A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Mustel, Victor

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MUSTEL, Victor, a manufacturer of harmoniums, whose long struggles against poverty, and final success, entitle him to be called the 'Palissy of music,' was born at Havre in 1815. Left an orphan at the age of 12, he was apprenticed to a shipbuilder, and in 1838 set up in business for himself in that trade at the little hamlet of Sanvic. Endowed from youth with a peculiarly constructive genius, his first attempts at making musical instruments were devoted to the improvement of an accordion which he had bought in Havre. Elated with his success, he disposed of his workshop in May 1844, and set out for Paris with his wife and two children. For the next nine years he worked in several different workshops, but never obtained high wages. In 1853 he determined to start in business for himself as a harmonium maker, and in 1855 exhibited his harmonium with 'Double Expression,' and a new stop 'Harpe Eolienne,' for which he gained a medal of the first class. For the first year after this, Mustel (now assisted by his two sons) did fairly well, but business rapidly declined, and he would perhaps have been obliged to succumb, but for the sale of a little land which he had inherited from his father. Even in 1866 his receipts did little more than cover the costs, but since that date the firm of 'Victor Mustel et ses Fils' has gained a reputation that has been as noteworthy in England as in France.

The inventions due to MM. Mustel are—'La Double Expression' (patented 1854), whereby the natural preponderance of the bass tones over those of the treble is, with complete power of increase and decrease in either half, brought under direct control of the player by means of knee pedals (genouillères) that control the energy and pressure of the wind; 'Le Forté expressif,' a divided swell governed by pneumatic agency; and 'La Harpe Eolienne,' a tremolo register of two ranks of vibrators, 2 ft. pitch, which offer a gently beating variation to the unison by being slightly less and more than the normal pitch of the instrument, the impression of which remains unimpaired. M. Mustel has recently invented 'Le Typophone,' and 'Le Métaphone.' The first of these is a keyboard percussion instrument, made of tuning-forks in resonance boxes of the proper acoustic capacity. It is not at this moment in fabrication, since its manufacture would need larger funds than the firm has at its disposal, but it was lately used with success at the Paris Opéra Comique in Mozart's 'Flute enchantée.' The Métaphone (patented in 1878) is an invention to soften at pleasure the somewhat strident tones of the harmonium. It is produced by a sliding shutter of leather to each compartment, and is governed by drawstops, as with other modifications of tone and power.

[ A. J. H. ]