Add a Comment to this Note (list members only)
Dead medium: the Cat Piano, The Donkey Chorus, the Pig Piano
From: daev@fringeware.com (Dave Walsh)

Source(s): Thomas L. Hankins and Robert J. Silverman, *Instruments and the Imagination*. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1995, pages 73, 246-7;

*Magia universalis naturae et artis, sive recondita naturalium et artificialium rerum scientia*, 4 vols. (Wurzburg, 1657-1659), vol. 2, chap. "Felium musicam exhibere," pages 372-373;

*La Nature* 2 (1883) pages 519-520; Michael Bernhard Valenti, *Museum museorum; oder, Vollstandige schau-buhne aller materialien und specereyen, nebst deren naturlichen beschreibung, election, nutzen und gebrauch...* 2d ed., 3 vols. in 2 [Frankfurt am Main: J.D. Zummer und J.A. Jungen, 1714], page 73 and table 31; Gunnar Jungmarket, "Kattklaver och voterings-instrument Verklighet och fantasi," *Artes*, no. 5 [1982]: pages 116-125;

Pierre Bayle, *The Dictionary Historical and Critical*, 5 vols. (London, 1736), facsimile ed. (New York: Garland, 1984), 3:803;

Isaac Nathan, *Musurgia vocalis*, 2d ed. (London: Fentum, 1836), page 160;

*Experimental Musical Instruments* 5, no. 5 (1989-1990): 6; and in 6 (1990-1991) no. 1, p. 4, no. 2, p. 3, and no. 5, p. 2.

(((Originally relayed through the Forteana list (forteana@lists.primenet.com) by Brian Chapman (wt046@freenet.victoria.bc.ca))))

Thomas L. Hankins and Robert J. Silverman, *Instruments and the Imagination*. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1995, pages 73, 246-7.

"In keeping with Darnton's methodology and subject matter we might want to look at the cat piano. Athanasius Kircher first wrote about it in his great *Musurgia universalis* of 1650, and it has reappeared occasionally since. In order to raise the spirits of an Italian prince burdened by the cares of his position, a musician created for him a cat piano. The musician selected cats whose natural voices were at different pitches and arranged them in cages side by side, so that when a key on the piano was depressed, a mechanism drove a sharp spike into the appropriate cat's tail. The result was a melody of meows that became more vigorous as the cats became more desperate. Who could not help but laugh at such music? Thus was the prince raised from his melancholy [1].

"The cat piano confirms Darnton's discovery that most early modern Europeans found the torture of cats funny. It also illustrates Kircher's fascination with the relationship between the art of music and the natural production of animal sounds. But for us it is an instrument that has mercifully been forgotten."

(...)

"1. According to Louis-Bertrand Castel and 'Dr. Z...' (see below), Athanasius Kircher described the cat piano is his *Masurgia universalis*, 2 vols. (Rome: Francisci Corbelletti, 1650), facsimile ed. (Hildesheim: Olms, 1970), but we have not been able to find it there. His pupil, Gaspar Schott, described it in his *Magia universalis naturae et artis, sive recondita naturalium et artificialium rerum scientia*, 4 vols. (Wurzburg, 1657- 1659), vol. 2, chap. "Felium musicam exhibere," pp. 372- 373.

"It appeared again in the popular French journal *La Nature* 2 (1883): 519-520, described by a Dr. Z..., from which we have taken the account of its invention. Its greatest success was in Sweden in the eighteenth century. (See Michael Bernhard Valenti, *Museum museorum; oder, Vollstandige schau-buhne aller materialien und specereyen, nebst deren naturlichen beschreibung, election, nutzen und gebrauch...* 2d ed., 3 vols. in 2 [Frankfurt am Main: J.D. Zummer und J.A. Jungen, 1714], p. 73 and table 31; and Gunnar Jungmarket, "Kattklaver och voterings-instrument Verklighet och fantasi," *Artes*, no. 5 [1982]: 116-125. We thank Gunnar Broberg for calling our attention to the Swedish cat piano.)

"The cat piano was not unique. Schott proposed a donkey chorus, and Pierre Bayle tells us that the abbe de Beigne built a pig piano at the order of Louis XI. In every case the animal instrument was created to entertain a noble patron. Pierre Bayle, *The Dictionary Historical and Critical*, 5 vols. (London, 1736), facsimile ed. (New York: Garland, 1984), 3:803; and Isaac Nathan, *Musurgia vocalis*, 2d ed. (London: Fentum, 1836), p. 160.

"The cat piano occasioned a recent debate in *Experimental Musical Instruments* 5, no. 5 (1989-1990): 6; and--in 6 (1990-1991)--no. 1, p. 4, no. 2, p. 3, and no. 5, p. 2."

Dave Walsh (daev@fringeware.com)