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date: 27 February 2021


  • Hugh Davies


Monophonic electronic instrument developed in 1928–9 by Bruno Helberger (b Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1884; d Vienna, Austria, 1951) and Peter Lertes of Leipzig (from whose names that of the instrument was derived), several variants of which were constructed with the assistance of Schneider-Opel in Frankfurt. Helberger, who had studied the piano with Artur Schnabel, was well known at the time as a pianist; Lertes was an electrical engineer and in 1933 published a survey of electronic instruments. The Hellertion was modified up to the mid-1930s, and a second version, also called the Heliophon, was demonstrated in 1936 and further developed by Helberger in Vienna after World War II.

The Hellertion introduced the fingerboard or ribbon controller that became better known in the trautonium and was reintroduced in the mid-1960s in the Moog synthesizer. When the flat, leather-covered metallic ribbon is depressed it makes contact with a resistance strip; depression at different points along the ribbon alters the resistance and produces different frequencies from an audio oscillator, while the degree of pressure affects the loudness. The pitch range of the Hellertion is approximately five octaves, and special markings aid pitch orientation and alignment. The instrument was sometimes used in conjunction with a piano (in the manner of the somewhat later piano attachment), the melody line being played on the Hellertion and the accompaniment on the piano. More ribbons were added to make at first two, then four (by the end of ...

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