Classical 91.5

New hybrid piano harkens back to the Victorian era

Jun 18, 2019

Quite frequently here at WXXI we are asked what listeners can do with their old pianos.  It seems that in this day when many are downsizing and people don't stay in one place for many years as they used to, few people are interested in having a large instrument in their home; much less one that can't easily be moved. 

Credit YouTube

This story is about a Ukranian indie-rock band called Brunettes Shoot Blondes, that decided to transform an old grand piano into something quite different - a completely mechanical, human-powered hybrid of 20 different instruments.  All of the instruments needed to fit into the case of the grand piano.  The instrument was custom built for the release of their song Houston.

This video shows you what they went through to make the instrument.

But the concept of a mechanical instrument that can play multiple instruments at once is not a new concept.  In fact, the first known automatic playing orchestrion was the panharmonicon, invented in 1805 by the German inventor Johann Nepomuk Mälzel who was a friend of Beethoven's.  Orchestrions can include many instruments including a piano or organ with pipes that sound like a flute or a horn, marimba, violin, chimes or bells, woodblocks, tambourines and drums. Mälzel is also the inventor of the metronome, which many of us have probably used while practicing our instruments (whether we like them or not).

Enjoy this amazing instrument is The Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina - an Orchestrion with self-playing Violins.

Want to know more or visit a museum of mechanical musical instruments?

Morris Museum of Mechanical Musical instruments and automata in Morristown, NJ

Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, AZ

National Music Museum, University of South Dakota

Here's the final result of the band's work - their song Houston.