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Musical Clock with Spinet and Organ

Veit Langenbucher (1587–1631)

Samuel Bidermann (German, 1540–1622)
ca. 1625
Augsburg, Germany
Ebony, various wood and metals, wire, parchment and leather
Overall: 78.1 x 32 x 50 cm (30 3/4 x 12 5/8 x 19 11/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Clara Mertens Bequest, in memory of André Mertens, 2002
Accession Number:
2002.323 a-f
  • Description

    Inside the ebony case of this musical clock is an extremely rare and important instrument consisting of a sixteen-note pipe organ and a sixteen-string spinet that may be played independently of the organ. Made by the renowned team of Samuel Bidermann and his son (also Samuel)--the father’s L-shaped pinning style appears in this work--and Viet Langenbucher, the extraordinary piece includes, in addition to the organ and spinet, a clock and five carved and colorfully clad commedia dell'arte figures that perform a circling dance in the clock's tower when the instruments sound to mark the hours.

    The complex clock is perhaps the most musically elaborate automatic instrument to survive from the early seventeenth century. Its three airs, probably by composer Hans Leo Hassler (baptized 1564-1612), the elder Bidermann's teacher and once keeper of the knowledge of pinning barrels in Augsburg, are stored on the original pinned cylinder. Most cylinders and their tunes were replaced by subsequent generations, but this one was spared to provide us with an extremely rare musical document that allows us to hear the airs as they were played in the seventeenth century.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: (under clock plate) "Michel a Paris, 1866" indicating previous repair.

    Marking: "VLB" stamped in three places: 1) on bottom of frame near trackers; 2-3) seen from bottom at the other end under wood support for key-wind.

  • Provenance

    Previously owned by the Time Museum in Chicago
    Sotheby's, New York, lot 205, June 19, 2002

  • See also