In the 14th century the first programmed musical instruments - the tower
carillons - sound in the Netherlands. The history of mechanical music begins
with "the singing towers of the Low Countries".
In the 17th century scaled-down carillons are introduced into the
drawing-room: the musical clock contains a row of bells which are played by a
programmed cylinder just like the tower carillon.
In 1796 the Swiss watchmaker Antoine Favre takes out the patent on "the
carillon without bells or hammers". This is the birth of the cylinder musical
box. Here the music is produced by a row of tuned steel teeth that are plucked
by a musical pattern of pins on a cylinder.
Around 1885 the disc musical box is born. The musical cylinder is replaced by
a steel disc which can be produced in quantity. The result is enormous mass
production. Disc musical boxes are soon available all over the world.
Already in the Renaissance organs are to be found which are played by a
programmed cylinder. These early barrel organs are initially destined only for
palaces and castles. In the 18th century the barrel organ - often in combination
with a clock - also finds its way into the houses of the wealthy
Stringed instruments, played by a pinned barrel, are already making their
appearance in the 16th century. Around 1900 the pianola is introduced. This
instrument, which is played by perforated paper rolls, becomes a world-wide
Orchestrions are combinations of various automatic musical instruments
designed for cafés and dance halls. They were produced in large numbers and
varieties between 1880 and 1930. Their rôle was taken over in the thirties by
the gramophone and juke-box.
Anselmo Gavioli's 1892 patent of the "book organ" marks a turning-point in
the history of the mechanical organ. Street organs, fairground organs and dance
organs rapidly adopt the cheap and easily produced organ book.
The Netherlands owe their tradition of street organs to the system of hiring,
established in Amsterdam in 1875 by the Belgian Leon Warnies. By this means
organ players can have their instrument maintained by specialists and from time
to time avail themselves of a new organ.
Around 1700 the first barrel organs appear on the street. These instruments
are hung from a strap around the neck and are played by a wooden musical
cylinder. After the German organ builder Carl Frei is established in Breda in
1920, the Netherlands become the pre-eminent country of street organs. Street
organs - or "pierementen" - are still being built in the Netherlands.
The construction of fairground organs has a deep-rooted tradition above all
in France and Germany. At the beginning of the 20th century huge instruments are
built there and become the musical and visual focus of the great fairs.
From the beginning of the 20th century up to the second World War dance
organs are very popular, especially in Belgium. These instruments with their
monumental façades form an integral part of the decor of the dance halls. Thanks
to their tremendous repertoire of book music they can play any dance