The Magneton. Wilhelm Lenk & Rudolf Stelzhammer. Austria, 1930

Rudolf Stelzhammer and Wilhelm Lenk demonstrating the Magenton at the Erfindermesse, London 1935
Rudolf Stelzhammer and Wilhelm Lenk demonstrating the Magenton at the Erfindermesse, London 1935

The Magneton, designed by Wilhelm Lenk at the University of Vienna, was a tone-wheel organ-like electronic instrument based on the same principles as Cahill’s Telharmonium (c1900)  and the later Hammond Organ of Laurens Hammond and  John Hanert; the electromagnetic principle of producing a voltage tone and associated timbres by spinning varied shaped metallic wheels within a magnetic field.

Tone-wheels of the Mageton
Tone-wheels of the Magneton arranged over 12 axles. Technology Museum Vienna.

The instrument’s contribution to tonewheel technology was to achieve a constant fixed rotation by using a frequency controlled motor regulator. This allowed the player to easily and accurately transpose the instruments switch at the flick of a switch.

Rudolf Stelzhammer and the Magenton in 1935
Rudolf Stelzhammer and the Magenton in 1935

The first promotional model of the instrument was produced by the Vienna piano company Stelzhammer in 1930 – four years before the first Hammond organ hit the market. The instrument was designed as a practice instrument for ‘real’ pipe organs and as a way of encouraging active participation from the congregation in sacred music (as espoused by the “Popular Liturgy Movement” in pre-war Austria).

The Stelzhammer Magneton tone wheel organ, 1930.
The Stelzhammer Magneton tone wheel organ, 1930.

“The slavish imitation of the sound of an organ and its characteristic rigidity was deliberately avoided, thereby giving the tone character of the instrument a number of special characteristics. What I like particularly in the magneton, 8 although I grew up with the pipe organ and have been inseparably associated with it for 50 years, is the fact that this new instrument is not an enemy of the historic organ.”

Vinzenz Gollerin the ‘Zeitschrift fur Instrumentenbau’ Vol. 54, 1933/34, p. 103

Despite a promising start, the Magneton failed commercially – only a few production models were built. A single surviving model can be found at the Vienna Museum of Technology, Austria.

Wilhelm Lenk
Wilhelm Lenk

 

The Stelzhamer Piano shop at Barnabitengasse 1060 Wien.
The Stelzhamer Piano shop at Barnabitengasse 1060 Wien.

Rudolf Stelzhammer. Biographical notes.

Rudolf Stelzhammer was born into a Viennese family of piano makers on the  03.11.1893. After learning the craft of piano construction and working in the family business he travelled throughout Europe and America working for large instrument manufacturers. Returning to Austria in 1924 he founded his own company in Vienna and from 1935 became the ‘guild master’ of the Austrian musical instrument producers. In 1966 Stelzhammer sold the business to the Ehrbar piano Company in Vienna. Stelzhammer was known for his scientific and electro-acoustic research which lead to several improvements in piano design. Stelzhammer was involved in the development of photoelectric experiments and was involved in the creation of the ‘Selenephon’ (1922) a device for printing optically recorded audio onto movie film. Rudolf Stelzhammer died in Vienna, Austria on 01.16.1967

 


Sources

Peter Donhauser, Elektrische Klangmaschinen. Die Pionierzeit in Deutschland und Österreich, 348 S., zahlr. s/w-Abb., Br., (Böhlau), Wien 2007. ISBN: 978-3-205-77593-5

The Organ: An Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia of Keyboard Instruments) by Douglas Bush, Richard Kassel (ISBN: 9780415941747)

S. Walter Fischer:. Technical In: L’Estrange Fawcett:. The world of film Amalthea-Verlag, Zurich, Leipzig, Vienna 1928, p 210-211

Franz Lechleitner: Selenophon. In: Oesterreichisches music lexicon. Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff. ISBN 3-7001-3077-5; Print Edition: Volume 4, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-7001-3046-5.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *