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Museums of Mechanical Music of France




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Musée de la Musique Mécanique des Gets (Haute-Savoie) 
Place de la Mairie
74260 Les Gets
Tel :
The most important museum of mechanical music in France with its 750 m² for exposition.
Le merle blanc.mp3

Maison de la Musique Mécanique de Mirecourt (Vosges)
24, Rue Chanzy
88500 Mirecourt
Tel :
Origine of French mechanical music. Museum with playing instruments and an hour visit

Moulin à Musique Mécanique (Vaucluse)
Route de Carpentras
84570 Mormoiron
Tel :
Discover a small and entertaining museum at the bottom of Le Mont Ventoux, 10 km from Carpentras
 and 30 km from Avignon.

Musée du Phonographe et de la Musique Mécanique de Sainte Maxime (Var)
Parc Saint Donat CD 25
83120 Sainte Maxime
Tel :

Musée de la Reproduction du Son
Place de l'Hôtel de Ville
89170 Saint Fargeau
Tel :

Musée de la Musique Mécanique (Nord)
53, rue Vanderhagen
59320 Haubourdin
Tel :


Musée de l'Art Forain et de la Musique Mécanique
Place de l'Hôtel de Ville
54800 Conflans en Jarnisy
Tel :






Since the beginning of time, sound has influenced mankind. Man tried to make harmonius sounds, at first with songs, then with music instruments. But that was not enough, he wanted to create instruments that would play by themselves so he would only have to enjoy the music. The first instrument was an Aeolienne Harp, which tense strings would harmoniously vibrate under the wind and which most elaborate version was described by Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680).

The antic Greece, Egypt and Near East left us interesting documents concerning plans of mechanical music instruments, mainly water organs with automates, as the ones described by "Appollonius" (200 years b.c.), "Philon of Byzance" (300 b.c.) or "Heron of Alexandrie" (1 century a.c.). Numerous whistling bird automates were built in "Byzance".

While having contacts with the Greek, the Arabians learned the teaching of "Archimedes" and were the first to use a pinned cylinder as a musical data device. The first true mechanical music instrument appeared at the court of the "Calif of Bagdad" (9 centuries a.c.).

During the XIIIth century, Dutch navigators brought back from China the first chimes, set of tones activated by a pinned cylinder. The most ancient instrument built in Europe was the chime of the cathedral of Strasbourg (1352-1354)

The most ancien cylinder organ still existing today was built in 1502, it is the Hornwerk of Hohensalzbourg of the Hohanezburg fortress and is called "the Bull of Salzburg". The German monk Athanasius Kircher published in 1650 a document showing a church organ that worked with a pinned cylinder.

At the same time European courts discovered the automates : Augsburg in Germany was the shelter of very famous constructors as S. Bidermann (1540-1624). In France, Vaucauson (1709-1772), Pierre Jacquet-Droz (1721-1780) and his son Henri-Louis obtained excellent results with their androïds.

Great musiciens as G. F. Händel (1685-1759), Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), W.A. Mozart (1757-1791), L. von Beethoven did not hesitate to compose for mechanical organs placed in clocks or precious furniture.

At the beginning of the XVIIIth century, in Mirecourt, Lorraine miniature cylinder organs (La Serinette) started to be built and were destinated to train Canaries (that were taken to the court of Lorraine) to sing short and famous tunes; later on, they developped a remarkable production of "home" and church organ cylinders, as well as "Concerts-Militaires" (Military-Concerts), that are very rare organs today.

In Paris, Davrainville father & son were noticeable for their instruments which had a remarkable sound.

Then the organ with crank, which tunes were always pinned on a cylinder, found a place in the street with all kind of invalids, salesmen and Savoyards.

In 1850, Alexandre Bebain patented the "Antiphonel", a reading system for piano with pin-studded wooden shingles. But the shingles so as the cylinder, had for defect a too short melody.

The invention in Geneva by Antoine Favre (1734-1820) in 1796 of the music box must also be cited (the pins of the cylinder make the metallic teeth of a comb vibrate).

In 1866, in Leipzig, Paul Lochmann geniously thought of changing the pinned cylinder for a metallic disc with pins. As the discs could be easily changed this invention created an intense production of all sorts of mechanical music instruments meant for indoor music:


The XIXth century was a period of technical progress. With the creation of the reed, the variaty of instruments became extraordinary. The organettes manufactured were cheaper than pipe instruments (Arsiton, Herophon, Amorette, Kallyston). The repertory grew bigger with the new technics (cardboard, paper, and sometimes metals). The cardboard music books were inspired by Mr Jacquard's looms.

The new technologies that followed as pneumatics, electrical engin, boosted mechanical music with the creation of pneumatic pianos and Orchestrions of all type (accordion...).

Without doubts, the XIXth century was the "golden age" of mechanical music, there was an abundance of technical inventions and reading system inventions (perforated cardboard and perforated paper rolls) which led to an automatization of almost all music instruments : mechanical pianos, orchestrions, of all sorts (AccordeoJazz, Phonolist-Violina, Mills-Violano, Magic-Organa, "reproducing" pianos...). As these instruments worked with a pneumatic reading system (air pressure or more often air depression created by the passage of the holes of the paper roll), they would exactly correspond to the style of the people of that time who did not knew yet the gramophone but whose care for music went beyond the limit of social classes.

In the meantime, fairgrounds were becoming more important. At first cylinder organs then perforated cardboard organs would play the music of all the attractions of the fairs, from vaulting horses to Bioscopes (the cinema's ancestor). The greatest names are still live in our memories as the Limonaire, Gavioli, Gasparini, Maringhi, decap Bursens, etc. And Mechanical Music also made come true an old dream of mankind: the invention of the talking machine.

But with the creation and democratization of the phonograph, and above all the possiblity to capture human voices, mechanical music instruments were not competitive anymore and their loss unavoidable.

Thanks to Mechanical Music Museums, to certain expositions, to passionate collectors, to careful restaurators, it is possible today to listen to instruments of the Mechanical Music Era, of which they were the witnesses and actors.

Françoise DUSSOUR

Her site: http://www.musique-mecanique.org





  Please contact the following organization :

Association loi 1901



RECORDERS - cardboards for crank organs



















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