The Cat Organ, Or, Damn There’s Some Weird Stuff on Wikipedia

Cat Organ Illustration

You couldn’t make this stuff up, except someone apparently did sometime in the 16th century (though the excerpt below is from a later 19th century work) according to Wikipedia,

This instrument [the cat organ or piano] was described by the French writer Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin in his book Musiciana, extraits d’ouvrages rare ou bizarre (Musiciana, descriptions of rare or bizarre inventions):

When the King of Spain Felipe II was in Brussels in 1549 visiting his father the Emperor Charles V, each saw the other rejoicing at the sight of a completely singular procession. At the head marched an enormous bull whose horns were burning, between which there was also a small devil. Behind the bull a young boy sewn into a bear skin rode on a horse whose ears and tail were cut off. Then came the archangel Saint Michael in bright clothing, and carrying a balance in his hand.

The most curious was on a chariot that carried the most singular music that can be imagined. It held a bear that played the organ; instead of pipes, there were sixteen cat heads each with its body confined; the tails were sticking out and were held to be played as the strings on a piano, if a key was pressed on the keyboard, the corresponding tail would be pulled hard, and it would produce each time a lamentable meow. The historian Juan Christoval Calvete, noted the cats were arranged properly to produce a succession of notes from the octave… (chromatically, I think).

This abominable orchestra arranged itself inside a theatre where monkeys, wolves, deer and other animals danced to the sounds of this infernal music.

The cat organ was almost certainly never built but rather was likely the equivalent of a 16th century urban legend. However, an article at Mental Floss maintains that a similar musical instrument using pigs was actually constructed in the 15th century and again in Cincinnati, Ohio in the mid-19th century,

We are sure, however, of the existence of the katzenklavier’s [cat organ] cousin: the pig organ. In the 15th century, King Louis XI of France ordered Abbot de Beigne to create a “concert of swine’s voices.” Obliging, the abbot built a crude keyboard made of live pigs, which jabbed spikes into the rumps of squealing swine. A similar instrument—the porko-forte—was designed in Cincinnati 400 years later.

I’m skeptical of both of those accounts. The Porco-Forte, supposedly built in 1839 in Cincinnati, Ohio, has all the earmarks of a hoax.

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