20,000.
Let us examine, in a few words, the character and wonderful power of these ten instruments:
1st. They are controlled by one or more performers, or automatically by one or more “musicometers.”
2nd. All the instruments are in perfect harmony, and will play as one instrument.
3d. To each instrument, by sound reflectors and “electrical dampers,” can be given an expression of its own, affording us music, as if emanating from so many different instruments.
4th. One performer can play simultaneously two sets of instruments, the left hand controlling one set and the right hand the other, and in a duet, two players or four sets of instruments.
5th. The electrical connection between the different instruments is so effectually under the control of the musician, that he can play the most rapid pieces of music, without taking two successive notes out of one instrument.
6th. The means of ventriloquizing and echoing music is most effectually carried out by this arrangement.
7th. The mechanical, musical expression of the ordinary piano presents four varieties by using, not using, or combining the pedals. Having ten instruments, this gives us forty variations. As each of these can be modified in ten different ways, we have the means of putting four hundred different musical expressions into a single note!
8th. Tremolos can be given to notes, by making rapid successive connections of the instruments on each given note.
9th. As a tremolo is produced, so can tunes be played in doublets by one fingering, each successive chord being instantly repeated at any distance.
10th. The instruments are so arranged that notes reach the ear from different points, thus giving fullness and volume to the music.
11th. It will afford the highest style of accompaniment music to the human voice, in particular to that of the female.
It is only in this part of our enterprise we solicit your aid. Out of the proceeds of these proposed entertainments we will be able to construct, even at a cost of half a million, our Grand Electro-Musical Hall, which is the ultimate object of our efforts.
We hereby respectfully solicit your patronage, reader, to enable us to bring this Great American Invention before the world.
This you can manifest, by donations for the sake of art-improvement, by the purchase of our $10 shares, and thereby share the profits of the enterprise. It will be optional to make payment on subscriptions until $20,000 are subscribed.
A copy of the President’s Lecture on Electro-Music, will be sent to any one by mail, for fifty cents.
The net proceeds of all my lectures on Electro-Music will be appropriated for the consummation of this great work.
To each patron of this enterprise will be forwarded an annual report of the company.
In particular, do we solicit the friendly aid of the Press. Your Obedient Servant,
G. P. HACHENBERG,
Pres. of the M. T. Co.
17. Commercial Advertiser (New York NY), June 8, 1871, p. 2 (in America’s Historical Newspapers database).
The shrewd inventor in Rochester, who has come to the surface at intervals during the past three years with his plan for producing music by electricity, has timed his reappearance very neatly, so as to meet the tide of telegraphic talk incident to the MORSE festival in this City. The recital of the wonderful story of the Telegraph will be in order on Saturday, and the by-play of the celebration will properly include all the past and present practices and applications. What more appropriate than the illustration of the musical capacities of the electric fluid? We are told, in an elaborate circular letter, that “Electro-music” can be produced by an instrument which costs the paltry sum of $20,000; that with this instrument one performer can play simultaneously two sets of tunes, one with each hand, while tremolos can be given to notes by making rapid successive connections of the wires; and that tunes can be played in doublets by one fingering, each chord being instantly repeated at any distance. The beauty, utility and economy of this arrangement are obvious. Instead of an orchestra of sixty individual performers at the Opera, the conductor alone, sitting in solitary majesty, could fill the Academy with strains of heavenly melody, or follow the wildest vagaries of the most florid prima donna. The leader of the Philharmonic could save no end of money to that Society, by perching himself singly upon a tripod with an array of musical batteries about him. Theatrical managers could economize in orchestral outlays—and ensure very much more harmony than they now get out of clanging trumpets, piercing fifes, discordant fiddles, and irregular kettle-drums. And in the sweet privacy of the domestic circle, BELINDA could charm a parlor-full of guests and collect countless throngs of admirers upon the sidewalks, through her deft manipulation of the multitude of wires centering in one electric key-board. All these, too, through the simple process of keeping up a good supply of acid in the battery-jars—an inexpensive as well as a neat and comprehensive proceeding. The age is full of wonders, and this marriage of the lightning to the divine harmonies is not among the least of them. Some ingenious being may yet warm us and light us by the electric current, as well as charm our ears with the gentle music of the wires; and should all these things happen, they would not greatly amaze us. After the Atlantic Cable, the world is prepared for anything.
18. “On Electro Music,” Part 2, in Hudson (NY) Daily Star, June 24, 1871.
“ON ELECTRO MUSIC.”
We propose to investigate the practicability of electro-music. And when we speak of electro-music, we speak not of a mere musical or mechanical novelty, but of acoustic operations, which, under the control of electricity will afford us music of the highest order. We could not have so high an appreciation of this “art” and predict most wonderful results, were not its principal operations based on the exact sciences of mathematics, and natural philosophy. An invention with such a foundation needs hardly an experiment to learn results. No more than to doubt that two and two make four, or that a ball in the air will fall to the earth by its own weight. The principles involved in this invention are old and well understood, it is only their application to music that is new, and is the subject presented for your investigation.
Musical instruments may be either manipulatory or automatic. In the forms, they are operated upon usually by the manipulations of the human hand, in the latter by some uniform motor powers. In electro-music, the musical instruments such as the piano, organ, &c., the keys are acted upon, through the “temporary magnet” as an immediate manipulatory agent; and is applicable to both classes of instruments. The application of electricity to each, affords special effects. In the manipulatory instruments the operator is able to play simultaneously any number of musical instruments, as a telegraphist can simultaneously deliver a telegram to a hundred thousand different towns. Thus the musician can play many instruments at the same time, when electrically connected, regardless of their locality. And where a number of instruments are properly arranged in a hall, chiefly by making or breaking the electrical connection of his key board with them, he has the means of giving the greatest range of expression to music. The “electrical attachments” to musical instruments, for automatic music perform a different and a more complicated function. The musical instruments through these attachments are control[l]ed by one or more “Musicometers.” This is an apparatus whose office is to make or brake [sic] its electrical connection with one or more instruments, and is worked with extraordinary precision, and no variation of time. By these “musicometers” connected with a suitable number of musical instruments, many thousand notes may be given in a single musical expression. The highest order of instrumental music is executed by this arrangement. Music that will meet the utmost capacity of the human ear.
The principal feature of electro-music on manipulatory instruments is to demonstrate the highest skill of the performers, and to render manipulatory music with the greatest effect. Automatic electro-music in time is mathematically exact, with a great variety of expressions, and readiness of execution that cannot be imitated with the human hand.
Electro-music likewise, can be made partly manipulatory and partly automatic, and at the same time accompanied by vocal music. “In harmony with her song, she plays her harp with a thousand strings;” ten years from now would be a less extravagent [sic] expression than now to say—the time will come when men can simultaneously communicate his [sic] message to all the nations of the earth. Electro-music as an accompaniment to vocal music, will prove one of its most singular features, not only on account of the wonderful rapid transaction of harmonious sounds with the voice, but in way of delicate ventriloquism and echoing of notes, &c.
The following are the main premises of our subject, that require our investigation:
1. The capacity of the human ear.
2. The relative activity of sound and electricity.
3. How the former is controlled by the latter.
4. With what effect.
G. P. HACHENBURGH [sic],
President M. T. Co.
19. “On Electro Music,” Part 3, in Hudson (NY) Daily Star, July 25, 1871.
ON ELECTRO MUSIC
FOR THE STAR.—When many thousand notes can be given in a single musical expression by the ready action of Electricity, the question arises to what extent can this experiment be satisfactorily carried out; or in other words what is the capacity of the human ear in detecting indivi[d]ual and multiple sounds.
The sensibilities of the ear are extremely delicate, so much so, that its capacity in discriminating complex sounds, has hardly ever been correctly computed by the mathematician and physiologist. As the eye can instantaneously take in myriads of objects, so can the ear receive almost a like number of sounds, or rather vibrations.
The practical range of musical sounds is comprised between 32 and 4,096 vibrations in a second. The ability of the ear in distinguishing sounds, far exceeds this range, as it embraces 11 octaves, or a range of sounds from 32 to 32,768 vibrations in a second. Savart fixes the lower limit of the human ear in detecting sound at 8 complete vibrations in a second, the higher at 24,000. Helmholtz fixed the lower limit at 16 vibrations, and the higher at 38,000 vibrations a second. If these 11 octaves are expressed within the limit of one second, the ear would receive 65,494 vibrations. If we give each note but 59 variations, which can be very readily accomplished, through the ready action of electricity, and then express these notes, as before, the ear be will [sic] cognizant of 3,274,700 vibrations in a second!
This calculation, extraordinary as it may appear, does not give the ultimate limit of the human ear in detecting sounds. The researches of modern physicists, according to the last Smithsonian Report make the auditory sense more acute and complex than sight, and such is the wonderful character of the acuteness of sight that it can detect the locality of an object, in the field of space millions of miles from it.
Another important question under consideration is, that Electro Music may be so subdued or exalted as to be beyond auditory appreciation without artificial means. The stethoscope here must come to the help of the ear as the microscope and teloscope [sic] aid the eye in reading the atomized or cellular structure of matter, or revolving worlds in the great space of the Universe.
In a former lecture on Electro Music, I described a musical stethoscope I invent-[ed] in 1850, which is constructed in parts and held together as a flute. The joined pieces contained membranous petitions [sic,“partitions”?], an instrument arranged for the ear, as the telescope is for the eye, only instead of having glasses inside, it had these delicate membranous petitions. By the use of this instrument delicate sounds in music can be detected, far beyond the power of the unaided ear.
On account of the extraordinary acuteness of the sense of hearing the musical stethoscope need be resorted too [sic], yet still it will take the place of our Opera glasses in many of our Electro Musical entertainments.
In my next I will take into consideration relative activity of sound and electricity.
G. P. HACHENBERG,
President M. T. Co.,
Rochester, N. Y., July 24th, 1871.
20. “On Electro Music,” Part 4, in Hudson (NY) Daily Star, October 5, 1871.
On Electro Music—No. 4.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a perfect musical instrument. The defect exists not in the notes per se, but in the slow and imperfect mechanism that serves as a motor power to produce them. The nature of this defect is a jar,—a break in the note before its harmony is established. This is demonstrated in our best musical instruments: as the piano, and organ, and, in particular, in bell music, where the aim is to make the notes loud and expressive. By the aid of electro-mechanism, this defect can, in a measure, be overcome. It is requisite to create perfect instrumental music; that the media, that brings forth a sound, must be more ready in its action than the velocity of the sound itself. This is the most important principle in musical telegraphy. The mechanism of a musical instrument on any other basis, must necessarily be defective. I write these lines by a comparatively slow movement of the hand; but, the nervous agency that controls this movement, acts with lightning rapidity, which renders this movement a perfect one. In musical telegraphy, we analogously place a musical instrument in the same relation. With the same facility that a nerve power controls my hand, electricity controls a musical instrument for the perfect rendering of music. In either case, the brain remains the master of these motor agents, and the superiority of execution is more in favor of the latter than the former. The work of the hand, in itself, is wonderful; but that of machinery, under the guidance of that hand, is often still more so. What Page, Inman or Frankenstein, can paint a portrait like a photograph? What hand engraveing [sic] can ever imitate the machine, eliptical [sic] engraving of our [‘]‘green backs?” The lathe, the loom, [t]he press, and numerous other machines, accomplish their appropriate work with neatness and dispatch, that the human hand must vainly come in competition with. At present, the highest style of instrumental music is the manipulatory—a music as primitive in its character as it was in the days of David. The proficiency and the beauty of this kind of music, exists in its time, readiness of execution, and expression. On these attributes of music, we propose to make, by the aid of electricity, a prodigious improvement. What the principles of mechanics has [sic] done for some of the fine arts, electro-mechanism has in store for music. There is not a physical principle involved in music, that, through electro-mechanism, cannot be highly improved; either for time, facility in execution or expression.
The absolute velocity of sound, taking atmospheric air as its medium, is about 1,140 feet per second. Electricity, taking the Atlantic cable as its medium, has a velocity nearly ten thousand times greater than sound. Having electricity through the “temporary magnet” as a medium to control the keys of musical instruments, on account of its readiness and great rapidity of action, we can control through our “Musicometor,” [sic] musical sounds in every conceivable manner. There is even the possibility of bringing a million of musical notes within a single second. The cylindrical press will print many thousand copies of The Star in an hour; and the cylindrical action of our “Musicometor,” united with musical instruments by electricity, will play musical notes as readily.
We are not engaged in an extravagant calculation. Our plan to revolutionize music—the finest of the fine arts—is so simple and demonstrative, that a novice in music and telegraphy, will not fiail [sic] to see its practicability.
G. P. HACKENBURG [sic],
Rochester, N. Y., Oct. 2d, 1871.
21. “On Electro Music,” Part 5, in Hudson (NY) Daily Star, October 10, 1871.
Electro Music—No. 5.
In Musical telegraphy, we use electricity through the temporary magnet, in play key instruments [sic], such as the piano, organ, and melodion [sic]. The modus operandi, in the main, differ [sic] but little from Morse’s electro-telegraphy. In his invention he uses but one magnet, and, by the alone, can transmit messages in any language; in mine, we have a magnet for each note in music, and several more of a regulating character. Electricians will understand what an illimitable power we control over each note.
We cannot here enter into the complicated details of those parts that regulate the expression of music,—give variations with electric speed and readiness, how to ventriloquize music in its innumerable forms—how to time with the most pleasing effect and other particulars, but will confine our remarks to the general character of our subject.
In our Musical Telegraphy, we use electro-magnetism on musical instruments for several different purposes.
One of these is the application of electricity, limited to one single musical instrument, in order to make the touch, and the action of the note, strictly simultaneous. By this arrangement, the accuracy and perfection of music, produced by key instruments, is most effectually under the control of the skillful musician. It removes all tardy and defective action of the instrument. As the touch is, so will be the music. The concord and harmony of notes can be so arranged, that the most complicated series of them can be centered in one touch; thus giving volume and compass to notes which, otherwise, could not be obtained.
Under another arrangement, we connect electrically any number of musical instruments together, and have them all under the immediate control of one or more performers. This is our arrangement in giving electro-music for concert purposes. This music may not only be confined to one hall, but be telegraphed to other buildings, or even to distant towns. This is accomplished by a depot piano properly constructed, and is under the management of expert players. The peculiarity of this instrument is the electrical attachment, and is in connection, by means of a cable, with different instruments of the same kind throughout the hall and distant places. Each of these distal instruments have [sic] an electro-magnetic attachment, differently constructed from the one connected with the operator’s instrument. As the musicians play on their instrument, so will be the music on all the instruments that are in electrical communication with it. This music can be modified in many ways by a change in the connections. It is through an arrangement of this kind that a pianist can play more than a thousand pianos at the same time. The communication of instruments may be even so extensive, as to have many thousand musical instruments of different cities so connected, as to be played upon at the same time by one person.
Another arrangement of our invention, [is] the construction of a musicometer which [is] an automatic apparatus, electrically attached to one or more key-musical instruments that can be adjusted to play any piece of music. It is an instrument for testing the beauties of difficult music, and for playing compositions and accompaniments, in a style that cannot be executed by the manipulations of the human hand. It is as we have intimated, a self-playing instrument, and is a very complicated and delecate [sic] piece of machinary [sic]. It is worked with great uniformity by clock work machinery,—as true and exact as the action of a Waltham watch, but the music itself is executed by electricity. In concert music several of these musicometers can be electrically connected with a great number of musical instruments, or their arranged notes, and by their unison in action, enable us to bring many thousand notes of harmony to bear into one expression. It is by this arrangement we secure, in the aggregate, combination of musical vibrations, affording us music of wonderful sweetness, harmony and power, well suggesting the interrogatory of Shakespeare:—
“Where should this Music be? I’ the air, or the earth?”
Another unique feature in musical telegraphy, is the electro-vibratory sounds of bell music. The bells are not acted upon by hammers or clappers, but by electrical concussions, numbering many thousand in a second. They act strictly in unison with the vibrations of each given note, and afford a very novel and pleasant music. The same principle may be applied to piano strings. It appears to me that this new and most delicate musical instrument, in all probability, will be the only perfect instrument that can be made.
G. P. HACKENBERG [sic],
President M. T. Co.
Rochester, N. Y., Oct. 10th, 1871.
22. Centre Reporter (Centre Hall, Pennsylvania), October 4, 1872.
A LECTURE AT PENN HALL.—On Friday evening last, Sept. 20, Penn Hall was favored with a more than ordinary treat in the lecture which Prof. Z. A. Yearick, of Aaronsburg, delivered before Penn Hall Academy, on the subject of “Electro Music,” or “Musical Telegraphy.” He presented his novel theme in so lucid and attractive a manner that all present can not have failed to understand it. He started out with some remarks on the general nature of music, from which he passed on to his particular theme “Electro Music.” After introducing his audience to the inventor, Dr. G. P. Hackenberg, and passsing [sic] under review the circumstances which lead [sic] to the invention, he more particularly dwelled upon the details and practicability of the invention itself. He [sic] showed that one person could control any number of instruments if electrically connected, and also that several electro-musical instruments have actually been constructed. After giving the favorable opinion of Prof. Henry, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, in regard to the invention, he took his audience on an imaginary visit to the grand olectro-musical [sic] hall in New York, where by means of the electrical wire a single lady sways the enchanted multitude with music from more than ten thousand strings. The lecture was a rich treat not only in the way of entertainment, but more particularly on account of its scientific worth.
23. Scientific American, November 11, 1871, p. 309. The personal papers of the author, Peter Henri Vander Weyde, are preserved at the New York Public Library, so perhaps his copy of the Musical Telegraph Company circular is among them.
(For the Scientific American)
ON MUSICAL TELEGRAPH COMPANIES.
BY P. H. VANDER WEYDE, M. D.
I have received a circular and prospectus of a “Musical Telegraph Company,” formed recently in Rochester, N. Y., which proposes to connect a number of pianos, by means of electrical attachments, so that they may be all “controlled by one or more performers, or automatically by one or more musicometers.” All the instruments are to be placed in one large hall, and “so arranged that notes reach the ear from different points, thus giving fullness and volume to the music;” while, finally, it is said, “It will afford the highest style of accompaniment to the human voice, in particular to that of the female.”
The first step will be to construct electrical attachments for ten pianos, and to give, with these instruments, “the highest order of entertainments in different parts of the United States and other countries. The cost of these instruments will be about $20,000.” Further, it is said: “Out of the proceeds of these proposed entertainments we will be able to construct, at a cost of half a million, our Grand Electro-Musical Hall, which is the ultimate object of our efforts.”
Being anxious to know more about this application of electromagnetism to musical performances (as I have given some attention to the subject myself), I ordered the lecture advertised by the president of the company, Mr. Hachenberg, to be sent by mail, but receiving information that it is not published yet, I am obliged to judge about the invention by the light so far received, and do this more readily as the main points are very distinctly stated.
I do not doubt that all cultivated musicians will agree with me that placing ten pianos around in a hall, and causing them to go mechanically all at the same time and in the same way, offers not the least advantage, and that a performance of this kind does by no means merit to be called a “musical entertainment of the highest order.” For my part I infinitely prefer one single good grand piano with half a dozen or more or less other instruments, playing one of those classical compositions called quartets, quintets, septets, octets, etc., which the immortal masters have bequeathed to us. In such performances we have the advantage of the different character, color, or timbre (as the French call it), of the different instruments, the great charm of the individuality of the style of each separate performer, all of which brings out distinctly the connected thread of the separate melodies, often clashing together, as it were, but forming a whole with which the ear is delighted, and enabled to appreciate easily the multitude of melodies or polyphony, as it is technically called.
As the highest style of musical compositions are those of the class referred to, in which each performer executes melodious passages, different one from the other, the hearing a number of ten equal instruments all playing the same tune is, according to my taste, a most excruciating trial for any audience, and to call it “the highest style of accompaniment, in particular for the female,” is indeed the highest style of absurdity. Still more so when it is stated that they also will be played automatically by “musicometers,” which I understand to be mechanical contrivances containing the music stored up in them, as gasometers contain the provision of gas, the one letting off the music when turned on, the other the gas. Most likely the word is only a new name for a revolving drum, like that of a barrel organ.
Besides all this, experience has sufficiently proved that when two able performers play a classical composition for four hands on one good piano, everything is obtained which can be had out of this instrument, and that there is no advantage whatever gained in the effect by the addition of one or more other pianos. In regard to strength I say that one good grand piano is fully strong enough when four hands perform on it. What now must I think about the judgment in musical matters possessed by Mr. Hachenberg, when I read also in his programme: “One performer can play simultaneously two sets of instruments, the left hand controlling one set, and the right hand the other, and, in a duet, two players can play two sets of instruments.” Any player can test the advantage of this proposition practically, by placing two pianos (upright ones are the best for this purpose) so close together at an angle that he can easily reach the two keyboards, and play on both at the same time; he finds then, musically illustrated, that two halves never make more than one whole. Connecting them electrically with different sets of instruments would make some difference in the effect, as the bass part may then be heard at one side of the room, and the treble part opposite, but this difference would not amount to much after all.
It may be interesting to trace the growth of the idea of applying the galvanic currents to keyed instruments; it was of course suggested by the fact that the House, Hudges, and a few other telegraphs use keyboards. The first description of such an instrument, we find in the London Scientific Review for 1866; it was noticed in the Scientific American for April 28, 1866, page 285. An organ worked on this principle was on exhibition at the Fair of the American Institute, New York, in September, 1869; it was made at the organ building establishment of Messrs. Hall, Labach & Co., who later applied it practically in St. Thomas’s Church, New York, where the organist plays two organs, one directly and one with a separate keyboard, also in front of him, electrically connected with the other organ at the opposite side of the church. The pressure on any key, making contact, sends the current along the corresponding wire, which charges an electromagnet, by the attraction of which the valve of the proper tone opens, in the wind chest of the organ, while in the case of the piano it lifts the hammer.
The main expense is that there must be as many wires as there are keys, but they may be isolated and combined like a telegraph cable. There also must be as many small electromagnets. The battery may be either near the player or near the instrument or in any point of the circuit, while the keyboard of the player may be a plain keyboard without giving sound, acting electrically on one or more instruments at any distance.
As now the distance on which the current instantaneously acts may be very large, it is not necessary at all to place the ten pianos of Mr. Hachenberg in the same room. I should rather propose to place them in ten different concert halls of a large city and its suburbs; for instance, let the main performer, say Franz Liszt, play on a Steinway grand in the Academy of Music, New York, and let there be an electric connection between this piano and some others in the city, also one in Brooklyn, in Jersey City, Newark, Trenton, and even Philadelphia. What is to hinder to lay the musical cable to Boston, Baltimore, and Washington, so that all these cities would be musically connected, and the performance of a great player in one city be enjoyed simultaneously in all the others? I think that this would be a much more promising plan, pecuniarily, than placing all ten pianos in one room, as then ten times as many people could hear, and pay for, the performance of a single artist.
This my idea, however, appears to be not new, as the London Athenæum already has suggested that the organs of the various churches in London be connected, in this way, with the keyboards in St. Paul’s, so as to give them all the benefit of the excellent organ playing there. It strikes me, however, that while I found that the clergymen in St. Paul’s hurry through their duties there with an astonishing rapidity, it would be difficult for many others of a more sedate temperament, who officiate in the other churches, to prevent being continually interrupted by the music, before they had time to come to the respective ends of their first and second lessons.
I think, therefore, such a plan rather impracticable, and likely to meet with serious and well founded opposition. It would be a much better plan to have in a large city, say New York, Philadelphia, or Boston, a company formed to furnish music to those who desire it. This company could have, at its headquarters, pianos played upon by a set of good performers, engaged for the purpose; to each piano could be attached a cable of wires connecting it with the pianos at the houses of those who desire to be supplied with music, in the same way as they are already connected by means of pipes, with the gas works or reservoirs, in order to be supplied with gas or water. If any one wants music, he only has to turn it on, the key being a simple arrangement to make metallic contact with the cable, and then the piano starts at once and plays the music which is being performed at the musical depot or headquarters. This special arrangement of being able to turn the music on and off, ad libitum, like gas or water, is an essential condition in my plan, as it would be very undesirable to be obliged to have to listen to all the music the headquarters could furnish; it would be almost as bad as to be obliged to use all the water or gas that would be supplied, in case we had no stopcocks to keep it shut till wanted. Another advantage of this musical shutting off arrangement is that we may stop the piano at any time without insulting the player, which will be appreciated by all who have been obliged to listen to music, out of mere politeness, while they rather would talk.
But as there are many kinds of music, while there is but one kind of water or gas, it is necessary to have a choice in order to have the music appropriate to circumstances. A polka at a funeral, or “Old Hundred” at a dancing party, would be somewhat out of place, and therefore I propose that there should be, at the musical depot, several sets of players, one set for sacred music, one for dancing music, one for classical music, one for operatic selections, etc. Each set has a separate room with an instrument, and plays in succession continually, according to a programme previously selected, printed, and published in the newspapers. The inhabitants of the musically blessed town have then only to look at their watches to see what music they may get, and if the time for the desired piece has arrived, turn it on; or, if they are not particular about the piece, they may choose any time between different styles, and may be influenced by serious or lively performances, according to their desires. Or, for the sake of simplicity and economy, different styles could be performed on a single piano at different set hours, say a collection of sacred music for the morning hours, at that time that family prayers are most likely going on, dancing music at night, when the young folks are keeping parties, etc.
In regard to the expense of being furnished in this way with any amount of music, I dare say that it would be a trifle, compared by that spent by the head of a family of daughters, when they take, year after year, music lessons. Besides we must take in consideration the enormous saving of time to the young ladies in not being obliged to study an art in which most of them never attain any proficiency, and forget all about it afterward. What a field opens itself here for the promotion of woman’s rights! How many could then devote themselves to politics, which is a much more profitable business than drumming on the piano! And the most glorious result of all would be that the electromagnetic musical telegraph company would be the most active agent to accomplish the emancipation of the female sex, now oppressed by being obliged to lose so much time in studying music in addition to other absolutely necessary accomplishments.
New York city.
Electricity Applied to Music.
In our April number for 1870, page 119, we gave under this head some information on the manner by which organs or pianos could be played by telegraphic connection, and at the same time a fanciful sketch of the way in which several instruments might be operated by one central player. We also suggested, as a joke, the formation of an American Electrical Musical Company, little dreaming that any one would be foolish enough to execute so absurd a proposition.
Consequently, we were not a little amused by receiving a printed circular of the Musical Telegraph Company, incorporated March 11th, 1871, according to the laws of the State of New-York, with a capital of $100,000, divided in 10,000 shares of $10 each, coupled with an invitation for us to invest and take shares.
The circular states that the first step will be to construct ten electrical attachments for ten pianos, the cost of which will be $20,000. These pianos will be controlled by one or more performers, or automatically by one or more musicometers, and play as one instrument: “they will be provided with sound reflectors and electrical dampers, etc.” One performer can play simultaneously two sets of instruments, the left hand one set, and the right hand the other, and “each successive chord is instantly repeated at any distance.” “It will afford the highest style of accompaniment music to the human voice—in particular that of the female.” How our lady singers will like this accompaniment of ten pianos, each set being played with one hand, is yet to be found out. The inaugurators of this enterprise propose to give electro-musical entertainments, and out of the proceeds construct a Grand Electro-Musical Hall at the cost of half a million dollars; and therefore solicit the patronage, in order “to bring the great American invention before the world.” This patronage will consist first in donations for the sake of art improvement; secondly, in purchasing “tickets at $1 each, worth $5, because they admit two,” and thirdly, in purchasing $10 shares, and thereby sharing in all the profits of the enterprise. But the greatest income is expected from, fourthly, “the net proceeds of all my lectures on Electro-Music will be appropriated for the consummation of this great work;” so says the President of the Musical Telegraph Company, G. P. Hackenberg [sic], of Rochester, N. Y.
25. Rochester (NY) Daily Union and Advertiser, November 23, 1872.
MUSICAL TELEGRAPHY.—There is an important negotiation going on between the Centennial Commission of Philadelphia and the Musical Telegraphy Co. of this city, with the view of making electro-music one of the features of the anniversary of 1876. Dr. G. P. Hachenberg, President of the Company, in behalf of the Commission, conferred with the renowned pianist Rubinstein, to-day, with the view of securing his services in performing on the electrically connected pianos to be constructed for that occasion.
This Company was incorporated by the State Legislature, through the efforts of the Hon. Geo. D. Lord, two years ago. After the incorporation of the Company was completed its President issued a circular announcing the object of the company. Two enterprises in particular were stated. One was to construct “electrical attachments” for ten pianos,” [sic] so as to bring all these instruments under the simultaneous control of one pianist, the other was to construct a grand Electro Music Hall. To connect ten or more pianos is not merely to enable the pianist to play them simultaneously, but to enable him to give power and wonderful expression to music.
26. Rochester (NY) Daily Union and Advertiser, November 30, 1872.
Rubinstein, the renowned pianist, recently favored us with one of his inimitable concerts. On a special appointment I met him in consultation in regard to the Electro Music the Centennial Commission have in contemplation to bring before the world at the coming Centennial Anniversary. That consultation took place and proved particularly interesting, as it was participated in by Wieniawski, the celebrated violinist. Believing that this interview may have an important bearing in the history of musical telegraphy, I will repeat in substance the conversation that transpired. As these distinguished foreigners do not speak English with facility, in order to accommodate all parties and to render ourselves mutually understood, the conversation was partly conducted in English, German and French, and at times the two conferred together in their native Russian tongue. Our meeting was at the Osburn House, in this city, where I met him in one of the parlors, that had been expressly fitted up for his comfort and accommodation. At the door of his room I met Wieniawski, and as we entered the room together we found the piano king walking the floor as if he was contesting for the palm for pedestrianism with Weston himself. I was introduced to the pianist, who cordially extended his hand, and in broken English said:
“Doctor, I am glad to see you; I expected you; take a seat.” At the same time he pointed to a large arm chair, which he invited me to take. As I took the seat each of the musicians drew up chairs, and we formed a close triangle for the conversation.
“Mr. Rubinstein,” says I, “in the capacity of President of the Musical Telegraphy Company, I am in negotiation with the Centennial Commission to introduce Electro Music at the Centennial Anniversary of 1876, and I seek this interview to learn your opinion in regard to the practicability of the enterprise—and perhaps to pave the way, should you think well of it, to have you identified with it at our first Centennial National anniversary.”
“What is this Musical Telegraphy?” says he.
“One feature,” I replied, “is to connect electrically any number of pianos, so that a pianist can at will control them simultaneously either in part or as a whole.”
“Can that be done?” he quickly asked.
“It is a subject,” I said, “I have carefully studied more or less for the last twenty years, and I am fully convinced that the plan is a feasible one, and it gives me pleasure to state that this view is fully corroborated by Prof. Henry, of the Smithsonian Institution, and other learned electricians of this country and of Europe.”
“Were your plans,” says he, “in regard to this matter ever brought to a practical test?”
“Imperfectly so in a few instances,” I responded. “M. Speiss exhibited in 1868 an electro-automaton piano at the Technological Society in Paris, and we have information that an electro organ was one of the main attractions at the Exposition of the American Institute of 1860 [sic].”
“What does Prof. Henry say in regard to this matter?”
“To use his words, he says: ‘I know nothing about the details of your invention; but I do not doubt that all you propose in regard to it may be accomplished with the application of proper means to adequate ingenuity such as the genius of the country can afford.’”
“What do you expect to accomplish by this arrangement?”
“The pianist that electrically controls simultaneously ten pianos has the means to give volume and a variety of expression to music that cannot be manifested through any single instrument.”
“Volume,” cried the pianist, as he raised up both his hands to protect already his sensitive tympanum. “A fortissimo simultaneously from ten pianos!—another American Gilmoreism! I tell you, Doctor, the fault I have now with the construction of pianos is that they are made to sacrifice everything for volume.”
“I beg your pardon, but when I hear you play Beethoven’s Turkish March from the Ruins of Athens you struggle with your instrument to bring forth the highest order of volume, and it appears to me that you must feel that the martial spirit of that march goes far beyond the capacity of the instrument; and then as your “tramp” notes softly die away in the far distance, here again the ventriloquism of your instrument is at fault. Such defects in particular we propose to remedy.”
Here Wieniawski had a brief conversation with Rubinstein in their native tongue, which purported, I suppose, to be explanatory of what I said. The violinist then made the inquiry:
“In playing the Turkish March on your instruments, how is the transition made from the fortissimo to the pianissimo, and vice versa?”
“By making and breaking the electrical connection between the instruments, by the action of electrical dampers, and even by so delicate an influence as the position of the instruments themselves. What you attempt to ventriloquise in playing a part of the march on a single instrument is not ventriloquism at all on these instruments, but a real transition of sounds from one instrument into the other.”
“If you connect ten pianos,” asked Rubinstein, “what would be the capacity of these instruments in rendering expression independent of the touch?”
“The scale would run precisely to four hundred.”
“You mean four, not four hundred!”
“By the action of the pedals of one instrument,” I remarked, “you have but four; but with ten instruments, this gives you forty, and as each note thus expressed, again can be modified in ten ways, you have four hundred. Strike the key A under any of the four expressions, and as you successively add the same note from other instruments, so you vary or rather increase the volume of the note; expressions by combination are varied to suit the skill and taste of the performer.”
“How, and by what contrivance do you vary these expressions?”
“It may be done by the performer himself, either by pedal work, or by a vertical key board which may constitute a part of the ‘Electrical Attachment’ itself. Or it may be none [sic, “done”?] by an independent arrangement, in the hands of an assistant, which perhaps would be the most suitable plan.”
“The expression controlled by an assistant,” cried the pianist, “where would be the individuality of such music?”
“If a high order of individuality only lies in the touch of the performer, of course, then outside of the instrument he manipulates, it is lost. But if it exists principally in tone and readiness of execution, as I think it does, it will suffer none in Electro Music. And to make up for touch, we have four hundred variations that can be given to any note, which far exceeds the scale of the most sensitive and most experienced touch. We lose nothing, but gain everything. And excuse me, I think the pianist can afford to lose some of his individuality, where otherwise so much is gained.”
“Do you think you can fully divest it of its mechanical nature?”
“Are you not tempted to call it ironically ‘machine music?’” I asked.
“If it is music,” he says, “without life—without a soul, what else would you call it? I have seen M. Speiss’ electro-automatic piano, and it was a failure.”
“The best comparison,” I said, “I can make of electro music with anything I can just now think of, is with our national bank note engraving, which is an operation done by machinery, and with such precise artistic effect that no human hand, no matter with what genius it is guided, can begin to do it as well. The engraving of our bank notes are [sic] full of life and beauty, though it is the work of machinery. Its individuality is not the representative of any hand but that of the geometric lathe. As the art of engraving has been revolutionized by machinery, portrait painting by the light of the sun, so will music be revolutionized by electricity. M. Speiss’ instrument was nothing more than a useless toy; nothing was accomplished by him for want of a grand combination by which to tone down his notes and to give a high order of volume and expression to his music.”
Here Wieniawski interrupted this polemic duel by saying:
“I think I am beginning to understand the nature of your invention. Allow me to say, owing to the peculiar dynamic character of violinic notes: if thousands of these could be controlled with readiness and harmony, under the action of electricity, what a grand, wonderful orchestral effect would be had.”
“Violins,” I answered, “are not likely ever to be played by electricity; if this could be done even automatically, the effect would be ecstatic in the extreme. But the scheme I propose is only practicable with key instruments, such as the piano, organ and melodeon, as their keys can be fully controlled by the action of the ‘temporary magnet,’ which is not the case with the bow of a violin. Electro-bell music would prove particularly sweet and attractive.”
“I see,” said Rubinstein, “both of you draw a broad distinction in the dynamic character of the notes of the two instruments.” Here we had another Russian interpolation between the two musicians. The pianist now turned to me and said:
“Why is Electro Music particularly indicated in piano music?”
“Because,” I replied, “the notes are fine, but the instrument is singularly defective—involved in a clumsy mechanical operation. Between the touch and the expression of the note there is a defective delay—the first break of a note is anything but pleasant to a sensitive ear, and the individuality you speak of is less defined than in almost any other instrument. In a violin it is different—the touch is more immediate, the notes are developed by the friction of the bow, are likewise broken, but in such quick succession, they being all in harmony, that one tones down the other, and on the whole you have a note with a sweet effect. Now what we propose to do is to take advantage of this law, apply it to piano music, and by an electrical connection of a number of these instruments tone down the harshness of the noises.”
“I cannot see how you do that. Suppose you strike a note that is expressed simultaneously on ten pianos electrically connected; if you have a break in the note of one instrument, why have you not a proportionate break in the ten?”
“In constructing pianos,” I replied, “All [sic] notes or rather strings are made double, one to tone down the other, we will not say that by multiplying these strings to ten or twenty in [the] same instrument a proportionate harmony is established, but when we draw the same note from other instruments with a different action of tone, from different points, and bring forth the note not strictly simultaneously, but nearly so, in all these we have the means to establish a marked improvement in the volume and expression of piano music.”
“In this part of the interview Wieniawski manifested considerable interest in the subject, and launched into a speculation on some of the practical operations of musical telegraphy. Says he, ‘I cannot see great difficulty for a pianist to give piano concerts in all the cities of a country at the same time, they being properly connected with electrical appliances.’” [sic re: quotation marks, which are oddly positioned here and in following paragraphs.]
This is fully as practicable as for a telegraphist to send a telegram simultaneously to all the stations of his line. But any such arrangement will not afford us the highest order of electro music. Still I have no doubt it will yet be resorted to as a novelty.
“You propose,” says Rubinstein, “to tone down a note by the addition of the same note, repeatedly interwoven, so to speak, through other instruments.” How will that affect notes that are executed with great rapidity?
“The operation could not be successfully carried out except under the quick action of electricity—the electro-motor power works quicker than sound itself—this enables us to make almost any adjustment of musical sounds we choose.”
In this lies the secret of the successful operation of electro music, and can be demonstrated to an extraordinary degree in our Electro Musical Hall, where by electro-automatic operation many thousand notes can be given in a single musical expression.
“On what do you base so extravagant an estimate?”
“On the action of electricity, and on the capacity of the ear itself. Scientists say that the capacity of the human ear in detecting sounds ranges from 16 to 40,000 vibrations in a second. The ear has the capacity to receive rapid and complex sounds, a little short of two millions in a second. The scope of the ear in this respect differs but little from the eye. We all know that the eye at a glance can recognize myriads of objects, each subject to an analytical operation of the mind.”
“Your electrical arrangement,” says Rubinstein, “with ten pianos for concert purposes, I understand, and I think is worth a trial, but your arrangement about your Electro Musical Hall is beyond my comprehension. Have you consulted high authority in regard to the practicability of this part of your enterprise?”
“Not expressly. But allow me to refer again to Prof. Henry, who expressed an idea on this point that perhaps may surprise you. It showed that he fully comprehended the extent of my plans. In a letter written to me several years ago he uses these words: ‘Electricity may be used to sound simultaneously notes of different timbre from points widely separated, and consequently may be used to produce the same musical tones from a central position at the same time, at different parts of a city. It may also be applied to improve the music of a large hall, by affording the means of expressing the same notes at once [;] the same notes throughout the whole space.’”
“What are the main characteristics of the music of this Electro Musical Hall?”
“They are automatic accompaniments to vocal and manipulatory performances.”
“Here an exclamation: Like Faust, have you sold yourself to the devil?”
“Rather a doubtful reflection, but I hesitate to appropriate it, for I flatter myself that you wish to carry with it the highest compliment.”
“The subject of this interview,” he replied, “has interested me exceedingly, and I hope you may meet with adequate patronage from your government to enable you to make it a creditable feature for so great an occasion as the “Centennial Anniversary.”
“This pleasure is fully reciprocated on my part, although I have not been able to give you the full details of our project for want of time now. However, you have had the principal points—enough to give you an insight of an enterprise that we believe will revolutionize the art of music.
G. P. HACHENBERG.
Rochester, N. Y., Nov. 30, 1872.
27. December 1872 report by the Executive Commissioner of the Centennial International Exposition of 1876, published in The National Celebration of the Centennial Anniversary of the Independence of the United States by an International Universal Exhibition, to be held in Philadelphia in the year 1876 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1873), p. 194. The Executive Commissioner was William Phipps Blake (1826-1910), who specialized in geology and mining and was not an “eminent electrician” as Hachenberg would later claim (#31). Blake’s actual correspondence with Hachenberg, including a rare original print of the Musical Telegraphy Company circular of 1871 (quoted in part at the end of the report), is probably preserved here (City of Philadelphia, Department of Records, City Archives) in the Executive Commissioner Letter Books and in the folder “Executive Commissioner, William P. Blake, Correspondence Received, July 1872-March 1873.”
DECEMBER 4, 1872.
Executive commissioner reported:
Several communications upon music as a part of the national celebration have been received. One or more of these will be laid before the commission during the session. One, which has been referred to me, and to which I have replied, proposes to bring electricity to our aid in operating simultaneously upon a great number of instruments. The proposition emanates from Dr. G. P. Hachenberg, “President of the Musical Telegraphy Company,” Rochester, New York, who states that several eminent electricians speak favorably of the practicability of the invention. There is no doubt that very extraordinary results may be attained by the application of electro-magnetism to musical instruments, and I believe the subject to be worthy of the attention of the commission. Some extracts from the explanatory circular inclosed with the communication are annexed: …..
28. Weekly Democratic Statesman (Austin, Texas), July 23, 1874.
MUSICAL TELEGRAPHY.—Many of our citizens may remember the eloquent lecture on musical telegraphy by Dr. G. P. Hachenberg of this city, delivered last winter in the City Hall. One of the Doctor’s plans is to connect by “electrical attachments” ten or more pianos for concert purposes, so that one or two performers can play upon any number of them simultaneously, in a manner to render remarkable volume, as well as fine expression in music. The Centennial Commission have reported favorably to make this electro-music one of the features of the National Celebration of 1876. A few days ago the Doctor received a proposition from the Schomacker Piano Company of Philadelphia that they would, for the Texas market, put at his disposal twenty thousand dollars’ worth of their finest pianos, as a fund to pay for the construction of ten “electrical attachments,” to be used on their pianos at the celebration. The Schomacker piano being one of the best pianos of the country, the proposition was accepted. As these instruments will be sold here, the introduction of this great American invention becomes a Texas enterprise, and if introduced within the department of Texas at the Exposition, she will not only become the centre of attraction, but the main characteristic of the Exposition itself—for what could characterize the celebration that would be more in keeping with the wonders of the age than musical telegraphy?
29. Scientific American, January 16, 1875, p. 31.
A correspondent, Dr. G. P. Hachenberg, calls our attention to his plan for playing one or more pianos by electricity, and suggests, among other remarks, that instruments thus arranged might prove an interesting feature in the coming Centennial Exhibition. Dr. Hachenberg says: “The electrical union of ten pianos is a very simple arrangement, but is controlled with singular effect to render volume and expression. One instrument serves to play upon, and the rest are connected with it by electro magnetic attachments, so that the pressure” of a certain key on the key piano determines the striking of nine other like keys on the rest of the instruments. The pedals are governed by similar arrangements, and there is an apparatus whereby the music may be played upon as many or as few of the ten pianos as desired.
The invention is not unpractical; and in fact, a similar contrivance is in use upon the two organs of St. Thomas’ church, in this city, where the tower bells are also chimed in connection with the organs, by electricity. It suggests possibilities of future musical performances quite interesting. There is no reason, for example, why pianos, minus keyboards, should not be provided in houses, and their works connected with the keyboards of three or four instruments, say in a central office. In the latter, at certain hours of the day and night, celebrated performers might be engaged to play, one, for example, executing classical, another sacred, another operatic, and a fourth dancing music, on as many separate pianos. These last could all be connected with any number of piano movements all over a city, so that the playing of one instrument in the central bureau would, of course, be repeated on every other piano, no matter how many or how widely separated, and the effect would be exactly as if the performer were individually in the parlor of every subscriber. The latter might be provided with a printed daily programme, specifying that at such and such an hour Signor So and So would play certain music; Monsieur Somebody Else some other kind, and so on. The subscriber then watches his clock, and at the specified hour turns a switch on his wall, which places his instrument in connection with either Monsieur’s or the Signor’s piano. Then all he has to do is to listen until he gets tired, without apologizing to the eminent performer, he shuts him up, by a touch of the finger on a button.
30. Church’s Musical Visitor, May 1882, p. 211. This correspondence between Hachenberg and Alexander Graham Bell was also published in the Electrical Review (New York) 2, August 23, 1883, p. 7.
MUSICAL TELEGRAPHY FOR CONCERT PURPOSES.
(The following letters are introductory to a series of articles on scientific subjects, prepared by competent investigators, and it is hoped will prove of interest to the readers of the VISITOR.—ED.)
PROF. ALEXANDER G. BELL—Sir:—Permit me to draw your attention to my system of musical telegraphy for concert purposes. I watched with much interest your experiments on the subject, as well as those from other eminent electricians. I have anticipated from these experiments, based upon telephonic principles, doubtful results.
More than thirty years ago my attention was directed to musical telegraphy. You may well imagine what precedence I had to go upon. So primitive was telegraphing then that the first part of my invention was the nomenclature itself. In my first studies on the subject I associated the waves of sound with the current of electricity—that is, the transmission of sound by electricity. As a factor for my research, I took it for granted that such a thing was practicable in nature; but I soon discovered that electricity, as a sound carrier, would serve me no good, practical results, and then and there I dropped it. My final conclusion was, that the only way that musical telegraphy can be developed to render favorable results is mainly to depend on electro-dynamic operations, or a combination of musical instruments electrically connected, controlled by one performer. The most available instruments for this purpose are pianos, organs, bells, etc. The expression—or rather, the individuality—of this electro-music is not rendered by the performer, but by a musical director, who, through a keyboard of his own, makes and breaks the electrical communication between the instruments, to import volume and expression to the music.
In the published proceedings of the U. S. Centennial Commission for 1872, appendix No. 3, pages 92-3, you will see such details of this invention of mine as was proposed to make practical for the national celebration.
Recently a prominent business man in New York City was in communication with me to take up this matter again for the World’s Fair of 1883, but as that enterprise came to an abrupt end, no further attention was given to it.
Perhaps the best encouragement I have received from scientists was from the late Prof. Henry, of the Smithsonian Institution, in the early years of my research in this matter. Whatever my own great expectations were in regard to this invention, they have hardly been less sanguine than expressed in several of his communications to me. He had the utmost confidence in the practicability of the invention, and with such wonderful results, he says, as could not be fathomed now from our present standpoint. Indeed, the late distinguished electrician looked through my invention far more intelligently than I could myself. I remember he laid great stress on the peculiar timbre created by musical telegraphy, where the same note is expressed at once throughout the whole space of the hall.
On the 19th of February, 1873, I treated the subject of my invention, in its scientific aspect, before the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, which attracted considerable attention in that city.
You might ask the pertinent question, How is it that so little was done in a cause that promised so much? I may intensity that inquiry when I tell you that I made the subject of musical telegraphy a public lecture, which I delivered in different parts of the United States, and published details of the invention in many papers of the country. I must confess that some of these communications received more attention in Europe than in this country.
The fault lies simply in this: Many intelligent persons admit the practicability of the invention per se; but they do not take into consideration that array of acoustics that come in as auxiliaries to render musical telegraphy a great success. This part alone will demand the most scientific attention, and will open a fine avenue for the inventor and the scientist.
Without going into any details, the use of these instruments to play accompaniments in vocalization would have the most wonderful effect of all. By a telephonic arrangement the singing could be transmitted through the different instruments with a most pleasing harmonic effect, even if the instruments were not in action.
But even to know all this is not sufficient to fathom the strange results of musical telegraphy from our present position. But with these promises on your mind, set your imagination to work on any well-executed instrumental music, what the same would be rendered, say, from ten pianos electrically conducted, with sounds reaching the tympanum from different points, with its various expressions. Follow this music, but have a place for each note in this electrical circle of instruments. You will not make this experiment very often before you will catch a study in it that the mind will dwell upon with intense interest. You will light on a science that some day will revolutionize the art of music!
Now to go through all this trouble to see the nature of another’s invention, is a thing hardly to be expected; but as the only prospect I see to favor the introduction of musical telegraphy is to receive the friendly co-operation of those that can fully understand it, I tender you this communication. If capitalists see that the enterprise has the confidence of scientific men, and that investments in it are likely to pay well, they will not withhold their strong arm of support from it.
I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. P. HACHENBERG, M. D.
PIGEON COVE, CAPE ANN, MASS.
DR. HACKENBERG, AUSTIN, TEXAS—Dear Sir:—I have read with much interest your communication to me of the 10th instant, concerning musical telegraphy for concert purposes, and have no doubt that very beautiful and wonderful effects would be produced by a combination of musical instruments electrically connected and controlled by one performer, as you suggest.
Your letter does not give me any idea of the details of your proposed arrangement, but I am so much interested in this matter that I shall examine, at the earliest possible moment, the publications to which you have referred me.
I remain, sir, yours truly,
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL.
31. Church’s Musical Visitor, August 1882, p. 290. The text of the Rubinstein interview differs enough from the original publication, for example in its treatment of the role of “musical director,” that I’ve included it again here in full.
BY DR. G. P. HACHENBERG, AUSTIN, TEXAS.
ABOUT a quarter of a century ago I first presented to the notice of the public, through the Cincinnati Commercial, the subject of my invention, Musical Telegraphy. Since then I have published papers and lectured on the subject in various parts of the United States, and have elicited the opinions on the practicability of the scheme from the first electricians and musicians of the age.
In 1871 the Musical Telegraphy Co. was organized, and in the following year negotiations were entered into with the U. S. Centennial Commission for its exhibition at the Centennial Exposition. Prof. Blake, an eminent electrician, and Executive Commissioner of the Centennial Commission, received the subject with favor, as reported in the published proceedings of the U. S. Centennial Commission for 1872. For financial reasons I felt compelled to suspend the matter at that time.
Prof Blake says: “There is scarcely a conceivable limit to the results which may be obtained by the application of electricity to musical instruments.” In a letter of the late Prof. Henry he remarked: “I do not doubt that all you proposed in regard to it may be accomplished with the application of proper means to adequate ingenuity, such as the genius of the country can afford. * * * It may also be applied to improve music of a large hall by affording the means of expressing the same note at once throughout the whole space.” In a communication from Edison he expressed himself fully confident as to its practicability and its final favorable results. Prof. Bell’s letter was published in the May VISITOR.
The opinions from eminent musicians have not been as uniform and as satisfactory as those from electricians. But that can be fully accounted for. Musicians, as a class, know little or nothing of the science of electricity. The pianist may be a master of his instrument, but know little of its mechanism. Most musicians hold to the idea that electro-music must be void of expression. This is an error, as we will presently show. Rubinstein, with some knowledge of electrical matters, comprehended the plans of my Musical Telegraphy, but on a theoretical basis rendered two objections. He said: “The range of the fortissimo in Musical Telegraphy would be too great,” and in irony spoke of the volume and force from the simultaneous action of several electro-pianos as an American Gilmoreism. I will give an extract of a part of my conversation with him, which was reported in detail in the Union and Advertiser, Rochester, N. Y., which will take in his second objection:
“I beg your pardon,” I remarked, “but when I hear you play Beethoven’s Turkish March from the ‘Ruins of Athens,’ you struggle with your instrument to bring forth the highest order of volume, and it appears to me that you must feel that the martial spirit of that March goes far beyond the capacity of the instrument, and then as your ‘tramp notes’ softly die away in the far distance, extreme delicate expression and the ventriloquism of your instrument is at fault. The great beauty of Musical Telegraphy is that the fortissimo is rendered without a fight and the pianissimo without affectation.”
Wieniawski was present and participated in the discussion, and here propounded the following question: “In playing the Turkish March on your instruments, how is the transition made to vary expression?”
“By making and breaking the electrical connection between the instruments, by the action of electrical dampers, by a regulated force on the hammers, and even by so delicate an influence as the position of the instruments themselves, etc. What you attempt to ventriloquize in playing a part of the March on a single instrument is not ventriloquism at all of these instruments, but a real transition of sounds from one instrument into the other.”
“If you connect ten pianos,” asked Rubinstein, “what would be the capacity of these instruments to render expression independent of the touch?”
“The scale would run precisely to four hundred.”
“You mean four, not four hundred!”
“By the action of the pedals of one instrument,” I remarked, “you have but four; but ten instruments give you forty, and as each note thus expressed can be again modified in ten ways, you have four hundred. Strike the A key under any of the four expressions, and as you successively add the same note from other instruments, so you vary, or rather increase the volume of the note; expressions by combinations are varied to suit the skill and taste of the performer? [sic]”
“How and by what contrivance do you vary these expressions?”
“They are brought about in two ways: 1st. The performer himself, by an electro-pedal work, controls in the ordinary way any instrument or set of instruments he may be playing upon. 2d. By an independent arrangement—a key-board of ten keys, or as many keys as there are pianos in the electrical circle. This is under the control of an assistant, or rather a musical director, and it is mainly by his genius and skill that the highest artistic effect is produced.”
“The highest effect controlled by an assistant!” cried the pianist, as he arose from his chair in indignation, “where would be the individuality of such music?”
“The pianist would not lose his individuality in his performance; but the musical director, by bringing different instruments with electrical readiness within his control, would infuse a grandeur and spirit into the music the performer himself could not possibly do for want of a musical instrumental area.”
Rubinstein, however, was not disposed to share honors with an assistant. He felt that Rubinstein was music, and music was Rubinstein. Under the pressure of soreness he asked:
“Do you think you can divest it of its mechanical nature?”
“The best comparison,” I said, “I can make of electro-music with any thing I can just now think of, is with our national bank note engraving, which is an operation done by machinery, and with such precise artistic effect that no human hand, no matter with what genius it is guided, can begin to do it as well. The engraving of our bank notes is full of life and beauty, indicating the most exquisite touch, though it is the work of machinery. Its individuality is not the representative of any hand, but that of the geometric lathe. As the art of engraving has been revolutionized by machinery, portrait painting by the light of the sun, so will music be revolutionized by electricity.”
In this communication I desire to treat of Musical Telegraphy only as it would prove practical for concert purposes at a comparatively moderate cost. I will point out the main features of the construction of these instruments.
For ten pianos, there are two kinds of “attachments,” adjusted to the key-board of these instruments. An “electrical key-board attachment” for the piano occupied by the pianist, which we will designate as the “key-piano,” and an “electrical attachment” to each of the rest of the instruments. The keys of the “key-board attachment” are so constructed that they lie closely over the keys of the key-piano itself, so that the instrument can be played upon with or without the combination of other instruments. It is likewise so constructed that the player uses this key-board without playing the key-piano itself. All these instruments, with their attachments, are under the control of a musical director, by the aid of a small key-board, with as many keys as there are pianos. The manipulation of this key-board is exceedingly simple, and extraordinarily prompt in its response. We are often asked why we selected ten pianos for this order of electro-music. It is to place one piano under the control of each finger of the musical director. His fingers lightly rest on these keys, and there exercise their necessary pressure to effect electrical connections between the different instruments, as it may be necessary. His fingers do not move rapidly like those of the pianist, but are kept in that peculiar fixed position to meet promptly all necessary changes in the music. This attitude will enable him to co-operate with the pianist in effecting some of the most rapid runs without taking two successive notes out of the same piano. It will enable him to give tremulo [sic] notes in a most expressive manner, and to ventriloquize notes in every fantastic style, etc., etc.
The pedals of the key-piano (as well as the pedals of the musical director’s key-board) are in electrical communication with the pedals of all the rest of the instruments, and are principally under the immediate control of the pianist, as if he were playing but one instrument. We have carefully observed not to make any mechanical changes on the piano itself in using them for electro-music, but to depend entirely on our “attachments.” Neither have we adopted any arrangement that would impose new duties on the pianist himself. The only expert necessary in the matter is the musical director at the small key-board.
It will hardly be necessary to state that the batteries are in direct communication with the key-piano, and that the “electrical attachments” are made up of a series of temporary magnets, with their levers and springs, to regulate their action on the keys. Any intelligent electrician, from this brief account, can in his mind’s eye see the full modus operandi of this arrangement of applying electricity for musical purposes. Almost the same mechanical arrangement would apply to organs, or “bell music.” Of late years electricity has been applied to single organs, and even pianos, but only as a novelty, and with no favorable practical results. For cathedral music a few small organs electrically connected will render music with better effect than the grandest and most expensive organ ever constructed. All telephonic experiments in improving music will end unsatisfactorily. The only great issue that promises success in electro-music is in a combination of instruments electrically connected.
In my next I may take up the subject of the “Grand Electro-Music Hall,” with all the electrical, acoustic, and musical appliances identified with the building itself.
32. Austin (TX) Weekly Statesman, May 3, 1883.
Who Invented the Telephone?
Some of our citizens may remember a lecture that was delivered in the city hall in 1874 by Dr. G. P. Hachenberg on musical telegraphy, where the telephonic feature of the doctor’s invention of musical telegraphy was fully portrayed. This lecture was delivered at the Crosby opera house in Chicago, in 1869, at the Franklin institute (Philadelphia) in 1873 and in other places at different times. In 1880 the Galveston News, in an article, “Who Invented the Telephone?” quotes from the London Times of 1864 in regard to Hachenberg’s musical telegraphy on the telephone basis. This idea has been subsequently utilized by Prof. Bell and some others which has culminated in the present telephone. In a correspondence between Dr. H. and Prof. Bell, published in the Church’s Musical Visitor in 1882, the former refers to his telephonic researches in the first years of developing his musical telegraphy, when he found it not adequate for his purpose, therefore he changed his basis of operation entirely by constructing the whole fabric of his invention on dynamic electricity. After this change was effected, it was submitted in 1872 to the centennial commission and there received a favorable action, and would no doubt have been made one of the features of the National exposition had the doctor’s health not demanded an immediate change of climate, and he came to Texas. Recently the doctor placed the data of his claim before both Edison and Prof. Bell, who were instruments of its present development. Edison entered into correspondence with the doctor with apparent good will and friendly feeling.
33. Electrical Review (New York) 3:7, October 18, 1883, p. 7.
Editor Electrical Review:
In my correspondence with Prof. Bell, published in the Electrical Review of Aug. 23, 1883, I stated that my first plan of Musical Telegraphy was worked out on a telephonic basis, and as such was promulgated to the public. This fact is established by the annexed quotation from the London Times, and republished in this country in Godey’s Ladies’ Book, Philadelphia, March No. 1864. If we divest this quotation of its flippancy, we have a very good description of the distinguished scientist’s (Prof. Bell) own electro-music, as it was exhibited in some of the Eastern cities. My own researches led me to the conclusion that telephonic music had more novelty than utility—that it never would benefit the art of music, but rather impair it; so I dropped such plans, and worked out a system on dynamic electricity alone, by establishing an intimate electrical connection of musical instruments to be controlled by the skill and genius of one player for concert purposes.
It is true my telephonic appliances, in detail, may not be in harmony and perfection with the telephones of the day, although the principle of their operations may be the same. The original train of my investigation I followed on a physiological line. I associated the waves of sound with the current of electricity—that is, that the impression of sound could be carried by electricity, as it is carried by a nerve force. I could only in a measure follow out the anatomy of the ear; but the instrument I constructed had its chambers, membranes, and for a propelling agent electricity, in lieu of a nervous transmission. The latter I looked upon as another order of electricity. In one experiment I adjusted the membranes in focal distances, within a short tube of the size and nearly the shape of the old-fashioned stethoscope. I spoke of this instrument in particular as a ready transmitter of sound in my lecture on Musical Telegraphy, delivered in Chicago, in the Crosby Opera House, April 10, 1869. This instrument I afterwards utilized for diagnostic purposes in my practice. In its use, I directed the patient to take one of the electrodes, I taking the other, the application of the instrument forming the connection. This instrument had four diaphragmatic membranes, and of course three corresponding chambers. Another interesting experiment (which in a measure I based on the action of the heart, making its impress on the most distal artery of the body) was tying a distended bladder to each end of the electric line, regardless as to length. One was firmly fixed to the back of a violin, or the sound-board of a piano, and the other was applied to the ear, at and [sic] considerable distance from the musical instrument. By this arrangement the transmission of sound from the instrument to the ear was clear and musical.
These and other experiments of like nature were made, but as they did not meet the real purpose under investigation they were dropped. Had I pursued them for a different purpose, I might have had different results.
It is important for me to state that in conducting these experiments, I had a reliable knowledge that sound could be conveyed a great distance by the aid of a proper conductor. I came to this knowledge accidentally. In 1847 I lived in Madisonburg, Pa. This village lies on a slight slope, and is supplied with water from the mountains by pipes. It happened that the feed pipes gave way, and the water throughout the whole length of the pipe, over a mile long, ran all out at its outlet. I applied my ear to this opening, and heard strange noises coming through the pipe. It turned out these were made by the men repairing the breach at the other end, over a mile away.
However, as my own statement alone, without the evidence of the press, would not fix my priority as being the first pioneer of this great invention, I will make the quotation referred to above in particular, for the satisfaction of those inventors of the telephone who have asked for the proof of my claim. A more explicit telephonic document, notwithstanding its unkind irony, could not be produced.
[Quotes text from Godey’s Lady’s Book.]
G. P. HACHENBERG, M. D.
34. Austin Weekly Statesman, December 11, 1890.
A Texas Invention That Should be Exhibited at the World’s Fair.
The following letter explains itself:
Austin, Tex., Dec. 9, 1890.
President of the Texas Convention for the Columbian Fair:
SIR—Permit me to call your attention to my system of musical telegraphy, which I offered to the United States centennial commission for its development and exhibition at the centennial celebration, and further to see by their published proceedings of that year that the project was favorably received.
I presented the subject to the commission of the Columbian fair to be held in Chicago in 1893, and the special facilities we have in this “day of electricity” to develop musical telegraphy. My proposition was put on file for future action.
My object in presenting this matter to your honor is to make it a Texas enterprise.
The expense in carrying it out would be small, taking into consideration the results. About $5000 would pay for the construction of electrical attachments for ten pianos, including the key board, under the jurisdiction of a musical director, whose office is to render expression to the music. The pianos, I doubt not, could be loaned almost from any of the piano manufacturers to secure the advertising effects.
The subject before you has been well matured and approved by leading electricians.
In 1869 I made it the subject of a public lecture delivered in the Crosby opera house in Chicago and other leading cities of the country, and in 1873 gave it a critical scientific examination before the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.
With these facts before you, and believing that the enterprise would subserve the interests of Texas, I respectfully submit the subject to your consideration. Very truly,
Your obedient servant,
G. P. HACHENBERG, M. D.
35. Western Electrician, March 28, 1891, p. 180.
Electrically Operated Pianos at the World’s Fair.
Dr. G. P. Hackenberg of Austin, Tex., is negotiating with the directors for the introduction of his “musical telegraph system.” He proposes to utilize ten pianos, each provided with electrical attachments and all connected with a keyboard, which shall be under the direction of an operator or musical director. This keyboard should have ten keys, he says: one for each instrument. By manipulating these keys the director would make and break the electrical connections between the instruments. The pianist occupies one of the pianos. He has no new duties to perform in playing the combination, as the expression is mainly rendered by the musical director. The object of having pianos is not so much to secure a uniform loud volume in music by the simultaneous action of the instruments, but to give rapid notes without taking two successive notes from the same instrument and otherwise render artistic expression, reaching the ear from different points, and affording a timbre of its own with the widest range of harmony.
The whole affair could be put in operation for a few thousand dollars and would make a very attractive musical feature, besides showing a new use for electricity.
36. Western Electrician, April 4, 1891, p. 195.
Dr. G. P. Hachenberg of Austin, Texas, whose system of “musical telegraphy” was described in the last issue of the WESTERN ELECTRICIAN, has written a letter giving more of the details of his scheme. He says: “The desideratum in electro music is not to produce an ephemeral novelty, but the highest order of music. An individual note has its defects, and will only render its purity in synchronous action with other notes that are in accord with it. This is a fixed law in harmony. What we expect to gain by our invention is to secure an expression through a combination of notes, under the precision of ‘time’ which no human manipulation alone can effect. Music transmitted by any telephonic process will never prove a success unless associated as an adjunct with such electro dynamics as we have to propose. In our arrangement let there be a ‘telephonic,’ tubular or metallic connection between the sounding boards of the ten pianos. Of course the connection has to be diaphragmatic. Such a connection will bring all the instruments in synchronous vibration, if any one is brought into action; for not a note will be struck but its life will be manifested simultaneously in every instrument—not only the same note, but those in accord with it. This is not brought about by electrical means, but by that kind of vibratory affinity between sounds that all piano tuners are familiar with.”
37. Musical News, September 11, 1891, p. 560.
Dr. G. P. Hackenberg, of Austin, Tex., has a number of electrical schemes for the Columbian Exposition. One of them is a system of musical telegraphy for concert purposes. In a brief way he thus explains the operation of musical telegraphy:—“The thing requires ten pianos, with an electrical attachment ot each piano. There should be a key-board with ten keys, to be under the control of a musical director, whose office is to make and break the electrical connections between the instruments. The pianist occupies one of the pianos. He has no new duties to perform in playing the combination, as the expression is mainly rendered by the musical director. The object in having ten pianos is not so much to secure a uniform loud volume in music by the simultaneous action of the instruments, but to give rapid runs without taking two successive notes from the same instrument and otherwise render artistic expression, reaching the ear from different points, thus affording a timbre of its own and the widest range of harmony. The Chicago Post says the expense of getting up this electro-music is not great. The pianos would be loaned for the advertising. The whole affair could be put into operation for a few thousand dollars and would make a very attractive feature in the musical department, besides showing a new use for electricity.” The idea here of one person to play, and somebody else to supply the expression is certainly new; the poor mechanical pianist is to be pitied.
38. Electrical Review (New York), November 14, 1891, pp. 172-3, as transcribed here. Unfortunately not found online in facsimile; I’d like to check a few possible transcription errors.
BY G. P. HACHENBURG [sic], M. D., AUSTIN, TEX.
It is a matter of interest to go through an analytical investigation of the first ideas, emotions and circumstances that led the inventor to an important invention. His mental application on the subject of his invention from beginning to end is a process of evolution. His first plan may be crude and even confused, but still it may retain something, the nucleus, that may prove mighty and wonderful in results. No one can fathom this metaphysical question better than the successful inventor himself. But in connection with this question, how many take in the dawn of great ideas that point to great inventions, that cease their prosecution in one or the stages of their progress—sometimes even at the very point of consummation, and, therefore, may run amiss of great renown and even wealth.
I would hardly be warranted to open my subject in this style if certain leading electricians of this country had not given me their favorable recognition of my musical telegraphy in a manner that led me to flatter myself that I am the pioneer of an invention that in the near future will assert its importance as one of the great inventions of the age.
For years in the progress of my study on the subject, I held in high consideration its importance, and became more fully confirmed in this view after taking counsel with wiser and more experienced men than I claim to be myself. Prior to 1860 [sic, suspect this may be in error for either “1869” or “1870”] I presented the subject to the late Professor Henry, and it will ever be with grateful feelings I will think of that great man for the encouragement he gave me in this invention. So sincerely was he interested in it that he offered me the use of the upper floor of the Smithsonian Institute for experimental purposes, and I am fully convinced, if circumstances had been such that I could have accepted his offer, he would have co-operated with me to bring the invention to a practical issue.
Of late years my correspondence with Bell, Edison, Blake and other noted electricians, gave me a further guarantee as to its practicability. Although receiving this encouragement in casual ways, I have my doubts if the full scope of musical telegraphy was taken in by any of these eminent electricians.
The main features of my system of musical telegraphy are as follows:
1. The electrical connection of 10 pianos for concert purposes, to be operated upon by one player, either individually or collectively. This plan we recommend for immediate adoption, and in coming up to our expectations all other plans would be of easy execution.
2. The electrical connection of 10 organs for church music operated in like manner.
3. The reproduction of electro-music at a distance.
4. The electro-musical hall for operatic music, etc., where a great number of musical instruments may be electrically connected, or rather incorporated with the entire inside lining of the building.
5. Electro-automatic music, by transferring the music from an ordinary music box (properly prepared) to the 10 pianos. The expression of this class of music is governed by a key-board to be described hereafter.
There are other combinations that could be effected, but the limits of this paper will not allow me to take them into consideration now—as of bells, glass and other metallic contrivances. An electro-bell music could be made very attractive.
1. To connect electrically 10 pianos, and to operate on them with the best effect, the combination has two key-boards. One that is adjusted to the instrument occupied by the pianist, and has as many keys as there are keys in the piano. By means of this key-board electrical connection is secured with any number of pianos in the circuit. Not to impose new duties on the pianist in playing on these instruments, there is another key-board of 10 keys that is under the supervision of a musical director, who makes and breaks the electrical connection between the 10 pianos for the purpose of regulating the volume and expression of the music. The 10 pianos can be played upon simultaneously, or the most rapid run of notes can be secured without taking two successive notes out of the same instrument. By placing these 10 pianos in a certain position, the notes reaching the tympanum from different points gives the music a timbre that is both grand and peculiar.
But why limit the number to 10 pianos, or 10 organs, and the small key-board to 10 keys? They are to correspond to the 10 digitals of the musical director. The pianist’s manipulations in playing may be exceedingly rapid; such effort is not imposed on the musical director. His 10 fingers cover the 10 keys of his key-board, and by the slightest pressure of one or more of them the necessary connection is made. A more perfect arrangement between the cooperation of the two musicians, I believe, cannot be devised. It will be readily seen that the musical director is the head figure of this order of music, for it is he that (aside of all pedal action) gives it expression relatively with the skill he is able to command. When I explained this feature to Rubenstein, the great pianist, he demurred to the arrangement and asked: “Where is the individuality of such music?” I tried to make him understand that it must be sacrificed, if the music itself can be advanced.
There may be an impression with some that this combination of pianos is characterized by much noise, like that of an ordinary brass band. Volume is not so much a desideratum as harmony and delicate expression. The ordinary expressions of a single piano are very limited; through the pedals there are but four, and they are very limited through the touch of the player. But, by a mathematical calculation, these 10 pianos have the range of 400 different degrees of expressions for each note. It is simply wonderful how these can be utilized. It is here the mysterious hand of electricity in a new role shows its power to please, where heretofore we only associated it with force and terror.
It may be rather strange to state that the highest order of music to be effected by these 10 pianos is in accompaniment with the violin, flute or some other musical instrument, or even a brass band, and, in particular, with vocalization. The sympathetic vibration of sounds are well understood by scientists; but where modified by the laws of harmony, under different acoustic effects, as can be enforced by a system of electro-music, the result must be incalculably enhanced.
2. The main object in resorting to organs for church music is to diffuse the music and to destroy the emanation point where but a single instrument is used. The music would be in harmony with the congregational vocalization. A few concealed organs in the loft would greatly increase the effect. All the organs but one should be of a small size.
3. There are two methods in reproducing music at a distance—the telephonic and the instrumental—the latter being produced by the direct dynamic operation of electro-magnetism on the instrument in the distance. The former has been tested by several eminent electricians, but never with satisfactory results. The difficulty is in the loss of timbre of several notes in the scale of music. The telephone for the transmission of the human voice has the same defect, in particular with the pitch of some voices. In my experiments I have greatly remedied this defect by placing a small feather cushion between the receiver and the ear. I was led to think that there was a peculiar relation existing between feathers and electricity, believing that there was an “Electro-operation in the Flight of Birds” (vide ELECTRICAL REVIEW, April 28, 1888). The instrumental plan is the only feasible plan to reproduce music in the distance. This may be done by connecting the parent instrument with any number of instruments stationed at different places. One practical utility of such an arrangement, aside of its novelty, is for a distinguished music teacher on the piano to instruct simultaneously many pupils at the same time, living in different parts of a city or even in different towns; and another, having the pianos connected much after the fashion of the telephones, for the exchange of instrumental music between musical friends. Of course, this would demand a central station, as in the telephone, and an “electrical attachment” to each piano.
4. The most extensive, as well as the most perfect, development of musical telegraphy would be in an “electro-musical hall” containing every variety of musical instruments that could be manipulated by the aid of electricity. The location of these instruments and the acoustic arrangement of the hall would demand the best attention science could bestow. This concord of instruments is not in general, if ever, utilized in unison, but to have on hand to render the greatest variety of music; or, rather, put in action such instruments that are in keeping with the nature of the music to be played. It is here that the musical director, with his small key-board, will prove the wonder of all. Is it possible that a little instrument in the bands [presumably “hands”] of an expert can call forth such a combination of sounds, or almost like a flash cast warbling many thousand notes in the air? Who can tell where these notes come from? The muffled notes from the deep stone vaults underneath, the soft sweet flying notes from above, and a flood of harmonies from all sides, are often blended with extraordinary effects: sometimes falling on the audience much like rumbling thunder and then die away like the sighing zephyr. In this hall there is a stage, such as we see in the theatres; it may be occupied by the managers of the concert or the participants of the opera, a prima donna, or otherwise serve as a relief to the eye. If we are inclined to give the prima donna a pre-eminence with the ten piano arrangement, here she would be placed in an atmosphere of music, where every strain of her own voice would be carried still in deeper melody by this colossal but tender accompaniment. The poet may dream of the heavenly song from the lips of Israfril, but he may soon find her heavenly gifts a terrestrial reality under the mysteries of electricity.
5. Automatic music has never been popular, and almost invariably has been looked upon with horror by the musicians. There are very good reasons for this from the fact that all appliances producing this kind of music are cheap and miserably constructed. Perhaps the most acceptable of them is the best and most costly kind of the common music box. What merit the best of these instruments have is their action of good time, but their music is deplorably deficient in expression. To make expression in keeping with their time, so mathematically exact, is a matter that can be readily effected by transposing their music under our 10 piano system. The electricians can readily see how a music box can be so reconstructed that it will transfer its music to the 10 pianos, taking the place of a pianist at the large key-board, leaving the task to the musical director to give it expression that would mask every trace of its machine work.
But there is one feature in this kind of music that is much in its favor. In complex harmony it would supersede that corning from a pianist. For, as the manipulations of the pianist are limited to 10 fingers, such a limitation would not exist by our electro-automatic music. This advantage would have its characteristic effect. It may be hardly necessary to state that the music box itself may be placed out of sight, and beyond the reach of hearing; or it may be of interest to sit close to it and study its tiny accords with the bolder notes from the pianos. Of course, each note from the two would be strictly simultaneously expressed, which, in itself, would be a source of interest. The expression would be nothing like the stiff awkwardness of a duet.
To prepare a music box for this purpose the cylinder is cut into as many rings as there are notes in the scales; each of these rings is insulated. The steel tongues that produce the notes are insulated in like manner. Without going into details it will be readily seen by electricians how the music is reproduced in the pianos from a music box thus modified.
I remember in some of my lectures on musical telegraphy I spoke of a “musicometer” in connection with my invention. This instrument was something like a music box, only it was dumb, and the projecting pins in the drum were movable, that is, placed on a slide, and so constructed as to set them to play any piece of music on the 10 pianos. It was nothing else but an electrical test machine of any complex and difficult music; giving very accurately the time in music, but with the expression given by the musical director.
As to the practicability and commercial importance of musical telegraphy there cannot be the least doubt. The only one that should now be constructed is the first in series. The pianos used in that combination require no reconstruction whatever, except the removal of the pedals. The cost of the different attachments and other incidental expenses would be less than $5,000; but let the entire cost be $10,000, it would prove a very profitable investment, where many hundred thousand dollars could be realized from concerts alone. For who would not pay an admission fee to hear this electro-music? As to the electro-musical hall, a considerable capital would be required to make it a success. But such a hall stationed in any of our large cities would prove yearly the Mecca of many hundred thousand.
These are some of the outlines of my musical telegraphy I first fixed upon when residing in Springfield, Ohio, several years before the war. But what were the premises on electricity in those days to turn such a scheme into a practical shape. Then our knowledge of electricity was limited, at least so to the writer, although he had experimentally taken some interest in the subject before.
In 1863, when on a temporary relief from my military service, I wrote out the details of my invention for one of the Cincinnati papers. In the excitement of the war the paper attracted but little attention in this country, but in some foreign land the act was accepted with interest, and its practicability acknowledged by some of the scientists. Godey’s Ladies’ Book, March number 1864, contains an extract on my musical telegraphy, taken from a London paper that shows that I then based my invention on the telephonic principle, to use a modern expression. I finally came to the conclusion that the telephonic plan would never be of any great service in music. To maintain the purity of musical notes, the plan was changed, by acting on musical instruments direct through electro-magnetic dynamics. On this plan everything now appeared clear, with not a single barrier in the way, to bring it to a ready and successful issue, without resorting to hardly any experimental work. To gain the attention of the public, and the electrical fraternity in particular, I made it the subject of a lecture I delivered in different parts of the United States. This lecture was delivered in the Crosby Opera House, in Chicago, April 9, 1869. It was then proposed, on the part of the audience, to make musical telegraphy a Chicago enterprise, with a view of celebrating the completion of the Pacific Railroad, but it could not be furnished to the Chicagoans in season for their jubilee.
In 1871, through the courtesy of the Hon. Mr. Lord, of Rochester, N. Y., application was made to the State legislature for a charter to incorporate the Musical Telegraphy Company. At that time I lived in Rochester and took an active part in musical telegraphy rather preparatory to have it introduced at the Centennial celebration. I then proposed to issue stock, after $20,000 stock were ordered. The list was headed, ordering a liberal amount, by the Hon. Charles W. Briggs, Mayor of the city. As the amount was not guaranteed the stock was not issued. I had free access to the three principal dailies of the city, who from time to time accepted my papers on the subject. The nature of these papers was usually explanatory of the subject, and, as in this communication, nothing was kept secret. It was rather remarkably co-incident (as I was told afterwards) that Professor Bell lived in Rochester at the same time and was working on his telephone; and I was likewise informed that Dr. Gray heard my Chicago lecture in 1869.
In 1872 the subject was presented to the United States Centennial Commission, which met their favorable consideration, as can be seen in their published proceedings for 1872, Appendix 3, p. 92-3. February 19, 1873. I treated the subject in its scientific aspect before the Franklin Institute, of Philadelphia.
About this time I went to Texas on account of my health, and had to abandon business entirely. Soon after I came here I received an offer from the Shoemaker Piano Co. that they would defray the expenses of constructing the “Electrical Attachments” if I would apply them to pianos of their make at the Centennial. I could not accept their offer, owing to certain conditions.
In 1890 the manager of the International Electrical Exposition (that was held in St. Louis) asked me to make an exhibition of my invention. He promised material aid to get it ready for the fair. But the time allotted to comply with his request was entirely too short, and I declined to take action in the matter. It will take several months to construct the “Electrical Attachments” on the 10 piano system, and about the same time will be required after they are completed for the musical director to learn to control them with the best effect.
When it was decided to have a World’s Fair in Chicago I offered my musical telegraphy to the Commission on the terms I did to the Commission of the Centennial, asking them to defray the cost of making the electrical attachments for the 10 pianos. They received the offer apparently with interest and asked for many details as to the cost, space, etc. I am doubtful that they will meet my demands, perhaps under the impression that outside capital will bring it into the Exposition anyway. If we are forced to this alternative, let any State, city or electrical association accept the offer I made the Commission and place it in its own department at the Fair. At the same time it will have the faithful co-operation of its inventor to make musical telegraphy a prominent attraction of the World’s Fair.
39. Western Electrician, August 12, 1893, p. 76.
By G. P. Hachenberg.
The subject of musical telegraphy is not a new one, yet with its ample scientific credentials it has not received the attention of scientists to which it is entitled. This may be due to the fact that the subject is dependent on two different professions, that have comparatively little in common. If electricians and musicians were masters of both professions, musical telegraphy would to day be popularly developed in contemporaneity with telegraphy and the telephone.
Although I advocated the practicability of musical telegraphy thirty years ago, and not infrequently presented the subject to the public since, through the medium of lectures and newspaper notices, it has awaited its time to be received and developed, as one of the inventions of electricity. With the practical knowledge of electricity of the present day its consummation could be effected with little or no experimentation. The late Prof. Henry of the Smithsonian Institution admitted the feasibility of my invention, and Edison spoke of the subject in a communication to me as of ready execution.
The initiatory step in the development of musical telegraphy is to connect 10 pianos for concert purposes to be operated upon, either individually or collectively, by one player. To connect these instruments and to operate them with the best effect, the combination should have two key-boards. One should be adjusted to the instrument occupied by the pianist, and should be provided with as many keys as there are keys in the piano. By means of this key-board electrical connection is secured by any number of pianos in the circuit. Not to impose new duties on the pianist in playing on these instruments, there should be another key-board of 10 keys (or as many as there are pianos) under the supervision of a musical director, by which he could make and break the electrical connection between the 10 pianos for the purpose of regulating the volume and expression of the music. The 10 pianos could be played upon simultaneously, or the most rapid run of notes could be rendered without taking two successive notes out of the same instrument. By placing these 10 pianos in a a [sic] certain position, the notes reaching the tympanum from different points would give the music a timbre that is both grand and peculiar. But in this experiment, why limit the number to 10 pianos, or 10 organs, and the small key-board to 10 keys? They are to correspond to the 10 digits of the musical director. The pianist’s manipulations may be exceedingly rapid; such efforts are not imposed on the musical director. His 10 fingers cover the 10 keys of his key board, and by the slightest pressure of one or more of them the necessary connection is made. A more perfect arrangement for the co-operation of the two musicians, I believe, cannot be devised.
It will be readily seen that the musical director is the head figure of this order of music, for it is he that (aside of all pedal action) gives it expression relatively with the skill he is able to command. In explaining this feature to Rubenstein, the great pianist, he demurred to the arrangement, and asked: “Where is the individuality of such music?” I tried to make him understand that it must in a measure be sacrificed, if the music itself can be advanced.
There may be an impression with some that this combination of pianos is characterized by much noise, like that of an ordinary brass band. Volume is not so much a desideratum as harmony and delicate expression. The ordinary expressions of a single piano are very limited; through the pedals there are but four; and they are likewise very limited through the touch of the player. But, by a mathematical calulation [sic], these 10 pianos have a range of 400 different degrees of expression for each note. It is simply wonderful how these can be utilized. It is here the mysterious hand of electricity in a new role shows its power to please, where heretofore it has been only associated with force and terror.
It may be rather strange to state that the highest order of music to be produced by these 10 pianos is in accompaniment with the violin, flute, or some other musical instrument, or even bell music, a brass band, and in particular with a solo or prima donna. The sympathetic viabration [sic] of sounds, modified by the laws of harmony, under different acoustic effects that can be enforced by a system of electro-music, will give us the highest order of music.
As to the practicability and commercial importance of musical telegraphy there cannot be the least doubt. The pianos used in this combination require no reconstruction whatever. It would be a supererogation to go into any details of the construction of the electrical attachments of these pianos, as they are simple and self-evident to any intelligent electrician. The cost of the different attachments and other incidental expenses would be less than $5,000, but let the entire cost be $10,000 and the project would prove a very profitable investment, where many hundred thousand dollars could be realized from concerts alone. For who would not pay an admission fee to hear this electro-music?
The next effort in the development of musical telegraphy is to apply these electrical attachments to 10 organs, mainly for church music. All the organs but one should be of a small size. The arrangement of these instruments could be devised so as to diffuse the music, and to destroy the emanation point, where but a single instrument is used. A few concealed organs in the loft would greatly increase the effect.
There is nothing sweeter in music than the harmonic sounds of bells. A pure bell music could be effected by the aid of electricity, on the same principle as applied to pianos and organs, and what would be still better, would be to make it an adjunct to any electro-musical instrument.
Automatic music has never been popular. There are very good reasons for this, from the fact that all appliances producing this kind of music are cheap and indifferently constructed. The most acceptable of them is the best and most costly type of the common musical box. What merit the best of these instruments have is their action of good time; but notwithstanding its sweet-bell-like tinkle, their music is notably deficient in expression. To secure expression in keeping with the time so mathematically exact, is a matter that can be readily effected by presenting the music under the 10 piano system. The electrician can readily see how an “electrical attachment” to a musical box can be so adjusted that it will transfer its music to the 10 pianos, taking the place of a pianist at the large keyboard, leaving the task to the musical director to give it expression that would remove every trace of its machine work. As in the pianos, no change need be made in the musical box; but in using any of them, they have to be all of one size to receive the “attachment,” which is a delicate piece of machinery, and made expressly for them.
There is one feature of this kind of music that is much in its favor; and indeed must eventually culminate in rendering music in its highest perfection. In complex harmony it would supersede that coming from a pianist. For as the manipulations of the pianist are limited to 10 fingers, such a limitation would not exist by cur electro-automatic music. For example, in the rendition of a four or eight-hand composition, its smooth and even expression would be without a fault.
The most extensive, complex, as well as the most perfect development of musical telegraphy would be an “electro-musical hall,” containing a full variety of musical instruments, that could be manipulated by the aid of electricity. The location of these instruments and the acoustic arrangements of the hall would demand the best attention science could bestow. This array of musical instruments is not intended for simultaneous use, hut to have such combinations on hand as to render the greatest variety of music, or rather, put in action such instruments that are in keeping with the nature of the music to be played. It is here that the musical director, with his small key-board, will prove the wonder of all, in particular when automatic devices of different kinds are utilized. The muffled and groaning notes, as from deep cavern vaults underneath; the soft, sweet, flying notes from above, and a flood of harmony from all sides would blend with extraordinary effect. This would be looked upon as a huge musical instrument, with people inside. As in theaters, it could have a stage, which could be occupied by the managers of the concert, or the participants of the opera. If we are inclined to give the prima donna a pre-eminence in the 10-piano arrangement, here she would be placed in an atmosphere of music, where every strain of her voice would be carried in augmented sweetness and melody by this colossal but tender accompaniment. The poet may dream of the heavenly song of Israfel, but he may yet find the heavenly gift a terrestial [sic] reality under the mysteries of electricity.
A great deal might be said as to changes which would take place in the construction of music after the introduction of musical telegraphy, but this question would take us beyond the electrical features which alone form the subject of the present paper.
40. Western Electrician, August 12, 1893, p. 78.
“MUSICAL TELEGRAPHY,” which has been so faithfully advocated by Dr. Hachenberg during the last thirty years, is clearly described in another column. It is certainly an interesting topic, and the arguments presented in behalf of the plan by its chief advocate will no doubt awaken much interest among the public generally. There is no doubt that the electrical and mechanical features of the project are entirely practicable, but there seems to be a diversity of opinion as to the value of the plan from an artistic view point. It is not surprising that the great army of performers which it would thrust into the background on all great musical occasions should discourage the enterprise, as its success would materially lessen their importance, if indeed it did not eventually make it possible to dispense with their services. To the non-professional lover of music, however, this would not be a serious affliction; in fact, one can readily understand where there would be material advantages in the success of this project.
Dr. Hachenberg’s plan, briefly outlined, is to connect, operate and control by electricity ten or more pianos, organs or other musical instruments and have all of them under one master. He asserts that there are other advantages to be gained besides a greater volume of sound; that the regulation can be accomplished without difficulty and with much more precision and skill than where a number of performers are in charge of the several instruments. The scheme is certainly novel, and it is to be hoped that it will be given a fair trial.
41. Newspaper account of telegraphic transmission of music-box music to a piano, late 1897. Reconstructed from Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, December 20, 1897, p. 4., from “St. Louis Glove-Democrat” [sic]; and Hawaiian Star (Oahu, Hawaii), May 30, 1898, beginning “An American inventor….” This article doesn’t name Hachenberg explicitly, but it so closely matches his proposals that I assume he is the unnamed “inventor.”
An inventor says that the wonderful exact music of a first-class Swiss music box, which in itself is so feebly, though sweetly, expressed, can be electrically duplicated in a piano with the result of magnifying its volume and augmenting its musical effect. To accomplish this, he depends on two different agencies—the mechanical, that controls the action of the drum on the box, and the electrical, that acts on the keys of the piano. Since the limited action of a telegraph key can, by a system of leverage, be made available to control the keys of the piano, it is proposed to take advantage of the limited action existing in the up and down plays of the steel notes, caused by the barbs of the drum. On each key is placed a short, delicate style of extremely light weight. As the steel notes rise by the movement of the drum, those styles are elevated, and their upper ends come into contact with metallic rods leading to the magnets that control the keys of the piano. This connection creates an electrical current from the battery connected with the box and the magnets of the key. The box can be either hidden from view or placed with the appointments of the electrical attachment on the top of the piano, leaving the front free to the pianist, who has simply to control the expression of the music by the uses of the pedals, or even to improvise his own accompaniment. The inventor claims that the experiment is very simple, and can be tried at small expense. It necessitates not the slightest alteration in either the piano or the music box. The possibility of brilliant and powerful orchestral effects being attained by a combination of this principle in several pianos, either as a separate performance or as an accompaniment to a piano solo, as, for instance, in concerto work, is also anticipated.