The History of Musical Machines

The barrel organ production industry started in the Novara region and expanded, slowly but surely, to many other parts of Italy. Among the first important producers were: Fratelli Ottina Pellandi from Novara; De Vecchi from San Michele (Verona); Martelletti from Casale Monferrato, etc. At the beginning pianos with chairs were produced with characteristics similar to that of grand pianos. They weighed around 45 kg and were transported on the shoulders of the busker, together with a support on which they were placed. These instruments took on different names according to the various regions: for example in Naples they were called “pianini”, in Lombardy and France “Barbary organ”, in Veneto “vertical”, while in other places simply “organ” or “pianola”.
The invention of the vertical piano organ, equipped with a hand lever and then a crank motor, arrived quickly. A pin was initially used to change the music, but around 1970 it was replaced by a lever that controlled a cam, at times called a snail. The new system made it possible to choose the tune to be heard quite quickly by indicating a number.
At the same time in Germany and Austria, alternative solutions were being idealised, more in the line of a cylinder or box organ that worked using weight or spring systems. At the beginning of the 1900s the sound of bells, drums, castanets and mandolins were added to the cylinders, to make them more complete. Instruments as complex as these were hired or sold to pub owners. This type of industry continued developing up to the start of the 1920s, but with the invention of the phonograph in 1877 and subsequently the gramophone, the destiny of one of the most romantic musical instruments that had been part of life for more than a century was marked.

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