• FA-121722 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
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Musical Instruments

Hupfeld "Phonoliszt Violina"


A violin that plays itself? You would hardly think it possible. But it exists: a piano and violins in one case, controlled by a perforated paper tape.

From around 1900, self-playing pianos were a popular form of entertainment in bars and middle-class drawing rooms. There were various ideas and attempts to combine them with another instrument such as an accordion. In the case of so-called "orchestrions", several instruments in one case were played using one control mechanism. There was also a desire to produce the sound of the classic combination of a piano and violin in the same way. The technology for controlling the piano was already known, but a suitable solution had to be found for the violin part.

In 1907, the Hupfeld company invented a device for automated violin playing, which was called the "eighth wonder of the world": the "Phonoliszt Violina". Three violins, each with just one active string, were played with using a circular bow. The circular bow is made of horsehair, just like a real violin bow. The violins are pressed against the bow by bellows. Bellow-controlled "fingers" also press on the strings to obtain the notes. It is controlled by a perforated strip, together with the piano controls.

To reduce the length of interruption when the perforated strips were changed, there were also instruments with automatic roll-changers and some with two playing mechanisms, so that one mechanism could have its roll changed while the other was playing. These very expensive instruments were mainly found in bars and hotels, or in cinemas to accompany silent films. The automaton from the collection of the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna Technical Museum) was produced in around 1914.

Manufacturer: Hupfeld (playing apparatus) and Rönisch (piano)
Place of manufacture: Leipzig
Date of construction: approx. 1914

Inv.Nr. 7457
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