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Dead medium: the Cat Piano
From: richardd@reeseco.com (Richard Dorsett)

Source(s): *The Fireside Sphinx* by Agnes Repplier, 3rd edition, Houghton Mifflin, 1939.

From the chapter "Persecution":

"To Brussels is due the unenviable distinction of having produced the first cat organ, in 1549. This triumph of ingenuity was designed to lend merriment to the street pageant in honor of Philip the Second, and is described by Juan Cristoval, a Spaniard in attendance upon the King.

"'The organ,' says Cristoval, 'was carried on a car, with a great bear for the musician. In place of pipes, it had twenty cats separately confined to narrow cases, from which they could not stir. Their tails were tied to cords attached to the keyboard of the organ. When the bear pounded the keys, the cords were jerked, and this pulled the tails of the cats, and made them mew in bass or treble notes, according to the nature of the airs.'

"Such an invention could have afforded, at best, but doubtful entertainment; yet the cat organ was so widely appreciated that German humourists undertook to alter and improve it; and after a time a choice variety of instruments were constructed, in all of which cats were induced by some well applied torture to furnish forth the necessary music."

(((Richard Dorsett remarks: I like that little touch, "German humourists;" it says so much about that nationality.)))

(((bruces remarks: see also Working Note 13.6, "Cat Piano and Tiger Organ," in which cats were alleged to have been whacked by needle-sharp piano keys, rather than having their tails yanked. There was no mention of a cat-piano- playing bear in the other account, and the bear, somehow, seems even less plausible than the cats. One wonders what this bear was supposed to do with his keyboard skills during the off season.)))

Richard Dorsett (richardd@reeseco.com)