Short takes: "melodica" - WOTD OED

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 17 09:51:22 UTC 2010

This turned out to be not so short, although that's largely due to the
number of included citations. I split it into two parts.


Melodica 1. 1890-->1857-->1824
Melodica 2. 1961-->1959
?? Melodica 3. 1804 ?? musical instrument
?? Melodica 4. 1824 ?? musical instrument
?? Melodica 5. 1884 ?? organ stop

3. It appears, there is more than one "Melodica" that tags a musical
instrument in late 18th-early 19th century.

The Monthly Magazine; or, British Register. Volume 16:6 (109). London:
January 1, 1804
Literary and Philosophical Intelligence. p. 564/2
> Mr. Peter Rieffelgen, a native of Copenhagen, has just invented a new
> musical instrument, which he calls /Melodica/, in which the sound is
> produced in a manner hitherto unknown, viz. by the friction of metal
> forks against a moveable metal cylinder, which is effected by
> straining or slackening the fork, by means of keys like those of an
> organ. As this invention is proved by competent judges to be entirely
> new, and superior to any one of a similar construction, under the name
> of the Harmonica, his Danish Majesty has granted him his royal
> letters-patent, in which the formation and peculiar excellence of the
> /Melodica/ is detailed at full length.

Similar pieces, clearly copied, although not quite verbatim, appeared in
a number of publications.
The Monthly Anthology [and Boston Review]. Volume 1. Boston: April 1804
Miscellaneous Notices. p. 287
The Christian Observer. Volume 3:3 (27). London: March 1804
Literary and Philosophical Intelligence, &c. &c. Denmark. p. 183

Of course, there was no guarantee that the name of the inventor would
not be misspelled.
The Evening Fire-Side; or Literary Miscellany. Volume 2:41.
Philadelphia: October 11, 1806
Miscellanious [sic] Articles. From the Monthly Magazine for June, 1806.
p. 327/1
> Nisfelsen, the celebrated Danish mechanic, inventor of the musical
> instrument called Melodica, has lately invented a machine with which
> the largest trees may be pulled out of the ground, notwithstanding the
> strength of their roots.

Also in
Universal Magazine. Volume 4. August 1806. p. 146/1

The Literary Magazine, and American Register. Volume 6:36. Philadelphia:
September 1806. p. 236/2

4. Not all is crystal clear. There is a question of similarity of the
invention in 3. and the following.
The Harmonicon. A Journal of Music. Volume 2:18. London: June 1824. p. 118/1
> M. Vollmer, from Berlin, gave a musical /soirée/ here, in which he
> exhibited his newly invented patent /melodica/, a keyed-instrument,
> formed of pieces of metal, which are intoned by means of cylinders.
> This instrument is particularly adapted to adagio movements, which it
> gives with great effect : pieces of a lively character can also be
> performed upon it with tolerable ease. It is admirably adapted for
> producing the finer shades of the /crescendo/ and /decrescendo/.

Now, it is possible that Vollmer's instrument is entirely different from
Rieffelgen/Nisfelsen, but it seems to be a creature of the same species.
It is interesting that it shows up 20 years after the original invention.

It is also important that these instruments (both 3. and 4.) are not
isolated inventions that happened to appear in print when invented and
then consigned to oblivion. One of them--or, perhaps, a later
improvement on both of them (suggesting that Vollmer's instrument might
have been a subsequent invention, not merely a stolen patent)--shows up
in a dictionary. The only trouble is, it shows up on the *French* side.
A New and Improved Standard French and English and English and French
Dictionary; By Alexander G. Collot. Revised ed. Philadelphia: 1856
p. 541/2
> MÉLODICA, sm. a kind of piano-forte whose sounds are produced by brass
> wires that touch a steel cylinder.

There are several other places where this particular family of
instruments appears. (I actually expect 3. and 4. to be the same
sub-entry, should one be granted.) In particular, it pops up in
Britannica 11th, 1910 (vol. 12, p. 960).

5. Finally, the organ stop. This one shows up in descriptions of the
"new organ" in the Domus Cathedral in Riga (also often identified as the
Dome Cathedral or Domus Dei).
The English Mechanic and World of Science and Art. Volume 39. No. 1001.
May 30, 1884
Specifications of the New Organ in Riga Cathedral. p. 279/2-3
> [22804.]--Compass of Manuals, CC to F. 54 notes ; Pedal, CCC to D, 27
> notes ; 124 speaking stops, with 6826 pipes (exact number).
> Manual IV (Swell).
> ...
> 5 Melodica    8 ft

I likely would have given this one a miss had it not been for two
factors. First, as I have already mentioned, a similar entry can be
found in OED under Harmonica 2. Second, this is not an isolated spot--I
found a second one. Actually, I found two more.

Note that the same Century Dictionary 1890 (and subsequent editions)
that provides the original OED citation for 1. also described the organ
stop "Melodia". This turns out to be the same thing.
Dictionary of the Organ: Organ Registers, Their Timbres, Combinations,
and Acoustic Phenomena; By Carl Locher. New York: 1914. p. 86
> *Melodia* 8' and *Double Melodia* 16'. Flutes with wooden pipes akin
> to the Flauto Dolce, frequently met with in recently constructed
> English and American organs. The Melodica 8', which is found in the
> Riga Cathedral organ, is another name for the same stop. The use of
> the Melodia in modern organs is becoming more frequent.
Organ-stops and their Artistic Registration: Names, Forms, Construction,
Tonalities, and Offices in Scientific Combination; By George Ashdown
Audsley. New York: 1921. p. 185
> MELODIA.--An open labial stop, of 8 ft. pitch, having an unimitative
> flute-tone of a smooth and signing quality, in certain examples
> inclining slightly to a horn-like intonation. This fine stop, in it
> proper form, may be said to be unknown in English organ-building; ...
> In the soft-toned Fourth Manual of the Walcker Organ in the Cathedral
> of Riga, the stop exists under the name Melodica, 8 ft. ...

Note that "Melodia" has its own OED entry with a single
definition--organ stop.

There is only one small bit remaining. I find the etymological bit
slightly unpersuasive--sure, the Stein organ, as well as the rest of the
musical instruments (save for the most modern one under 2.) had been
named by analogy with Harmonica. But both have obvious Greek origin, so
there must have been some similar neo-Latin construct as well.

Sure enough, one pops up:

Five Thousand Musical Terms: A Complete Dictionary of Latin, Greek,
Hebrew, Italian, French, German, Spanish, English, and Such Other Words,
Phrases, Abbreviations and Signs ...; By John Stowell Adams. London:
1861. p. 67
> MUSICA MELISMATICA, or MELODICA, the most correct arrangement of
> music, according to the rules of melody.

There are actually several other spots where "Melodica" makes a similar
appearance (e.g., Messa/Missa Melodica, Sinfonia Melodica, Evangelia
Melodica, curva melodica). These are not really worth an entry, but they
do indicate that there is more going on here than simply melody+-ica.

Final word: The Harmonica entry is arranged differently. It has two
sub-entries--1. Name of several different musical instruments, and 2.
Name given to different organ-stops. There is no reason why Melodica
cannot be arranged along the same lines. Certainly, it would be more
consistent to do it that way.



melodica, n.            DRAFT ENTRY Mar. 2008

[[< MELODY  n. + -ica (in HARMONICA  n.), after German Melodica (1772 or
earlier in sense 1; the work cited in quot. 1961 at sense 2 attributes
the name and the instrument to the German company Matt. Hohner AG, who
today market such instruments under the name Melodica).]]

      *1.* A small pipe organ, invented by J. A. Stein of Vienna. Now
*1890* /Cent. Dict./ (at cited word), /Melodica/, a small variety of
pipe organ invented by J. A. Stein in 1770. *1938* /Oxf. Compan. Music/
789/1 Grenié's invention, the /Orgue Expressif/, became the parent of a
progeny including the..Melodica, Melodicon..[etc.]{em}little more than
the names of most of which survive.

      *2.* A wind instrument consisting of a mouthpiece and a small
keyboard controlling a row of reeds.
*1961* J. HOWARTH in A. Baines /Musical Instruments through Ages/ xiii.
326 The 'Melodica' is a chromatic mouth-organ held like a recorder and
fingered with a miniature piano-style keyboard. *1978* /Times/ 15 July
2/4 (/caption/) Pupils..playing a Swanee whistle..and a Melodica, a wind
keyboard. *1992* /Option/ July-Aug. 118/3 There's a hushed, minimalist
opening piece with a piano ostinato, random percussion, and a melodica
melody line.

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