A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Harmonichord

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HARMONICHORD. A keyed instrument invented in 1810 by Friedrich Kaufmann, the celebrated musical instrument maker of Dresden. In its form it resembled a small square piano; but the sound was obtained not by striking the wires with hammers, but by the friction against them of a revolving cylinder (as in the ordinary hurdy-gurdy), covered with leather, and rosined. This cylinder, which in the effect it produced somewhat resembled the bow of a violin, was set in motion by a pedal worked by the foot of the player. All gradations of tone, as well as the power of swelling or diminishing the sound upon a sustained note were produced by the pressure of the finger. For this instrument Weber composed in the year 1811 a very interesting adagio and rondo, with orchestral accompaniment, which is published by Peters, of Leipzig. Weber wrote concerning this composition—'It was an infernal piece of work to write for an instrument whose tone is so peculiar and strange that one has to call to one's aid the liveliest imagination to bring it suitably forward in combination with other instruments. It is a cousin of the harmonica, and has this peculiarity, that with every sustained note its octave is prominently heard.' On the printed title-page it is said to be 'for Harmonichord or Harmonium.' This, however, is an addition of the publisher; as not only are the two instruments totally distinct, but the physharmonica, the predecessor of the harmonium, was not invented till about fifteen years later.

[ E. P. ]