Untitled Instruments Index Untitled John Speller's Web Pages Hydraulus

John Speller's Web Pages - Pipe Organs

The Hydraulus or pipe organ in which the wind is stabilized by means of water, is said to have been invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria (c. 285-222 BCE). It is described in The Pneumatics of Hero of Alexandria, ed. Bennet Woodcroft. London, 1851:

Section 76. The construction of a hydraulic organ. Let A B C D (fig. 1), be a small altar of bronze containing water. In the water invert a hollow hemisphere, called a pnigeus, E F G H, which will allow of the passage of the water at the bottom. From the top of this let two tubes ascend above the altar; one of them, G K L M, bent without the altar and communicating with a box, N X 0 P, inverted, and having its inner surface made perfectly level to fit a piston. Into this box let the piston R S be accurately fitted, that no air may enter by its side; and to the piston attach a rod, T U, of great strength. Again, attach to the piston rod another rod, U Q, moving about a pin at U, and also working like the beam of a lever on the upright rod W Y, which must be well secured. On the inverted bottom of the box N X 0 P let another smaller box, Z, rest, communicating with N X 0 P and closed by a lid above: in the lid is a hole through which the air will enter the box. Place a thin plate under the hole in the lid to close it, upheld by means of four pins passing through holes in the plate, and furnished with heads so that the plate cannot fall off: such a plate is called a valve. Again, let another tube, F I, ascend from F G, communicating with a transverse tube, A' B', on which rest the pipes A, A, A, communicating with the tube, and having at the lower extremities small boxes, like those used for money; these boxes communicate with the pipes, and their orifices B, B, B, must be open. Across these orifices let perforated lids slide, so that, when the lids are pushed home, the holes in them coincide with the holes in the pipes, but, when the lids are drawn outwards, the connexion is broken and the pipes are closed. Now, if the transverse beam U Q be depressed at Q, the piston R S will rise and force out the air in the box N X 0 P; the air will close the aperture in the small box Z by means of the valve described above, and pass along the tube M L K G into the hemisphere: again it will pass out of the hemisphere along the tube F I into the transverse tube A' B', and out of the transverse tube into the pipes, if the apertures in the pipes and in the lids coincide, that is, if the lids, either all, or some of them, have been pushed home. In order that, when we wish any of the pipes to sound, the corresponding holes may be opened, and closed again when we wish the sound to cease, we may employ the following contrivance. Imagine one of the boxes at the extremities of the pipes, C D, to be isolated, D being its orifice, E the communicating pipe, R S the lid fitted to it, and G the hole in the lid not coinciding with the pipe E. Take three jointed bars F H, H M, M M2, of which the bar F H is attached to the lid S F, while the whole moves about a pin at M3. Now, if we depress, with the hand, the extremity M2 towards D the orifice of the box, we shall push the lid inwards, and, when it is in, the aperture in it will coincide with that in the tube. That, when we withdraw the hand, the lid may be spontaneously drawn out and close the communication, the following means may be employed. Underneath the boxes let a rod, M4 M5, run, equal and parallel to the tube A' B', and fix to this slips of horn, elastic and curved, of which M6 lying opposite C D, is one. A string, fastened to the extremity of the slip of horn, is carried round the extremity H, so that, when the lid is pushed out, the string is tightened; if; therefore, we depress the extremity M2 and drive the lid inwards, the string will forcibly pull the piece of horn and straighten it, but, when the hand is withdrawn, the horn will return again to its original position and draw away the lid from the orifice, so as to destroy the correspondence between the holes. This contrivance having been applied to the box of each pipe, when we require any of the pipes to sound we must depress the corresponding key with the fingers and when we require any of the sounds to cease, remove the fingers, whereupon the lids will be drawn out and the pipes will cease to sound. The water is poured into the altar that the superabundant air, (I mean, of course, that which is thrust out of the box and forces the water upwards,) may be confined in the hemisphere, so that the pipes which are free to sound may always have a supply. The piston R S, when raised, drives the air out of the box into the hemisphere, as has been explained; and when depressed, opens the valve in the small box Z. By this means the box is filled with air from without, which the piston, when forced up again, will again drive into the hemispiere. It would be better that the rod T U should move about a pivot at T also, by means of a single loop, which may be fitted into the bottom of the piston, and through which the pivot must pass, that the piston may not be drawn aside, but rise and fall vertically.

Section 77. The construction of an organ from which, when the wind blows, the sound of a flute shall be produced. Let A, A, A, (fig. 2), be the pipes, B C the transverse tube communicating with them, D E the vertical tube, and E F another transverse tube leading from D E into a box G H, the inner surface of which is made level to fit a piston. Into this box fit the piston K L, which is capable of descending into it freely. To the piston attach a rod, M N, and to this another, N X, working on the rod P R. At N let there be a pin moving readily, and to the extremity X fasten a small plate, X 0, near which a rod, S, is to be placed, moving on iron pivots placed in a frame which admits of being shifted. To the rod S attach two small wheels, U and Q, of which U is furnished with pegs placed close to the plate X 0, and Q with broad arms like the sails of a wind-mill. When all of these arms, urged by the wind, drive round the wheel Q, the rod S will be driven round, so that the wheel U and the pegs attached to it will strike the plate X O at intervals and raise the piston; when the peg recedes, the piston, descending, will force out the air in the box G H into the tubes and pipes, and produce the sound. We may always move the frame which contains the rod S towards the prevailing wind, that the revolution may be more rapid and uniform.
Figure 1. An Altar Organ blown by hand
Figure 2. An Altar Organ blown by the agency of a Wind-mill
Mosaic from the late second century CE villa at Perl-Nennig nearTrier in Italy, showing a hydraulus together with a curved Roman trumpet or "cornu." The Emperor Nero is said to have been a proficient player of the hydraulus
Replica of a three-stop hydraulus made by the Rev. F. W. Galpin in 1885
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