Šumperk museum restores orchestrion made in Vienna at the start of the 20th century

Photo: Jana Opočenská / Czech Radio

The Museum of National History in Šumperk has breathed new life into what is believed to be the largest orchestrion in the Czech Republic. The self-playing musical cabinet from the beginning of the 20th century had been out of order for decades and the museum had it completely taken apart and reassembled in order to restore it to its former glory.

The outsize orchestrion – a self-playing instrument resembling a barrel organ that produces music imitating an orchestra -  had been in the ownership of the Šumperk Museum of National History for years, but it was acquired broken and is believed to have been out of order for more than half a century. Although it served a decorative purpose the museum decided to try to restore its original function. Ethnographer Mária Kudelová, who supervised its restoration, says that in its heyday it was a sophisticated musical instrument.

"You start it playing by dropping in a coin. There's a mandolin and a piano in this part. It also has a carillon and a drum section. As every music-box or self-playing musical instrument it must have a driving force – like a clockwork mechanism. The mechanism in this orchestrion is the largest of its kind in the Czech Republic."

The size of the orchestrion is also awesome. It is more than two and a half meters tall and almost a meter and a half wide. Mária Kudelová says its décor was painstakingly restored by professionals.

"The cabinet itself is beautifully carved and Art Nouveau decorated and the glass partitions are decorated with paintings."

Photo: Jana Opočenská / Czech Radio

According to available information the orchestrion was made in Leipzig where it was commissioned by a Prague salesman by the name of Hynek Klepetar at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, it is not clear how it ended up in Šumperk or to whom it belonged. Mária Kudelová says the museum has a theory it is trying to find evidence for.

“An instrument of this size must have served in a big local pub somewhere around here. This is not something you would buy for a small village pub. We are still trying to trace its history.”

Having restored the orchestrion to its former glory the museum in Šumperk is now preparing a special exhibition about music boxes, barrel organs and similar musical instruments of centuries past.

Before the museum reopens after the coronavirus break, people can see and hear the result of the restoration work for themselves - online.

Authors: Jana Opočenská , Daniela Lazarová
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