What is the history of Harmonium ?

What is the history of Harmonium ?

Debashri Banerjee asked January 3, 2017

1 answer

Sumit Paliwal January 3, 2017

Here are few highlights that can explain the history of Harmonium :

  • The harmonium is not of an Indian origin, although it has been associated with and used in Indian music for a long time. In fact, the Harmonium has its origins in Europe wherein it was used in the churches during the middle ages.


  • India was introduced to the harmoniums in the 18th century when the British arrived in India. However, at that time the instrument had the foot pedal, but the new version with the hand pump was simultaneously introduced.


  • Although the harmonium is European in its origin, it has taken very well to the Indian musical culture. Except for South Indian /Carnatic music, the Harmonium is used in most of the Indian musical genres.


  • The first harmonium was invented by Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein (1723-1795) who was the professor of physiology at Copenhagen.


  • The design of the harmonium was altered by Gabriel Joseph Grenie between the years 1756-1837, and he called it an ‘orgue express’, since it produced diminuendo and crescendo sounds.


  • Grenie’s instrument was then modified by Alexandre Debain who improvised it further and named it ‘Harmonium’ which he then patented in 1840. However, other alterations and improvisations shaped the harmonium further as the firm of Mason & Hamlin from Boston introduced suction bellows in it during 1860, which became popular in America.


  • The harmonium was at the peak of its popularity in 1900 and this is when various versions of harmoniums were produced. There were simple models that had plain encasements; bigger harmoniums with intricate cases and other mechanisms. Some were built with two keyboards while some had a pedal keyboard and an electrical pump.


  • In the mid 1930s, the invention of the electronic organ hastened the end of the harmonium era in the west. However, in other places, the harmonium continued reaching higher levels of mechanical complexity with its compact dimensions and tonal range.


  • Some manufacturers patented their version of the Harmonium, which resulted in abundant shafts, rods, cranks and levers in this instrument.


  • The last company that manufactured harmoniums in North America was the Estey company, which however ceased operations in the mid 50s. There were only a few Italian manufacturing companies that continued making Harmoniums till the 70s.

For complete details about Harmonium, you can read A Complete Guide to Harmonium.



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