Tag Archives: Victorian era

Famous Victorians in a toy symphony



An event billed as A Concert for the Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street, held in London on 14 May 1880, featured a performance of Bernhard Romberg’s Toy symphony in which prominent London musicians performed on various mechanical birds and toy instruments; all but two of the musicians in the ensemble played instruments other than those that they were accustomed to performing on.

The evening also included performances of the Chœur des soldats from Gounod’s Faust and several children’s songs by a kazoo ensemble conducted by the operatic contralto Zelia Trebelli-Bettini.

This according to “Famous Victorians in a toy symphony” by Herbert Thompson (The musical times LXIX/1026 [1 August 1926] pp. 701–702); this issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above, the participants at a rehearsal; below, a more recent performance of the featured work.

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J.B. Schalkenbach’s electric music


In the 1860s Johann Baptist Schalkenbach developed a music hall act in which he performed on an amalgamation of instruments, built around a reed harmonium, which he called the Piano-Orchestre Électro-Moteur.

While playing, Schalkenbach would simultaneously create musical, noise, and optical effects via the electromagnetic triggering of circuits connected to objects placed around the hall.  Over the decades, the apparatus gradually became more and more spectacular as new features were added.

An early review states that Schalkenbach’s act received much applause, but “we fancy it would have gained still greater favour but for [his] singular resemblance to the Great German Chancellor Prince Bismarck, which did not quite please some of the audience.”

This according to “‘Electric music’ on the Victorian stage: The forgotten work of J.B. Schalkenbach” by Daniel Wilson (Leonardo music journal XXIII [2013] pp. 79–85). We are indebted to the author’s blog post for information and images.

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