Hurdy gurdy, , University Of Edinburgh, CC BY-NC-SA
Music on wheels

Before looking at how the pianola developed further, let’s get back to that hurdy-gurdy.

By turning the wheel of the hurdy-gurdy, the player ensures that the wheel rasps against the strings of the instrument, causing a smooth, constant vibration of the string. This is easier to operate than the violin or other bowed instruments, which require the player’s arm to be carefully positioned - and moved - to produce a good tone. Unlike the bowing arm of a violinist, which has to change direction into ‘downbows’ and ‘upbows’, the bowing wheel of the hurdy-gurdy can continue as long as the player keeps on turning the wheel.

But… how would a machine play SEVERAL violins - simultaneously?

The answer is here: the phonoliszt violina, designed by Hupfeld! For this instrument, a type of orchestrion (a large wheel) rotates around all the violins, while the pianola provides the accompaniment.

The phonoliszt violina in its entirety, Hupfeld - Rönisch, Musée De La Musique Mécanique , CC BY-NC-SA
The phonoliszt violina in its entirety, Hupfeld - Rönisch, Musée De La Musique Mécanique , CC BY-NC-SA

You can see another version of this instrument being played here, giving an arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne No.9: