Menubalk Tienhoven

Update: 14-01-2013

Terug naar Historie


Voorlopers in expressie


1810 Orgue-Expressif

1815 Aeoline

1820 Aeolodikon




Aeoline (ca.1814-1816) by Bernhard Eschenbach

© 2009 Frans van der Grijn

An Aeoline by Eschenbach is in the collection of the Händel-Haus in Halle, Germany. The instrument is not complete. The top part has gone. This Aeoline was built as both a writing desk as well as a musical instrument. It contains only one row of reeds, undivided of 8' pitch.

Aeoline Eschenbach

The very large vertical feeder bellows at the back are 420 x 1425 mm (15.53 x 55.95 inch) in size and contain 27 dm3 (27 liter) (7.132 US Gallon/5.939 British imp. Gallon). The feeder bellows are activated with two pedals.
The reservoir bellow is 55 x 470 x 990 mm (2.16 x 18.50 x 38.97 inches) and is under the keyboard.

The reed-scales and the sound of the instrument shows this Aeoline in fact is an Aeolodikon. Wherever Eschenbach and Schlimmbach built an Aeoline in a combination with a Hammerklavier/piano, or combined with a housing as a piece of furniture, i.e. a writing desk, they used the name Aeoline. When built as a single instrument, they referred to it as Aeolodikon.

The Händel-Museum at Halle, based on technical details and the lack of the 16' reeds, has qualified this instrument to be an early production.


Aeoline balgen   Vleugel Aeoline
Drawings of the bellows   A Pyramide-grand piano and Aeoline combined.

The next part of this page is available as printable page as an Acrobat file.

The inventor of the Aeoline

Bernhard Eschenbach (* 1767; † 1852) was a Bavarian accounts-official, interested in designing new musical instruments based on the free reed. Here he joined the search to new musical instruments which was very strong in 19th Century Germany.

Eschenbach invented the instrument, developed it and designed it. However, to build it, he invited his cousin Johan Caspar Schlimmbach. Schlimbach was trained in Vienna to become an organ builder. His education in Vienna shows in his technical work.

Dating the instruments

Available reference literature is rather contradictory in dating the instruments both Aeoline and Aeolodikon. It is known from literature that the first steps in inventing new musical instruments based on free reeds, was mainly German before 1830. Grenié with his orgue-expressif is about the only French builder in this quest for a new instrument.

Often, very often, this phenomenon has lead to nationalistic propaganda-like publications. In this "battle about inventorship" even years of invention are altered to emphasize national glory. It is Joris Verdin who makes a statement in his doctoral thesis that Alphonse Mustel willingly took no part in this approach. In Mustel's history line in his book "L'Harmonium" he shows due respect to the German entrepeneurs of the 19th Century.

Knowing this, it is not really a surprise that the next part of this page is an in depth study to years of invention.

Details from literature

Ord-Hume in his book Harmonium, the history of the Reed Organ and its makers" writes:

"Bernard Eschenbach used free reeds in his Eolodion of 1800, a description of which appreared in Le Breton, no 164, of 13 December 1827."

He quotes from the article in Le Breton:

"Recently, mr. Eschembach (note the typo in the name) came to the idea of using the principles found in Eolian Harp and Guimbarde (Jews harp), in his Eolodicon. In order to generate vibrations by feeding wind to the source of sound. Not by using strings under tension, but metal springs, fixed on one side, free moving on the other side. " [1]

Recemment, M. Eschembach, dans sons eolodicon, a imagine, en trouvant le principe de sa découverte dans la harpe d’Eole et la guimbarde, de produire a volonté les vibrations sonores par un soufflet employé a faire vibrer, non des cordes tendues, mais des ressorts métalliques fixes par une extrémité et libres de l’autre. [1]

Quoted here in the syntax corrected edition as published in: Joris Verdin: "Het harmonium", doctoral thesis, Leuven, 2002.

"mais des ressorts métalliques fixes" is a 19th century translation of the German word "Ferdern", springs. In those years the common name for free reeds.

The year 1800 is mentioned by Ord-Hume without any reference. Whatsover his source or information. Verdin quotes this year and makes no comment on the given year. Due to the rather big gap of 26 years between date of publication and the suggested year 1800, is does seem reasonable to investigate Ord-Hume's claim. For this reason only I compared Ord-Hume with Alphonse Mustel.
Due to multiple sources I do believe the journalist of Le Breton is wrong in his statement.

It is important to know that the Organo-Violine, Aeoline and Aeolodicon succeeded upun each other. And each single one is an improvement to the predecessor instrument. 

Mustel writes about the Organo-Violine:

"1814 Organo-Violine, instrument with free reeds, with a compass of six octaves, built by the Bavarian builder Eschenbach from Königshofen." [2]

"1814 Organo-Violine instrument à anches libres de six octaves produit par le facteur bavarois Eschenbach de Koenigshofen."

Next, Mustel mentions the Aéoline:

"1816 Aéoline, or Eoline or Elodion, names given to a keyboard instrument with free reeds, invented by the builder Schlimbach from Ohrdruff. This is an orgue-expressif of smaller size.[3]

"1816 – Aéoline, ou Eoline, ou Elodion, noms donnés à un instrument à clavier et à anches libres inventé par le facteur Schlimbach d’Orhrdurff. Cést un orgue-expressif  de petite dimension."

Next, Mustel writes about the Aeolodicon:

"1820 Aéolodicon or Elodicon or Eolodicon. Intrument with metal springs (=free reeds, fvdg) based upon the Organo-Violine by Schlimbach, perfectioned by Voit from Schweinfurt. This instrument had a bellows system with two feeder bellows and a reservoir bellow. " [4]

"1820 Aélodicon, ou Elodicon ou Eolodicon. Instrument à lames métalliques construit sur la donnée de l’Organo-Violine d’Eschenbach et de l’Aéoline de Schlimbach, perfectionné par Voigt de Schweinfurt.
Il était pourvu d’une soufflerie à deux pompes  et réservoir."

As a reaction to the publication in Le Breton about the Aéolodicon, Ord-Hume writes about the Aéoline:

"Eschenbach's work inspired his cousin, the piano and organ-builder Johann Caspar Schlimbach, to make his own keyboard instrument containing metal reeds. This was in 1810. Schlimmbach's organ was unusual in that the bellows were operated by the knee. He called the instrument the Aeoline." [5]

Also Ord-Hume writes about an earlier instrument, named Uranion:

"Another Buschmann, Jean-David (1751-1852), made similar instruments including one which resembled the Melodeon created by Dietz. However, itt deffered in one important detail, namely that it had the ability to produce crescendo and diminuendo. J.D. Buschmann called his instrument the "Uranion" and a description of it was published in Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, 12th year, No. 30, p 469, 1809." [6]

In his listing of predecessors of the harmonium, Ord-Hume dates the Uranion as being invented in 1810. [7]

In his book Harmonium Triads, Myles W. Jackson writes:

"In 1817 the instrumentmaker Johan David Buschmann of Frederichroda embarked upon a tour exhibiting his two new musical instruments with reed pipes, the uranion and the terpodion. {97}" [8]

In his footnote {97} Jackson quotes Curt Sachs [9]. First, notice that Ord-Hume used a French name, where Jackson uses a German name. Because of the location of Frederichroda, close to Gotha in Mid-Germany, its seems odd to use French names, mainly because Ord-Hume hardly quotes from French spoken sources.

The names of the instruments, the names of the inventors are almost swirling around as if it is like a German Walz [10]. Bernhard Eschenbach (inventor), Johann Caspar Schlimmbach (building and inventing); Johann Michel Voit [also: Voigt], organbuilder and perfectioning the instrument(s).

Jackson reveals more information:

"During his trip to Königshafen, he met up with Bernhard Eschenbach, a Bavarian accounts official, who around 1815 had designed a free-reed instrument which he called the Aeoline. {98} [11] Eschenbach's cousin, the instrument maker Johann Casper Schlimbach, manufactured the instrument and applied the reeds to an organ in Stadt-Lauringen near Schweinfurt {99}. [12] The Schweinfurt organbuilder Johann Michael Voit improved upon Eschenbach and Schlimbach's Aeoline, calling his invention the Aeolodikon. {100}. [13] Aeolines (and Aeolodikons, which are essentially the same instrument) were organlike instruments, in which the tones were elicited by a bellows, activated by the performer's knee or foot, setting metal reeds om vibration. {101}" [14]

According to Jackson, this is the result:

About 1815 Eschenbach invented (based on earlier research) the Aéoline. Hij had it built by his cousin Johann Caspar Schlimbach, an instrument maker. Afterwards Johan Michel Voit, an organ builde perfectionned the invention and named the instrument Aeolodicon.

In Jackson's article he gives his footnote [ 97] (see footnote 9 below this article) where an in depth explanation is given. Here it shows that researching the history of the harmonium is difficult. Hence, a full quote of Curt Sachs' statement, here it is quoted from an article published by Prof. dr. Christian Ahrens. [15]

"The many instruments based on tone production by free reeds, that have been built since 1780 in Mid-, North-, Western- and Eastern Europe [....] were in 1822 in Berlin [...] totally unknown, so instrument makers could uninfluenced work on the invention of the Aeoline. Even the the official organisation for the whole of Germany - and hence well informed - the Approval Commission (Prüfungskommission) [...] did not know about any other instrument based on free reeds than the Russian "Flötenuhr" (musicbox, fvdg).

Based on witness records like these, one must assume what historians and ethnologist hate to admit: namely the sponteanous, autonome and simulteanous invention on different locations. In the various attempts at the end of the 18th and begin of the 19th Century, it seems an causal relation exists: The free reed was - as one say - "in the air".

"Alle die zahlreichen Tonwerkzeuge vom Typus der durchschlagende Zunge, die seit 1780 in Mittel-, Nord-, West- und Ost-Europa gebaut wurden, [...], waren im Jahre 1822 in Berlin [...] so gänzlich unbekannt, daß Instrumentenbauer sich in völliger Unbefangenheit and die Erfindung der Aeoline machen konnten, ja, daß nicht einmal die zuständige, für den ganzen Staat maßgebende und sonst recht gut orientierte Prüfungskommission [...] von der Existenz irgendeines  Freizungenwerks außer er russischen Flötenuhr etwas wußte!

Angesichts eines solchen Zeugnisses wird man das annehmen müssen, was Historiker und Ethnologen nu ungern annehmen, nämlich die spontane, unabhängige und gleichzeitige Erfindung an verschiedene Stellen.Zwischen den zahlreichen Versuchen mit freischwingenden Zungen, die Ende des 18. und Anfang des 19. Jahrhunderts vorgenommen wurden, scheint in der Tat nu ein bedingter Konnex zu bestehen:  Die Durchschlagzunge hat, wie man sagt, „in der Luft gelegen."

Jackson motivates the "in der Luft gelegen" by mentioning the atmosphere in musical circles in the early 19th Century: :

"The German public could no longer be satisfied with the type of instruments played in early and mid-18th century courts and churches. Romantic expression seemed to be the key.
Audiences did not want to be entertained; they now wished to be moved." [16]


The Aeoline was invented around 1815 and is the factual predecessor of of the Aeolodikon. The Ord-Hume statement, underwritten by Verdin or at least not attacked, that Eschenbach invented an Aeolodikon as early as 1800, is not supported by factual information.



[1] A.W.G. Ord-Hume: “Harmonium” p. 23
[2] A. Mustel: “L’Orgue Expressif ou Harmonium 1903, p. 60
[3] A. Mustel: ibid. p. 60
[4] A. Mustel: ibid. p. 60
[5]Ord-Hume: ibid. p. 23.
[6] Ord-Hume: ibid. p. 24
[7] Ord-Hume: ibid. Appendix 3, p. 247
[8] Myles W. Jackson: Harmonious Triads, p. 99
[9] Curt Sachs: "Zur frühgeschichte der durchschlagende Zunge" in: Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau 33, jrg. 1912-1913
[10] Wikipedia : Became known later, as “Viennese walz”
[11] Jackson: ibid. p. 99, voetnoot 98: Heyde, Herbert: Händel-Haus Halle, p. 447
[12] Jackson: ibid. p. 99, note 99: Gleichmann, 1820 - "Uber die Erfindung der Aeoline oder des Aeolodikon" Alg. musikalische Zeitung 22: col. 505-508 (this text is quoted un full at: Aeolodikon)
[13] Jackson: ibid. p. 99, note 100: Buschmann, Gustav Adolf. 1988: "Hundert Jahre des Harmoniumbaues und andere Zungeninstrumente, 1810-1910. In: Das mechanische Musikinstrument 12:8-9
[14] Jackson: ibid. p. 99, note 101: Sachs, Curt, 1913: "Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente, zugleich eine Polyglossar für das gesamte Instrumentengebiet. Berlin, J. Bard.
[15] Christian Ahrens: Zur frügeschichte der Instrumente mit Durchschlagzungen in Europa“ in: Michaelsteiner Konferenzberichte Band 62: Harmonium und Handharmonika.  Stiftung Kloster Michaelstein, 2002
[16] Jackson: ibid. p. 97


Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau; Jahrgang 23; Band 23, 1902, S. 60 21-10-1902

Ein altes Harmonium mit merkwürdigen Zungenstimmen.

Der Orgelbaumeister Christian Gerhardt in Boppard am Rhein erhielt im Laufe dieses Sommers ein altes Harmonium in Reparatur, das durch die eigenthümliche Form und Konstruktion seiner Zungenstimmen bemerkenswerth ist. Da das Instrument ob dieser Eigenthümlichkeit sicherlich manchen Fachmann interessiren dürfte, wenn auch nur als Kurosität, so lassen wir hier eine Beschreibung mit Zeichnung, die uns Herr Gerhardt freundlichst zur Verfügung gestellt hat, folgen.

Das Instrument, vermuthlich eine alte Arbeit aus dem Kloster Marienthal bei Geissenheim oder Nothd-Gottes bei Rüdesheim, hat Zungenstimmen in länglicher Hufeisenform. Sie bestehen aus einem gebogenen dicken Eisendrahte (verg. Abbildung), an dem im Punkte a die Stahlzunge eingenietet ist. Die Stimmen sind einzeln für sich in die Windlade eingelegt, und die Taste bildet das Ventil. Der Ton ist kräftig, nur in den tiefen Oktaven rauscht es beim Anschlagen der Taste, weil die Zungen nicht so genau aufgepaßt sind, wie man das heute findet. Registerzüge sind keine vorhanden, das Instrument hat nur ein Spiel 8‘, vom Contra F bis viergestrichenen c. Im Diskant ist nog ein 16 Fuß vorhanden, der mit einem Kniehebel zum An- und Abstellen versehen ist. Zum Abstellen des 16’ist ein großes Ventil angebracht, da die Zungen verschließt. Die Einrichtung des Gebläses ist aus der beistehenden Durchschnittskizze zu ersehen.

(translation still under construction)



Thanks to those who did proof reading of my text:

  • Tony Newnham

Back to the history page