barrel organ

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barrel organ,

mechanical musical instrument requiring nothing but the regular rotary motion of a handle to keep it going. It probably originated at the beginning of the 18th cent., and was once used extensively in English churches. A revolving cylinder is fitted with pegs that open valves, permitting air to enter a set of organ pipes. Some larger ones have several sets of pipes and various couplers. They can be operated by clockwork, by weights, and by electric motors. A portable type of barrel organ whose cylinder is turned by a hand crank has been mistakenly called hurdy-gurdyhurdy-gurdy,
musical instrument with three strings that are caused to vibrate by a wooden wheel turned by a crank. Stopping is accomplished by keys that usually affect only the string that plays the melody, the others acting as drones.
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, from which it is fundamentally different.

Barrel Organ


a mechanical wind instrument. The barrel organ, a type of portative organ, resembles a small box and consists of bellows, organ pipes in one or more ranks, and cylinders equipped with metal pins. As the cylinder is turned by a hand crank, the pins engage a special mechanism that opens a passage permitting air to reach the pipes; at the same time, air is pumped by means of the bellows. Some barrel organs have replaceable cylinders and can thus perform several musical pieces. The instrument, which first appeared in Western Europe in the 18th century and in Russia in the first quarter of the 19th century, was popular among itinerant musicians. The barrel organ is called a katerynka in the Ukraine and a katarynka in Poland.


Buchner, A. Musikinstrumente im Wandel der Zeiten. Prague, 1956.


barrel organ

1. an instrument consisting of a cylinder turned by a handle and having pins on it that interrupt the air flow to certain pipes, thereby playing any of a number of tunes
2. a similar instrument in which the projections on a rotating barrel pluck a set of strings
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