Friedrich Kaufmann

The Kaufmann family from Dresden (left: Friedrich Theodor; center: Johann Gottfried, right: Johann Friedrich)
The Kaufmann family from Dresden (left: Friedrich Theodor; center: Johann Gottfried, right: Johann Friedrich)

The Kaufmann family from Dresden (see the nearby image), Saxony (Johann Gottfried Kaufmann (1752-1818), his son Johann Friedrich Kaufmann (1785–1866), and his grandson Friedrich Theodor Kaufmann (1823–1872), are famous with the construction of several ingenious musical instruments at the beginning of the 19th century—Belloneon (made around 1806, a mechanical musical instrument consisting of twenty-four trumpets and two kettle drums), Harmonichord (in 1810, one of the many attempts to fuse the piano and violin), Chordaulodion (in 1811), Acoustic Cabinet, and Trumpet Player automaton, which will be explored in this article.

The Trumpet Player was made around 1810 by Johann Friedrich Kaufmann and was presented in 1812 in Dresden. It is certainly one of the most famous androids, survived to our time (it is kept now in the collection of Deutsches Museum, München). The Trumpet Player is a figure of a man, dressed in a Spanish costume, with a height of approximately 180 cm. It had leather bellows for lungs and reeds, which imitated the sound of a trumpet. It was even able to simultaneously blow two different tones.

April 1950, an elderly Bavarian inspects the Trumpet Player automaton of Friedrich Kauffman
April 1950, an elderly Bavarian inspects the Trumpet Player automaton of Friedrich Kauffman

The mechanism of the Trumpet Player is managed by means of two rotatably mounted brass stepped drums. The notches mounted on the drums are in contact with 6 impacting tongues (pins) and four scanning levers, which activate wind valves, that let the air pass by 12 tongues, thus producing a sound, modulated through a trumpet, so it does sound like a trumpet.

The stepped drum and the bellows are powered by a spring mechanism (two helical springs) that needs to be wound up, by the visible hand crank on the right.

In the book Clockwork Music of Ord-Hume (London, Allen and Unwin, 1973), the Trumpet Player is described as follows:
The Trumpet Automaton is a figure not unlike Mario in the “Puritani,” with the instrument at its mouth. It was invented many years ago by Herr Kaufmann, and won the admiration of Carl Maria von Weber. What is most remarkable and inconceivable in this extraordinary piece of mechanism, is, that it produces double sounds of equal strength and purity, and flourishes in octaves, tierces, quints, Re., are heard. Perhaps this acoustic curiosity may supply some key to Vivier’s wondrous horn effects, certain notes accompanying particular chords. If this discovery should be established, that one instrument can do the same with equal perfection as two instruments, it may lead to something, as natural intonation may surely affect what a piece of machinery can do… To construct such instruments without models, for they are quite original, the maker must be a musician, a mechanic, a mathematician, and a philosopher.

The Trumpet Player of Friedrich Kauffman (back view)
The Trumpet Player of Friedrich Kauffman (back view)

An 1817 issue of the American Monthly Magazine described a demonstration of Kaufmann’s musical machines, as follows:
Messrs. Kaufmann, senior and junior, of Dresden, have exhibited four instruments composing an orchestra, which they call the Belloneon, the Cordelauidion, the Automaton Trumpeter, and the Harmonicord. The upper part of the Belloneon exhibits a trophy of arms, in the midst of which are placed twenty-four trumpets reversed: and the lower part encloses two kettle-drums with their sticks. It executes flourishes and marches, with extraordinary perfection. If it contained other wind instruments, it might be compared with Maelzel’s Panharmonicon, exhibited some time since in London and Paris. The Cordalaudion produces together and separately the sounds of the piano-forte, and of four flutes, which play with such precision and accuracy, that the illusion is complete. The Automaton gives out notes with double sounds. But these instruments, though highly curious, are surpassed by the Harmonicord. It is shaped like an upright piano-forte; a cylinder is adapted to it and turns at a very small distance from the springs, which are the same as those of the piano. By pressing down the keys, which embrace four octaves and a half, the friction is affected. Two pedals serve to make the rotation of the cylinder quicker and slower or weaker. Under the hands of Messrs. Kaufmann, this instrument gives out sweeter tones than the Harmonica and produces a truly celestial harmony.

The great composer Carl Maria von Weber was a friend of Friedrich Kaufmann (he met Kaufmanns in 1811 during a demonstration of their instruments). Weber admired Trumpet Player (he called it Trompetenwerk) and in 1812 he wrote an article for Kaufmann’s instruments, and a Concertino (Adagio and Rondo) for the Harmonichord with orchestral accompaniment.

Biography of Friedrich Kaufmann

Johann Friedrich Kaufmann (1785–1865)
Johann Friedrich Kaufmann (1785–1866)

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Kaufmann was born on 5 February 1785, in Dresden, a son of the capable clockmaker and instrument maker Johann Gottfried Kaufmann (1752-1818), and a grand grandson of Georg Friedrich Kauffmann (1679-1735), a good Saxon court and cathedral organist and kapellmeister.

In 1799 Johann Friedrich, only 14 years old, started his apprenticeship in mechanics as a watchmaker. In 1803-1806 he traveled to Germany, France, and Switzerland as a watchmaker assistant. A longer stay in Vienna also gave him the opportunity to continue the musical studies he had begun in his early youth. In 1806 Friedrich returned to Dresden, to work together with his father in the construction of musical clocks and invention of new tools. Later Kaufmanns made numerous trips to many European cities, demonstrating their four instruments: Belloneon, Harmonichord, Chordalaudion, and Automaton Trumpeter.

Sadly, during one of their trips, while in Frankfurt am Main, Johann Gottfried died on 10 April 1818. Johann Friedrich worked alone for some time, aiming to perfect himself more and more in the art of building music automata, and was joined in the early 1840s by his son Friedrich Theodor (born 9 April 1823 in Dresden). Around 1840 Symphonion automaton was created, which combined fortepiano, clarinets, flutes, piccolo, tambourines, and timpani.

Between the years 1842 and 1844, the Kaufmann family traveled again. They took five instruments with them on their journey. After a very successful tour, a catastrophe happens. The ship on which they traveled home from Copenhagen got caught in a storm and they lost all their instruments, but they soon set about building a new and improved Chordalaudion and a Symphonium. From 1844 to 1851 both worked on rebuilding the lost instruments using new ideas and experiences; This is how the “Orchestrion” came into being according to the plans of the younger Kaufmann. During the years 1851 and 1852 father and son undertook another journey, the last one to England, Ireland, and Scotland.

After 1852 the Kaufmanns lived quietly in Dresden, constantly busy with the construction of more and more perfected self-playing instruments and harmoniums. In 1865, the venerable veteran celebrated his 80th birthday with rare mental and physical freshness. King Johann honored him by awarding him the Knight’s Cross of the Albrecht Order. After a long period of suffering, the amiable old man passed away peacefully and gently on 1 December 1866 in Dresden. His talented son continued to work with tireless diligence in the spirit of his grandfather and father, although this was often made very difficult for him by severe physical ailments. Friedrich Theodor died on 5 February 1872.