A creation of the Hupfeld Company, at the
time the largest global distributor of automatic instruments with an
employee count reaching into the thousands, the creation capped off a
growing trend to automate increasingly complex musical instruments.
Though player pianos had already attained widespread usage, the
Phonoliszt-Violin was revolutionary for its addition of a self-playing
violin component, earning it the title of “Eighth Wonder of the World”
at the 1910 Brussels International world’s fair.
The machine features three violins, which
are played by a spinning bow made of horse hair and operated via a
pneumatic system. The above restoration can be seen performing Fréderic
Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2 in E flat major—an incredible feat for an
Remarkably, both the piano and the
violins are dynamic, allowing for a previously unheard of range of
volume and tone. From the most delicate pianissimo to a crashing
fortissimo, this unparalleled instrument has the ability to render
musical pieces with all of the skill and vigor of a real musician.
During the machine’s heyday, the Hupfeld
Company developed around 900 different music rolls for it. They sold
thousands of the Phonoliszt-Violin, mostly to opulent hotels and
restaurants that used them for background entertainment.
But by the mid 1920s, the popularity of
automatic instruments cratered as phonographs and radios spread
throughout the world. The Phonoliszt-Violin, like all Hupfeld Company
instruments, took a hit. After the Great Depression struck, production
essentially shut down.
Today, only 63 still exist. And
accompanying the rarity is a hefty price tag: the starting price for a
Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violin on 1stdibs is $885,000.