History of musical instruments

How did it all started ?

The 20th has witnessed many technical changes in relation with musical history: the use and production of musical instruments. In addition to the way music was listened to.

Percussion instruments took on a particular importance and found an important recognition in the 20th century. In addition to that, the development of electricity and the invention of electronics led to the creation of new instruments: electromechanical such as the Hammond organ, electronic such as the Martenot waves, synthesizers and electroacoustic music studios.

Musical instruments in the 20th century

Tubular bells

Tubular bells are also called orchestra bells.  They are composed of metal tubes usually made of brass with diameters ranging from three to four centimeters. They are tuned by changing their length. They are usually grouped into a chromatic series of one and a half octaves. They were already used by Berlioz in his piece “Fantastic Symphony” and by Tchaikovsky in 1812.

The piano quarter tone

In cooperation with the Czech composer and theorist Alois Haba, August Förster has designed the first version of a quarter-tone grand piano in 1923. This big piano was composed of two complete mechanisms of traditional construction and chromatic tuning, stacked one on top of the other. A special multi-level keyboard was used to play the 170 degrees of the scale of this instrument.

The Martenot waves

They were invented by Maurice Martenot (1898-1980) in 1928.  It is one of the first electric instruments, and the only one of its kind from this period to have created such a vast repertoire and to be practiced until now. Its repertoire includes hundreds of works by Varèse, Messiaen, Honegger, Milhaud, Boulez, Jolivet, Dutilleux, Martinu… Martenot waves are also widely used in song and film music. The “palm” next to the keyboard is a diffuser (loudspeaker) that can be used alone or in combination with a main diffuser.

The Ondioline

Invented by Georges Jenny in 1941, Ondioline is a precursor of synthesizers. Like the Martenot waves, it uses tube electronic circuits. But instead of using high frequency oscillators, it uses multi-vibrators whose characteristic is to produce square signals. They are rich in harmonics which allows them to produce a very wide variety of sounds, and thus to imitate the timbre of a large number of traditional instruments. About fifteen sliders acting on electronic filters allow synthesizing the desired sound. The keyboard is inspired by the Martenot waves’s one. It allows the player to create a natural vibration by moving the keyboard laterally with the playing hand.


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