A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Extemporising Machine

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EXTEMPORISING MACHINE. An invention for printing the notes of an extemporaneous performance, by means of mechanism connected with the keyboard of a pianoforte or organ. The idea of being able to preserve the improvisations of great musicians is certainly an attractive one, and has often engaged the attention of mechanicians, but without any very practical result. The earliest endeavour in this direction appears to have been made by an English clergyman named Creed, who wrote a 'Demonstration of the Possibility of making a machine that shall write Extempore Voluntaries or other Pieces of Music as fast as any master shall be able to play them upon an Organ, Harpsichord, etc.' This was communicated by John Freke to the Royal Society, after Creed's death, and was published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1747, vol. xliv. part ii. p. 445. A similar invention, called the Melograph, was conceived by Euler the mathematician, and was constructed according to his directions by Hohlfeld of Berlin, about 1752. It consisted of two revolving cylinders with a band of paper passing over them, on which the notes were marked by means of pencils attached to the action of a pianoforte, their duration being shown by the relative length of the lines formed. The machine was placed in the Academy of Arts and Sciences at Berlin, but was subsequently destroyed in a fire. The priority of invention of the Melograph was disputed by Unger, of Einbeck, who, in a long correspondence with Euler (afterwards published), states that the idea occurred to him as early as 1745. There have also been several more modern inventions for the same end, notably one by Pape of Paris in 1824, which attracted much notice at the time; but the difficulty of expressing the varying rhythms of an elaborate piece of music by mechanical means has hitherto proved insurmountable.

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