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Michael Sayer

English firm of organ builders. It was established in Leeds in 1869 by Isaac Abbott, who had worked for 20 years with William Hill in London. William Stanwix Smith, also a former Hill employee, was the firm’s manager until Abbott retired, in 1889; thereafter Smith and Abbott’s son continued the firm, which subsequently passed to Smith’s sons and grandson. In 1964 the firm was sold to its foreman, J.H. Horsfall, and in 1975 it moved to the premises of Wood Wordsworth & Co. Up to 1964, Abbott & Smith built or rebuilt hundreds of organs throughout Britain, including some 250 in Yorkshire, and more than 60 around Leeds. James Jepson Binns was head voicer from 1875 until 1880. Their earlier instruments, using mechanical action through the 1880s, have a robust singing quality suited to Yorkshire Methodist congregations, though several were in town halls, including those in Leeds and Ryde. Their organ for St Mark’s, Manningham, had four manuals and 48 speaking stops. The firm also built organs in St Albans Cathedral (...

Article

Anne Beetem Acker

German firm of piano hammer manufacturers. Helmut Abel GmbH was founded in 1982 in Frickhausen by Helmut Abel (b Sonneberg, Thüringen, 6 July 1936), who had earlier worked for Renner. His son Norbert (b Schalkau, Thüringen, 24 March 1957) has managed finances, marketing, and research since the beginning. In 1985 the business name was changed to Abel Hammer Company. Helmut Abel’s younger son, Frank (b Wernau, Baden-Württemberg, 21 Sept 1963), joined the firm in 1986. In 1993 the company moved to a larger facility in Frankenhardt. After Helmut’s retirement as technical manager, in 2001, Frank assumed that position. Norbert’s son Alexander (b Ruit, Baden-Württemberg, 14 March 1990) completed an apprenticeship as a piano technician and in 2001 entered a course to become a piano master, with the intention of joining the firm after completion.

The firm makes piano hammers based on historical methods, yet employing modern technology for consistent quality. Abel also restores and duplicates hammer parts and recovers original hammer heads, using an old Dolge hammer press imported in ...

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Article

Action  

Edwin M. Ripin

revised by Peter Walls

(Fr. méchanique; Ger. Mechanik, Mechanismus; It. meccanica).

(1) The linkage between the fingers (or feet) and the sound-producing parts of an instrument. Hence, the mechanism by means of which the strings or pipes of a keyboard instrument are sounded when a key is depressed, e.g. tracker action, pneumatic action, electric action, etc. in organs (see Organ §II...

Article

Adema  

Adri de Groot

Dutch family of organ builders . The firm, active from the mid-19th century onwards, was established by the brothers Carolus Borremeyes (1824–1905) and Petrus Josephus Adema (1828–1919) in Leeuwarden in 1855; they were joined by their brother Johannus Romanus (1834–62). Carolus Borremeyes had trained as an organ builder with the Van Dam and Witte firms, Petrus Josephus with W. Hardoff and H. Loret.

In 1868 P.J. Adema set up an affiliate workshop in Amsterdam, attracted by the renewed market for new organs among the more widespread Catholic community there, boosted by the reinstatement of the Bishopric hierarchy in 1853. He had been contracted to build a three-manual organ for the Catholic Mozes- en Aäronkerk. The French consul and organ expert Charles-Marie Philbert (1826–94), an ardent champion of the modern French organ-building style, acted as consultant. The resulting organ, largely influenced by Cavaillé-Coll, was the first in the Netherlands to employ Barker’s pneumatic lever in the main manual of the otherwise mechanical-action instrument. Between ...

Article

Laurence Libin

Keyboard idiophone invented in 1818 and patented on 15 Feb 1819 by the Viennese clockmaker Franz Schuster. Shaped somewhat like a square piano, it had six octaves of plucked steel tongues or rods instead of strings and its sound was described as between those of an organ and a glass armonica. It was claimed not to need tuning. Contemporary writers mentioned that it lacked sonority and strength of tone, and complained of excessive resonance and blurring of notes....

Article

Barbara Owen

American organ building firm. It was formed in 1931 when the firm of Ernest M(artin) Skinner & Co. acquired the organ department of the Aeolian Co., which had made its reputation building organs with self-playing mechanisms for private houses, changing its name to Aeolian-Skinner. In 1933 there was a reorganization in which G(eorge) Donald Harrison, who had joined Skinner in 1927, became technical director and Skinner’s activities were curtailed. In the same year Skinner, after increasing disagreement with Harrison over tonal matters, began a new company in Methuen, Massachusetts, with his son, Richmond, who had purchased the former Methuen Organ Co. factory and Serlo Hall the previous year.

During the 1930s the Aeolian-Skinner Co. continued to rise in popularity, and in 1940 Harrison became president, succeeding Arthur Hudson Marks (1874–1939), a wealthy businessman who had become its owner and president in 1919. Under Harrison the firm became a leader in the trend away from orchestral tonal practices and towards a more classical sound. It was Harrison who coined the term ‘American Classic’ to refer to this more eclectic type of tonal design. On his death, Joseph S. Whiteford (...

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Howard Schott and Martin Elste

In 

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Agati  

Umberto Pineschi

Italian family of organ builders . Pietro Agati (b Pistoia, 15 Feb 1735; d Pistoia, 10 Dec 1806) served apprenticeships in the Tronci workshop in Pistoia, and later with Filippo Gatti in Bologna. He opened his own workshop in Pistoia, where he built his ‘secundum opus’ for the church of S Vitale (1760) with a case that bears a striking resemblance to that belonging to the organ by Willem Hermans in Spirito Santo, Pistoia (1664). From this Hermans instrument Agati copied the stopped flute 8′, Cornetto, Trombe, Voce umana (or Violoncello – a bass 4′ regal) and Mosetto (treble 8′ regal 8′) to his organ at Vignole di Quarrata (1797). Another outstanding instrument is at Tréppio, Pistoia (1794).

Pietro’s son Giosuè (b Pistoia, 21 Jan 1770; d Pistoia, 10 Dec 1806) built many fine instruments, including those at Serravalle Pistoiese (...

Article

Martha Novak Clinkscale

A device invented and patented by Sébastien Erard as part of his first repetition action of 1808, which replaced the nut (wrest-plank bridge) and nut-pin (bridge-pin) arrangement of earlier pianos. Érard’s early agraffe resembled a small brass staple with a concave top. One agraffe for each note was attached at a vertical angle to the front edge of the wrest plank, and the strings were passed underneath. Agraffes define one end of the strings’ speaking length and keep them in place by assuring downward bearing on the strings as the hammers strike. An Érard grand piano of 1812 with agraffes of the original type is now in the Musée de la musique, Paris. Later agraffes have separate holes through which each individual string is passed; each agraffe contains as many holes as there are strings for each unison. Pierre Érard’s improvement, the barre harmonique, which he patented in 1838, still serves as the model for agraffes on the modern grand piano. The agraffe should not be confused with the ...

Article

Hugh Davies

Electronic organ, several models of which were developed by Heinz Ahlborn (formerly a designer (1951–4) with Apparatewerk Bayern), and (from the mid-1960s) by Otto Riegg; it has been manufactured by Ahlborn-Orgel GmbH in Heimerdingen, near Stuttgart, from 1955. Like companies in several other countries, Ahlborn fought a long legal battle for the right to use the word ‘organ’ in the name of its instruments (‘Elektronenorgel’); after ten years the suit was resolved in the company’s favour in 1969. Klaus Beisbarth, one of the principals of Ahlborg GmbH, was experimenting with electronic tone generation already about 1949. From 1974 the firm concentrated on making electronic organs that mimic the sounds of organ pipes. Ahlborn collaborated with Bradford University in England from 1977 in developing the BAC (Bradford Ahlborn Computer organ) in an effort to produce more realistic simulation; note attack characteristics were improved and analogue technology was eventually replaced by digital processing of recordings of pipe organs. A range of products was designed, from three- and four-manual instruments with traditional consoles to relatively inexpensive portable keyboards. Some installations combine electronic components with real pipes; one example was Ahlborn’s collaboration in ...

Article

Hugh Davies

[formerly Melodica]

A keyboard harmonica manufactured in soprano and alto versions by Hohner in Trossingen from 1958 and rebranded in 2016 as the Airboard; the name Melodica is nowadays still used generically. The instrument, which has 19th-century counterparts such as the harmonicor, is rectangular and has a mouthpiece at the upper end. The diatonic keys are played by the right hand and the chromatic ones by the left; it can produce many chords and clusters that are impossible on the harmonica, but whereas in the latter some reeds sound when sucked and others when blown, the Airboard reeds sound only when they are blown. Because it is made of plastic (apart from the reeds, which are metal), the Airboard can be mass-produced at low cost; this and the ease with which learners can master the keyboard and mouthpiece (a straight or bent tube that opens out into the reed chamber) have made it very popular in schools, especially in Asia, as an alternative to the recorder or other woodwind instruments. It has also been called for by composers such as Steve Reich (...

Article

Albani  

Patrizio Barbieri

[Albana, Albano, Albanus]

Italian makers of stringed keyboard instruments. At least four builders of this name were active during the 16th and 17th centuries, three of whom are known to have been members of the same Roman family. Documents show that from at least 1623 onwards Andrea Albani (b Rome, c1552; d Rome, 19 August 1639) built harpsichords at a workshop near the church of S Stefano del Cacco. He was assisted by his son Silvestro and his nephew Giovanni Battista Monti (b c1611). Although no instrument by Andrea survives, it is known from an essay by G.B. Doni (c1632–5) that he was persuaded by theorists to build some enharmonic harpsichords with split keys, each note divided either ‘into five parts, according to the principles of Don Niccola [Vicentino], or into four, following the practice which they attribute to Aristosseno’.

Orazio (b Rome, ...

Article

David Fuller

Left-hand accompaniment figure in keyboard music consisting of broken triads whose notes are played in the order: lowest, highest, middle, highest (see ex.1), and taking its name from Domenico Alberti (c1710–1746). Research has suggested that, obvious as this little figure may seem, Alberti was in fact the first to make frequent use of it. The term ought to be restricted to figures of the shape described and not extended loosely to other types of broken-chord accompaniment....

Article

Cynthia Adams Hoover

American firm of piano makers. Charles Albright (Albrecht by 1864) is listed in Philadelphia city directories from 1863. He was in partnership with Frederick Riekes (as Albrecht & Riekes, 1864–5), with Riekes and Richard T. Schmidt (as Albrecht, Riekes & Schmidt, 1866–74), and with Riekes and Edmund Wolsieffer (as Albrecht & Co., ...

Article

Cynthia Adams Hoover

American firm of piano makers. Charles Albright (Albrecht by 1864) is listed in Philadelphia city directories from 1863. He was in partnership with Frederick Riekes (as Albrecht & Riekes, 1864–5), with Riekes and Richard T. Schmidt (as Albrecht, Riekes & Schmidt, 1866–74), and with Riekes and Edmund Wolsieffer (as Albrecht & Co., ...

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Laurence Libin

In 

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Barbara Owen

French firm of reed organ makers. It was founded in 1829 by Jacob Alexandre (b Paris, 1804; d Paris, 11 June 1876) for the manufacture of accordions; in 1834 he exhibited a small reed organ (two sets of reeds) in Paris. With the purchase in 1841 and 1845 of reed organ patents (among them percussion and prolongement effects) from Alexandre Martin of Provins, the firm soon became one of the leading harmonium makers in the country, although their instruments were first called ‘orgue-mélodium’ to avoid conflict with the patents of A.-F. Debain. These early instruments had four sets of reeds, a five-octave keyboard, couplers, a Grand Jeu, and an Expression stop which bypassed the reservoir to allow control of intensity through the blowing treadles. The firm was awarded a bronze medal for the instrument in the Paris exposition of 1844; this was the first of many awards, including gold medals and culminating in grand prizes in Brussels (...

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Hugh Davies

A polyphonic digital synthesizer manufactured by the Syntauri Corp. of Palo Alto, California, from about 1981 until the company closed in 1984. It was the first electronic instrument based on a home computer, the widely used Apple II microcomputer; this made the AlphaSyntauri relatively inexpensive. It consisted of an eight-voice, polyphonic, four- or five-octave, velocity-sensitive keyboard and plug-in circuit boards that were inserted in the Apple II. The designers made the AlphaSyntauri software flexible and accessible to counteract some of the limitations of common hardware synthesizers of the time, and it was arguably one of the first true ‘softsynths’ (software synthesizers). As many as eight synchronized tracks could be recorded by the sequencer memory and played back at variable speeds. A music education course, MusicMaster, was designed for use on the AlphaSyntauri.

M. Vail: Vintage Synthesizers: Pioneering Designers, Groundbreaking Instruments, Collecting Tips, Mutants of Technology (San Francisco, 2/2000), 91–2