Magic Music from the Telharmonium Video

Color Video with Stereo Sound .. (1998) .. 28:51

Video Cassette Cover

NTSC System

It was 1906. “Get Music on Tap Like Gas or Water” promised the headlines, and soon the public was enchanted with inventor Thaddeus Cahill's (1867-1934) electrical music by wire.

The Telharmonium was a 200-ton behemoth that created numerous musical timbres and could flood many rooms with sound.

Beginning with the first instrument, constructed in the 1890's, and continuing with the installation of the second instrument at Telharmonic Hall in New York, the rise and fall of commercial service, the attempted comeback of the third Telharmonium, and ending with efforts to find a home for the only surviving instrument in 1951, this documentary provides a definitive account of the first comprehensive music synthesizer.

Mainframe of 2nd Telharmonium, Holyoke
Baltimore, 1900
Enraptured Listener


Due to the long duration (28:51), this Flash Movie has a low resolution and a small screen size. A full-size, full-resolution movie is available via DVD or VIDEO DOWNLOAD

This is an animated documentary using only historically authentic still images. It was created on a computer using the software Director. Every known photograph of the Telharmonium is included. There are no live-action images, visual recreations, or mock-ups. Images from newspapers and periodicals of the day show the people, pertinent scenes and locations, and illustrations of developments in science and technology. One interesting source was picture postcards--skylines, hotels, restaurants, skyscrapers, and people (using the telephone, eating and drinking, and “glamour” pictures). Postcards were quite the rage in the early 1900s, when they were produced in greater quantity and variety than ever before or since.

Since no recordings of the Telharmonium have been preserved, the music is a recreation of what the instrument must have sounded like, based on descriptions published in the numerous reviews and other articles of the early 1900s. These descriptions may also be found in the book Magic Music from the Telharmonium. The narration of the documentary is interspersed with people’s comments as quoted in contemporary reviews.

The article "Video Production of Magic Music from the Telharmonium" (1 MB) briefly outlines pre-production procedures, including research methods and sources, of this video. It describes in detail the image and sound production techniques of the work, and how these carried out the design choices that were made.

The 80-page script Magic Music from the Telharmonium: Storyboard Script (6.6 MB) provides a thumbnail image of each picture, the complete narration text, music, and sound effects. A bibliography cites the source of each picture and where the picture was located when it was acquired.

Market for Music, from Stock Prospectus of New York Electric Music Co., 1906
Drive Motor and Belt, Telharmonic Hall
Performers at Keyboard; Timbre-Control Switches, Telharmonic Hall

Sound Software

     SoundHack, Sound Designer, Hyperprism, Time Bandit, Reverb, Peak, Deck
Image Software

     Photoshop, Director

     PowerMac 8500, Macintosh IIci, Yamaha TX802 Tone Generator
Script, Production, Direction, Image Processing, Animation, Audio Recording,
Sound Design, Editing

Reynold Weidenaar
With the Support of

     The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Inc., Hollywood, CA
     The Center for Electronic Music, New York, NY
     Harvestworks, Inc. / Studio PASS, New York, NY
     William Paterson College, Wayne, NJ

     Brian Lehrer
Keyboard Performances

     Barbara Blegen
     Additional Performance by Reynold Weidenaar

     Lisa Brenner
    Elliott Crown
     Dennis Heaphy
     Roseanne Limoncelli
     James Edward Pierce
     Julia Pennington
     Reynold Weidenaar
MIDI Music Production

     Alex Noyes, Harvestworks Inc. / Studio PASS
     Mark Ramsey, Center for Electronic Music
Online Editor

     Nils Nichols, through the Standby Program at Windsor Digital
Picture Sources

     American Telephone and Telegraph Co. Corporate Archives
     AT&T Bell Laboratories
     Carnegie Hall Archives
     David Sarnoff Research Center
     Ella Merkel DiCarlo
     Holyoke Public Library
     The Maryland Club
     Robert A. Moog
     Museum of the City of New York
     New Jersey Secretary of State, Corporate Information and Records Section
     New York City Board of Estimate and Apportionment, Bureau of Franchises
     New York City Municipal Archives
     The New-York Historical Society
     The New York Public Library, Mid-Manhattan Branch, Picture Collection
     The New York Public Library, Performing Arts Research Center, Billy Rose
Theatre Collection
     The New York Public Library, Performing Arts Research Center, Music Division
     The New York Public Library, The Research Libraries, U. S. History, Local History
& Genealogy Department
     Office for Metropolitan History
     Thomas L. Rhea
     Margaret Cahill Schwartz
Sound Effects Sources
     Harvestworks Inc. / Studio PASS
     Marilyn Reese
Music (in order of presentation)      
        1. Scott Joplin: Palm Leaf Rag 
        2. George Frideric Handel: Largo from Xerxes
        3. Felix Mendelssohn: Frühlingslied, Op. 62, No. 6
        4. Georges Bizet: March and Chorus from Carmen
        5. Ethelbert Nevin: Narcissus, Op. 13, No. 4
        6. Alphonse Czibulka: Songe d'amour après le bal (Intermezzo), Op. 356
        7. John H. Flynn: Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay!
        8. Robert Planquette: Legend of the Bells from Chimes of Normandy
        9. Gustave Kerker: As She Played on the Cal-li-o-pay! from The Social Whirl
        10. J. L. Molloy: The Kerry Dance
        11. Georg Goltermann: Andante from Concerto No. 5 for Violoncello
        12. G. A. Spink: I've Got to Dance Till the Band Gits Through (Bill Simmons)
        ...... ..from.The Social Whirl
        13. Richard Wagner: Prelude from Lohengrin
        14. Alfred G. Robyn: The Rook and the Robin from Princess Beggar
        15. Victor Herbert:  Absinthe Frappè from It Happened in Nordland
        16. Karl L. Hoschna: Every Little Movement Has a Meaning All Its Own
         ......  from Madame Sherry
        17. Charles de Bériot: Concerto No. 1 for Violin, Op. 16
        18. Lowell Mason:  Nearer My God to Thee
        19. Giacomo Rossini: Andantino from William Tell
        20. Johann Strauss: Du und du, Op. 367
        21. Ludwig van Beethoven: Polonaise, Op. 8
        22. Ben M. Jerome:  Kiss Me Good-bye and Go, Jack
        23. Gustave Kerker: It's Nice to Have a Sweetheart from The Tourists
        24. Pietro Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
        25. Thomas Thompson: Serenade
        26. Franz Lehár: I Love You So (The Merry Widow Waltz)
        27. Richard Wagner:  To the Evening Star from Tannhäuser
        28. Reynold Weidenaar: Telharmania
        29. Scott Joplin: Maple Leaf Rag
        30. Scottish Folk Song: Auld Lang Syne