How did electronic music originate?

It may surprise you to learn that the first electronic instrument was created in 1740.

Vaclav Prokop Divis, Denis D’Or, “Golden Dionysis”. Czech republic, 1748

Vaclav Prokop Divis (1698 – 1765)

Vaclav Prokop Divis, a Czech theologian and pioneer in electrical research, created the Denis D’or (or “Golden Dionysis”), an early keyboard instrument. It is sometimes called an “orchestrion” because it can imitate the sounds and tones of string instruments. However, this claim is not supported by historical documentation or conflicting contemporaneous reports.

Many accounts describe the instrument in terms of an electro-acoustic instrument, where the strings vibrate using electro-magnets. “… Prokop DIVIS, a Moravian preacher, created sound through electromagnetic excitation of the piano strings in 1730. His invention was called Denis d’or by him (Schiffner 1994, p 62). “His experiments were based upon the electromagnetic excitations of piano strings. However, this seems unlikely considering that the relationship between electricity & electromagnetism was only discovered in 1820.

Others suggest that Denis D’Or was a clever joke in which the inventor could electrocute the performer at will.

Denis d’or, an electric “Mutationsflugel”, was created by Prokop Diviss, a Moravian preacher, in Znojmo in 1730. It had 790 strings and measured 5 feet in length. The suspension and tautening of the many metal strings was more complicated. Divis had devised a clever mechanism that allowed the Denis d’or to imitate the sounds from a variety of instruments. This included chordophones like harpsichords and lutes as well as wind instruments. Untimely, the invention’s inventor could give an electric shock to the instrument’s player at any time.

(Reallexicon der Musikinstrumente, Curt Sachs1913, p 108)

Denis D’or was named by Procopius Divasz, pastor Prendnitz, Moravia. In 1730, he invented a keyboard instrument with pedals. This is when instrument-making became almost a cartoon. It measured 1.57m in length and 0.95m wide. The reference 790 strings could be tuned in just three-quarter hours, to 130 notes. The instrument could be tuned to almost any string or wind instrument, as well as jokes. The prelates of Bruck and Georg Lambeck purchased one copy of the instrument.

(Mendel 1872 , Vol.3 , p.110 )

Divis charged the strings with an electrical charge to “purify and increase the sound quality”, resulting in the instrument being called an “electronic music instrument” ( Johann Ludwig Fricker, who witnessed the Denis D’Or in 201753). Nevertheless, it is possible that the instrument was not the first electronic instrument, but a proto-electrical gimmick of the Baroque period and the Rococco period, as well as intricate practical jokes being played in salons of nobility, it appears.



Reallexicon der Musikinstrumente, Curt Sachs1913, p 108

Peer Sitter. “Das Denis d’or : Urahn der “elektroakustischen” Musikinstrumente?”: Perspektiven und Methoden einer Systemischen Musikwissenschaft, S. 303-305. Bericht uber das Kolloquium im Musikwissenschaftlichen Institut der Universitat zu Koln 1998

Mendel 1872 , Vol.3 , p.110

SCHILLING, Gustav [ Schilling1835 ]: Encyclopadie of the entire musical sciences/Universal Dictionary of Music, Second Volume, Stuttgart 1835/1838

Harenberg 1989: New music made possible by technology Computer music is a challenge to new musical thinking – Kassel 1989.

Schiffner, Wolfgang [ Schiffner 1994] : Rock and Pop, and their sounds Technology-Theses – Title, Aachen 1994

Hugh Davies. “Denis d’or”. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 7 Oct. 2009

120 Years Of Electronic Music

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