the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ or ‘Piano Radio Èlectrique’ Joseph Armand Marie Givelet, France. 1927

Armand Givelet playing the 'Clavier à Lampes
Armand Givelet playing the ‘Clavier à Lampes

Armand Givelet , the engineer and physicist at the radio laboratory at the Eiffel Tower in Paris produced his first instrument the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ in 1927 as a way of solving audio technical problems at the radio station. Because microphones of the time were of poor quality, it was impossible to record or broadcast decent quality sound. Givelet’s response was to build an electronic organ that could be directly injected into the transmitter without using microphones. The resulting instrument, the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ was a monophonic vacuum tube keyboard instrument.

The ‘Clavier à Lampes’ was premiered in Paris in 1927 and taken on tour to the United States starting with the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia on June 9th 1927.

Loudspeakers and valves of the 'Piano Radio Èlectrique'
Loudspeakers and valves of the ‘Piano Radio Èlectrique’

Images of the ‘Clavier à Lampes

Armand Givelet Biographical notes

Armand Givelet (born:21 07 1889 Reims France – died:09 11 1963 La Varenne St-Hilaire, St-Maur-des-Fossés) was originally  an engineer in the French military during the First World War but  soon recognised the potential of Lee De Forest’s triode technology. He founded the first Radio Club in France and the T.S.F. engineering school. Givelet became a recognised authority on radio technology and  inventor who held many patents for radio and broadcast equipment as well as his work with electromechanical (tone-wheel) and valve based electronic musical instruments; His particular contribution w as a stabilised audio oscillator that used much less power than traditional triode circuitry.

Givelet’s first complete instrument was the The monophonic “Piano Radio-électrique” unveiled in 1927. A meeting with the organ Builder Eloi Coupleux in early 1929 began a life-long collaboration that produced some of the earliest electronic organs – designed primarily for church and religious music. The largest of the Coupleux-Givelet instruments was built for “Le Poste-Parisien” – withs 200 oscillator tubes producing 70 different timbres or stops. Despite their unique features, The Coupleux-Givelet organs were rapidly made obsolete by much smaller and cheaper organs such as the Hammond Organ. Only four organs were sold by Coupleux-frères to churches in France.

Givelet also wrote theatrical works under the pseudonym Ch. de Puymordant.


Sources

Olivier Carpentier ‘L’Aventure industrielle des frères Coupleux, 1900-1935’ Préface de Douglas Heffer, éditions de l’Inoui, 2004.

La Vie et les ondes : l’oeuvre de Georges Lakhovsky / Michel Adam et Armand Givelet, [1936]

Le Genie Civil February 7, 1928

Le Monde, 1989-07-21, p. 23

2 thoughts on “the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ or ‘Piano Radio Èlectrique’ Joseph Armand Marie Givelet, France. 1927”

  1. Thanks for this rich & informative site!
    I am researching Alexander Burnett Hector, an engineer from Sydney, who wired up a pianola to a display of coloured lights, giving colour-music concerts in the 1910s-20s.
    There’s lots of his back story here.

    P.S. I think there’s a broken link to the top picture –
    “Armand Givelet playing the ‘Clavier à Lampes'”
    (The page is:
    http://120years.net/the-clavier-a-lampes-armand-givelet-france-1927/)

  2. Some remarks :
    – In a 1933 article, Armand Givelet use the name “Orgue à lampe” (without s) which is coherent with the fact that this instrument had only one oscillating valve. It is nevertheless true that the name “Orgue à lampes” is also used in several other articles from period 1928-1932.
    – The information about the demonstration at “Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia” is likely a mistake. The “Palais du Trocadero” was a concert hall in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower. The article from La Nature (1930) just say “Trocadero” but suggests that in means Parisian Trocadero.
    – The picture herein and those in the article from La Nature are not pictures of the 1927 “Clavier à lampe”. Their presence is misleading.
    – A detail : “Le Poste Parisien” (without dash).

    More generally : perhaps it could be relevant to merge all the articles about Givelet and Coupleux instruments (like it is the case, for instance, for Jörg Mager instruments) ? (see my post on the page “Orgue des Ondes”)

    Thank you for this extremely rich website !

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