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Virtual Tour of
"Beethoven & Berlioz, Paris & Vienna:
Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution & Romance

Harmonium by Alexandre & Fils, Paris, ca. 1844-1855

NMM 3321.  Harmonium by Alexandre & Fils, Paris, ca. 1844-1855.

NMM 3321. Harmonium by Alexandre & Fils, Paris, ca. 1844-1855. Five octaves with four sets of reeds. Jacob Alexandre (1804-1876) and his son, Edouard, had a factory at Ivry-sur-Seine, with an office and showrooms in the city center, first at 10 Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle (1829-1855), the address found on this instrument, which is a model that they called an orgue-mélodium, when they offered it to the public in 1844, and that Berlioz simply called a melodium, when he touted its virtues. While many earlier reed organs, like the physharmonika, had only a single set of reeds, Alexandre's instrument had several sets, which could be turned off and on by stops to vary the tone. Especially since the stops were divided into bass and treble halves, a great variety of registration was possible. They were also provided with an "Expression" stop that allowed players to control the wind pressure, hence the volume of sound, directly by pumping more or less vigorously on the pedals.

Nameplate on Alexandre & Fils harmonium

Berlioz is said to have received monetary support from the firm in return for promoting Alexandre instruments in the press and elsewhere. In his treatise on instrumentation, Berlioz repeats the case: "The melodium is an instrument for church, theatre, salon, and concert hall, all at the same time . . . it takes up little space and can be moved about . . . thus, is a servant of incontestable value to composers and music lovers . . . theatre managers have no excuse . . . since for a modest amount, they can have a melodium that is almost as good as a pipe organ . . . the same applies to small churches . . .  a melodium can and should bring the civilization of harmony and . . . dispel the horrible shouting still heard . . . in the name of religion." On the other hand, he wrote to Liszt that he could not conceal the revulsion that he felt, when faced with "musical machines," such as melodiums, that reminded him of little more than linen chests. Gift of Leslie A. and Betty L. Haugen, McKenzie, Tennessee, 1983.

Source:  André P. Larson, Beethoven & Berlioz, Paris & Vienna: Musical Treasures from the Age of Revolution & Romance 1789-1848, with essay by John Koster, exhibition catalog, Washington Pavilion, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, September 12-November 2, 2003 (Vermillion: National Music Museum 2003), pp. 24 and 73.

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Most recent update: February 26, 2014

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