Orchestrions

A Full Orchestra Programmed By Paper Roll

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!

Orchestrions and their music

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.

The instrument with a center scene is a Hupfeld Helios III-39, one of the largest built by the firm and one of only 2 known 'III' series Helios orchestrions.

Next is a Hupfeld Helios II-25. These instruments were 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 cherished by enthusiasts and awe inspiring to the general public!

Unter Donner Und Blitz - Hupfeld Helios III-39
00:00 / 00:00
The Blue Danube - Hupfeld Helios III-39
00:00 / 00:00
Unknown Waltz - Mills Violano Virtuoso
00:00 / 00:00
Unknown Fox-Trot - Mills Violano Virtuoso
00:00 / 00:00

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 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.

Dance Organs are always a favorite of many designed to play a wide variety of music spanning from polkas to ragtime, to even rock and roll! They are characteristic in their variety of percussion and visuals, often accompanied by real accordions. These were incredibly popular in dance halls and cafes in Europe and several still remain in use publicly today. In addition to the instruments themselves, credit it certainly due to arrangers such as Albert Decap who really knew how to make a song 'hot'!

Polka - Arburo Dance Organ
00:00 / 00:00
12th Street Rag - Arburo Dance Organ
00:00 / 00:00
Blame It On the Blues - Wurlitzer Style 30-A Mandolin PianOrchestra
00:00 / 00:00

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. With its variety in percussion, instrumentation, and registers, you can get the sound of both an 'orchestra' or ragtime band!

This handsome case houses 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.

Lights Out - Welte 4 Concert Orchestrion
00:00 / 00:00
Bric a Brac - Welte 4 Concert Orchestrion
00:00 / 00:00

Above is a Welte 4 Concert Orchestrion. Unique in its warm mellow sound, this instrument excels at playing lighter classical works. Many wealthy individuals purchased Welte instruments for their private residences though public display in a high-end hotel or restaurant was certainly common. 

© 2010-2019 Mikey Mills; mechanicalmusic.org