Christian Wittmann
Minute Music

AristonThe Ariston is a member of the class of instruments also known as “organettes,” a term that refers to small industrially produced barrel organs with interchangeable sound media (discs, tapes, rollers) and vibrating reeds (harmonica reeds). The difference between a genuine barrel organ, which uses pipes to generate sound, and the organette is difficult to define, but the main distinction is that the organette was intended for use in the home, while the louder barrel organ was designed for the street.

Organettes, a late 19th century development of the barrel organ, were factory-produced in large numbers over a relatively short period of time from around 1880 to 1920, with the Ariston probably the version most frequently produced. These instruments, made in various sizes and models, were relatively simple in construction as compared with the barrel organs with their pin rollers; although they were the first high-tech products, it is interesting to note that after over one hundred years many an organette can still be played despite having received no particular care.

Some of the surviving sales catalogues of contemporary music dealers contain useful information about the various makes, models and the price as compared with conventional musical instruments. Of interest are also the trade journals (in particular Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, Paul de Wit, Leipzig, from 1880) containing not only advertisements related to organettes but also patent descriptions that testify to the extraordinary ingenuity of the instrument designers. One example is Paul Ehrlich’s patent for the Ariston, which prevented any other manufacturer from making instruments that also used perforated discs to play the music. Thus for instance, one invention provided for a square board instead of a disc, with the entire mechanism turning underneath the fixed board to play the music. Another common organette was one with ring-shaped discs as medium. Practically every manufacturer had invented a different system, which led to a large number of patent applications.

As with the other mechanical musical instruments, the surviving discs and tapes are a source of information about the musical preferences of the age. For some organettes, there are hundreds and even thousands of different discs, containing not only popular songs from the German-speaking countries but also folksongs and hymns from other regions.

The organette’s popularity extended across Europe and as far as the USA, where it was produced in large quantities. The American models differed from their European counterparts above all by their use of paper music rolls or tapes. One special type was the “roller organ,” in which the music was stored on small pin rollers.