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Koenig, (Karl) Rudolflocked

  • James F. Bell
  •  and Clive Greated

(b Königsberg, Nov 26, 1832; d Paris, Oct 2, 1901). German physicist. Although Helmholtz was his principal professor at the University of Königsberg, Koenig's research was not in acoustics. After receiving the PhD in physics, Koenig apprenticed himself to the Parisian violin maker Vuillaume. Koenig completed his apprenticeship in 1858 and set up shop at the Quai d'Anjou, where he remained for the rest of his life, making tuning-forks of great precision for his tonometer which covered the entire audible range of frequencies. He constructed remarkably precise clock tuning-forks, sirens, ingenious compound sirens, improved Helmholtz resonators and a wide variety of other apparatuses. The quality of his instruments became legendary, and they became the physics tools for university laboratories in Europe and the USA. He was commissioned by the French government to make the apparatus for establishing ‘Diapason normal’, a′ = 435; and he improved Léon Scott's ‘phonautograph’ of 1857, the antecedent of Edison's reproducing phonograph.

Koenig's research, contained in various papers and summarized in his Quelques expériences d'acoustique (Paris, 1882), ranged widely, but he was interested mainly in beats among the overtones and combination tones and phase in the quality of a musical sound. For the former he criticized the use of reed harmoniums and sirens which had been Helmholtz's chief tools; Koenig believed that a proper study required the use of pure tones. Noting that the higher modes of a tuning-fork would not be harmonious, he stroked large forks with a cello bow. He studied phase relations between fundamental and overtones with special compound sirens that allowed him to introduce arbitrarily the desired phase differences. Many of Koenig's results conflicted with Helmholtz's and it is interesting to compare the work of these two men, the most important contributors to experimental musical acoustics in the 19th century.

See also Physics of music, §5, and figs.8–9.


  • S.P. Thompson: ‘The Researches of Dr. R. Koenig on the Physical Basis of Musical Sounds’, Nature, 43 (1890–91), 199–203, 224–7, 249–53
  • D.C. Miller: The Science of Musical Sounds (New York, 1916/R)
  • R.S. Shankland: ‘Koenig, Karl Rudolf’, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, ed. C.C. Gillispie (New York, 1970–80)