Instruments | Telharmonium | Modern Era | Classical
We think of electronic music as a late twentieth-century phenomenon, but one of the earliest electronic instruments, the telharmonium, dates from as early as 1895. Invented in the US by Thaddeus Cahill (who also interested himself in electric typewriters and pianos), the instrument was an electromechanical keyboard instrument. It used charge-bearing metal brushes and a rotating wheel with alternating conducting and insulating regions. Current was supplied by a dynamo and the performer sat at a keyboard. In a second design, a large cylinder (the size of a small child) carried eight alternators. Played from three 144-key manuals, the telharmonium possessed a five-octave range, but did not have the volume control of the earlier model. In all, three instruments were built, each different from the other. They were huge, heavy and enormously expensive to build. None survives.
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