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The start of electronic music was never officially set, but most likely the start is in 1906, September 26th, with the first performance of Thaddeus Cahill's (1867-1934) Dynamophone, better known maybe as the Telharmonium. The instrument weighed about 200 tons and required an enormous power supply. Pressing multiple keys reduced the power and thereby the volume. Some notes diminished while playing. The Telharmonium looked like a telephone station with 2000 switches and lots of wires. It was played like an organ with a double row of keys. There is no recording of the concert, but people describe the sounds as 'pure, beautiful, sweet and perfect'.
Cahill created the first synthesizer by using a touch sensitive polyphonic keyboard and tone wheels to create electrical oscillation of a given frequency tone. The tones were made through rotating cogged wheels and were so constructed to produce a chromatic tone scale. Cahill's idea was to build an electrical instrument to create a synthetic orchestra played by a single performer.
The Telharmonium imitated instruments like the oboe and flute. During the concert in September 1906 works of Schumann, Bach and Beethoven amongst others were performed. The instrument was revolutionary, but not easy to use and transport - It needed 30 railroad carriers.

One of the pioneers of new music was Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924). Busoni was a virtuoso pianist who was dedicated to the music of Bach. In his later years he searched for new ways to compose music. His articles about that progressive approach were published in 1907 in a sort of manifesto - a popular way in those days -  which is now well known as: The Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music - Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst. The sketch he was looking for was neither tonal nor atonal. Busoni thought highly about the Telharmonium which he had read about in a magazine: "I almost think that in the new great music machines will be necessary and will be assigned a share in it." (quote from his manifesto) It surely helped other people to free their minds from the dominant -  European that is - way of handling compositions. One of them was Edgard Varèse.

Another group of people - The Futurists - used this manifesto as a stepping stone towards another important one: The Futurist Manifesto. Their movement was fascinated with machines, technology and new and radical music. The painter Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) was most associated with the Futuristi. Russolo wrote L' Arte dei Rumori (The Art of noise) and was more extreme in his views. Music was only to be made by using noise and in this way the music was freed from its 'prison'. In 1913 he developed a set of machines to produce all kinds of noise. The machines (picture on the right) existed of boxes with horns. Inside the box were mechanical devices to generate various sounds. The first Futuristi concert was April 1914 in Rome. Rossolo was assisted by Tommaso Marinetti. Their reward: rotten vegetables and fruit. Most recordings were destroyed in World War II, but there are some recordings saved from performances from 1913 to 1921. The importance of the Futurist contribution is the presentation of ambient sounds and various other sounds in music, thereby creating the first electroacoustic music.

Another, important, development came from Russia. Cellist en engineer Lev Sergeyevich Termen (1896-1993) invented/created the Etherophone or Thereminovox around 1920. To make matters easier: Lev Termen was re-named Leon Teremin and his Thereminovox: Theremin. The Theremin had no keyboard but two antennae. The instrument was played by placing one hand around the antennae to control pitch (5 octaves) and the other hand around the second, circular antennae to control the loudness. The Theremin produces a smooth tone, which was soon to be used in futuristic movies and also for horror movies. In 1929 RCA (Radio Corporation America) manufactured a commercial, but simpler version with about a three octaves range. The instrument wasn't easy to play and produced a strange alien like sound. Classical musicians tried to make it sound like a recognazible instrument. Most famous for their  performances were Clara Rockmore and Teremin's new wife Lucie Bigelow Rosen. Theremin's most important collaborators were Henry Cowell and Edgard Varèse.  Varèse used the instrument in his composition Ecuatorial (1933).

But before Varèse came up with his ideas, George Antheil (1900-1959), American Bad Boy of Music, as he called himself, premiered his version of new music: Ballet Mécanique. This Ballet required 'instruments' like airplane propellers, electric bells, siren and player pianos. All these were percussive, like machines. The Ballet was intended to accompanied a film by Fernand Léger. The concert ended with riots which spread to the streets of Paris. The Ballet became his most famous work. Antheil later turned to writing film scores and more tonal music.

In France cello player Maurice Martenot (1898-1980) invented his Ondes Musicales (musical waves), an electronic instrument that - in his opinion - could find a place in a classical orchestra. The instrument which became well known under the name Ondes Martenot looked like a keyboard. That was important, because the Theremin was too difficult to handle and didn't look like an instrument either. To create an immediate success, Martenot commissioned an orchestral work: Symphonic Poem for solo Ondes Martenot and Orchestra, written by Dimitri Levidi. Martenot himself played the solo part. The Ondes Martenot had a controlled pitch by moving a finger ring attached to a metal wire. The ring was attached to a finger of the right hand, a function maybe best comparable with a slide guitar nowadays. The left hand controlled the volume with a pressure sensitive key. Many composers were interested in the new instrument and numerous new compositions were written. Like the Theremin the Ondes had 'star' players. Most famous were Ginette Martenot, Maurice's sister and Jeanne Loriod.

Engineer Dr. Friedrich Trautwein (1888-1956) developed his version of a new electronic musical instrument in cooperation with composer Paul Hindemith: the Trautonium. The Trautonium was played by pressing a string with a finger. The string would touch a plate and thereby closing a circuit to produce a sound through an oscillator. The volume was controlled with a foot pedal. A second version of the apparatus had a second fingerboard to produce two tones at the same time. It is important to remember that most of these early instruments were monophonic, which means one note at a time. Trautwein even introduced a new invention, the working with presets. The player could 'preset' a position on the wire with a metal strip. Also new was the introduction of a saw tooth sound producing oscillator. Saw tooth oscillators produce rich harmonic tones. To bring the Trautonium a step further still Trautwein introduced another new trick: a filter (rotary dials) to adjust the amplitude of the harmonics. Oskar Sala (1910-2002), Trautwein's associate became the virtuoso on the instrument. Sala also composed for the Trautonium. In 1952 he developed a new version: the Mixtur-Trautonium. This instrument could produce more harmonics and had improved controls. The Mixtur-Trautonium became world famous for the sounds made with it for Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds (1963). The soundtrack was composed by Sala. He also made numerous other compositions including those for dance music.



front & basement 'station' of the Telharmonium


Luigi Russolo and assitant Ugo Piatti
with the Intonarumori (acoustic noise generators)


Teremin, playing his Theremin
visible are the two antennea


George Antheil with propeller and electric bells


Maurice and sister Ginette Martenot with the OM


Alfred Hitchcock (left), Oskar Sala and Trautonium