A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Piano-Violin

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PIANO-VIOLIN (Fr. Violin Quatuor; Germ. Geigenwerk). Schroeter, the German claimant to the invention of the pianoforte, refers in an autobiographical sketch[1] to a 'Geigenwerk,' that is fiddle-work, from Nuremberg, which partly solved the problem of a keyed instrument capable of more expression than the clavichord; but the trouble of working the treadles—like a weaver's, as he said—was too great a drawback to its use. This must have been the 'Nürnbergisch Gambenwerk' of Hans Haydn, organist to the church of St. Sebald, who made, about 1610, a harpsichord-shaped instrument, strung with catgut. The strings were beneath the soundboard, and were acted upon by rollers covered with rosined parchment. The rollers were set in motion by a wheel, and by pressure of keys came in contact with the strings. The tone was capable of increase and diminution, and resembled in timbre that of the Viol di Gamba—whence the name 'Gambenwerk.' The original idea exists in the Hurdy Gurdy.

A tolerably long list of similar experiments in France, Germany, and even Russia, is to be found in Welcker's 'Der Clavierbau' (Frankfort, 1870), p. 163, etc. It appears that Chladni much favoured the idea of a piano violin, and under his auspices one was made in 1795 by von Mayer of Gorlitz. The form was that of a grand piano; each key acted upon a catgut string, and as many hairs as there are in a violin bow were adjusted in a frame for each string, a pedal setting them in motion. All these attempts however failed to produce a useful instrument, from the impossibility of playing with rapidity: slow movements alone being insufficient to satisfy either player or hearer.

At last, in 1865, Hubert Cyrille Baudet introduced one in Paris capable of rapid articulation, and named it 'Piano Quatuor,' patenting it in England as 'Piano-Violin.' The principle of Baudet's invention is very simple, although the wheel-machinery he employs is complex. The strings are of wire, as in a pianoforte, but of greater relative thickness, there being one only to each note. The strings are vertical; and attached to a nodal, or nearly nodal, point of each, is a piece of stiff catgut, projecting in front more than an inch. A roller, covered with fine linen and slightly rosined, is made to turn by means of treadles with great rapidity, just above the catgut ties, but not touching them until the keys are put down, when they rise into contact with the roller. Motion is then communicated through the ties to the wires, and their musical vibration is excited. The steel string by its vibrating length and tension determines the pitch; the catgut tie gives it the colour of tone or timbre; and the impression on the ear is that of the tone of a violin. Still we miss the attack of the bow, which gives life to the real quartet.

[ A. J. H. ]

  1. See Dr. Oscar Paul's 'Geschichte des Claviers,' Leipzig, 1808.