At the turn of the century, no high-class dance hall, restaurant, or hotel could possibly excuse an absence of fine music. All across Europe and the United States, impressive orchestrions could be found playing hits of the day, different instruments catering to a variety of music tastes and styles. To this day, an orchestrion playing live in a establishment is unique, immensely entertaining, and a sure draw for customers!
Hupfeld Orchestrions are often considered the absolute best in terms of any self-playing instruments, and why can be answered in just a few seconds of listening to one. Their superb musicality and precise German engineering make these instruments absolutely breathtaking.
To the right is a Hupfeld Helios III-39, one of the largest built by the firm and one of only 2 known 'III' series Helios orchestrions. Below are several other examples of orchestrions built by Hupfeld.
"Circus Renz" (Gallop)
"I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?" (Fox-Trot)
On the left is a Hupfeld Helios II-25; both of these instruments being immensely popular in Europe in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, the first world war's toll on Germany's economy significantly hindered Hupfeld's output of instruments.
After ceasing operations in the late 20's, the second world war undoubtedly resulted in many instruments being scrapped for metal and possibly even bombed during raids. Fortunately, there are still several examples of these around today, cherished by enthusiasts and awe-inspiring to the general public.
"Unter Donner Und Blitz" (Gallop)
"The Blue Danube" (Waltz)
Violin orchestrions are certainly incredible to watch as well as listen to. Hupfeld's Phonoliszt-Violina is almost haunting in its ability to accurately play with human-like expression, this type of orchestrion being one of the most sought-after instruments in all of automatic music.
The Mills Violano (on left) was the United States's answer to a violin orchestrion. Hailed as 'one of the greatest inventions of the early 20th century', this machine differed from almost every other mechanical instrument being electrically operated rather than pneumatically. This instrument was so popular that it is estimated that around 1,000 Mills violin machines still exist.
"Blame It On the Blues" (Rag)
Today, there are only a few dozen PianOrchestras left in existence, these being some of the most valuable and cherished automatic instruments. Very few automatic instruments play ragtime and other early American jazz quite like a Wurlitzer PianOrchestra.
On the left is a Wurlitzer Style 30-A Mandolin PianOrchestra.
Below is a Wurlitzer Style 33 Mandolin PianOrchestra. These orchestrions were originally manufactured by Phillips of Germany and imported into the US, marketed by Wurlitzer as PianOrchestras. A number of different styles of PianOrchestras were made as well as hundreds of rolls of American music. Unfortunately, The US Prohibition Act killed the market for the large orchestrion, forcing beer halls which housed these closed.
"Over There" (One-Step)
"Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France" (One-Step)
"The Russian Rag" (Rag)
"Bric a Brac" (Polka)
"Lights Out" (March)