The Geigenwerk is one of the rare instruments with strings and keys capable of sustaining a sound. The strings are not plucked as in the case of a harpsichord and not struck as in the case of the piano. The bowing action is provided by four parchment-covered metal wheels that serve as bow. The wheels are turned by a crank at the back of the instrument, the player bringing the strings in contact with the turning wheels by pressing the keys of the keyboard.

There is little information about the origin of the Geigenwerk. Leonardo da Vinci drew a similar instrument, though it is not known if he ever actually saw one. There is a Geigenwerk in Michael Praetorius Syntagma Musicum (1620), who ascribed the invention to Hans Haiden, an instrument maker active in Nurenberg at the end of the sixteenth century. Various European rulers, including Ferdinand II, Ferdinand de Medici in Florence and Philip II in the Escorial are said to have had one.

This Geigenwerk was made in Spain. It was previously covered with cloth decorated with a coat-of-arms. It is likely that it stood in the cathedral of Toledo, where it was probably used to accompany liturgical services. This Spanish instrument is the only wholly preserved historical example. In more recent times several attempts have been made to make improvements to the design, e.g. by Kurt Reichmann in Germany, Akio Obuchi in Japan and Sławomir Zubrzycki in Poland.

Geigenwerk inv.2485
detail of the Geigenwerk
Syntagma Musicum, Michael Praetorius
External Video
See video