The pages of history recording attempts at invention and construction ofmetronomes, like those for automatic page-turners, are filled with failure andimpractical ideas but they do indicate a few successes. Why such a small fieldshould attract so many inventors is a mystery.
In 1581, Galileo Galilei discovered the isochronism of pendulums, that is,he discovered that pendulums (of any given length) vibrated in the same time,whether the amplitude was large or small.
About a century passed before pendulums were successfully applied to clocksby Christian Huyghens (circa 1659) and George Graham (circa 1715). The problemsolved by them was to develop an escapement, the mechanism for deliveringimpulses to the pendulum, which will keep it in motion and yet not interferewith its motion. This invention was the key to success for it was promptly usedby those laboring in the metronome field.
In 1696, Etieune Loulie made the first recorded attempt to apply thependulum to a metronome. His "machine" was merely an adjustablependulum with calibrations but without an escapement to keep it in motion. Hewas followed by a line of inventors, including Sauveur, 1711; Enbrayg, 1732;Gabary, 1771; Harrison, 1775; Davaux, 1784; Pelletier, Weiske, 1790; Weber,1813; Stockel, Zmeskall, Crotch, Smart, 1821. Most of these attempts wereunsuccessful owing to the great length of pendulum required to beat some of thelow tempos used in music (say 40 to 60 per minute).
In 1812, Dietrik Nikolaus Winkel (b.1780 Amsterdam d. 1826) found that adouble weighted pendulum (a weight on each side of the pivot) would beat lowtempos, even when made of short length. Johann Nepenuk Maelzel, through somequestionable practice, appropriated Winkel's idea and in 1816 startedmanufacturing "Maelzel's" Metronome. It has been in highly successfuluse to this day. It is manufactured by Swiss, German, French and Americanmanufacturers who vie with each other for the limited business available.
More Recent Attempts
In 1894, Hanson produced a metronome consisting of a baton which could beadjusted to beat 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 or 6/8 time by compound motions similar to thoseof a conductor.
In 1909, White and Hunter produced a pocket metronome having a hand whichturned complete revolutions, one revolution to a beat. Its speed was adjustablebetween 40 and 208 revolutions per minute.
In 1930, a miniature rocking chair, having a vertical baton attached, whichis set in motion by hand on any level surface, was placed on the market. Aweight on the wand adjusted the tempo. The "beat" was silent.
With the advent of electricity, many types of electrically drivenmetronomes were developed, some having lights which flashed to mark the beatsand also the beginning of the measure, like Morrison, 1936, some merely having awaving wand, like A. M. English, 1937. Some of them were obviously devised bymechanics having little or no knowledge of music or of the manner in whichmusicians use metronomes.
Another group of inventions covered metronomes designed to beat the rhythmof a few bars of music exactly as written, requiring the setting of some stopsas in Fascinato, 1933, the manipulation of some indicators as in Doerfer, 1899,or the punching of some paper dials as in Miessner, 1934.
About 1900, a Swiss pocket watch metronome was produced, operating exactlylike a balance-wheel watch with the modification that it had a gearedbalance-wheel which could make several revolutions and an adjustable "hair-spring"permitting the 40 to 208 scale adjustment.
As far as is known, the only survivors of all these attempts to produce anaccurate, practical and dependable metronome that is acceptable to criticalmusicians, are the Maelzel types and a few pocket watch types, like theCadenzia.
With the advent of controlled alternating current (A.C.), it had becomepossible to have clocks, operated by such electricity supply, that do not varyone second in a month or more. This also made possible the invention of theFranz electric metronome (1938). In this metronome a synchronous motor, likethose used in electric clocks, drives a tempo beating hammer through amechanical reduction which is adjustable from 40 to 208. Theseelectro-mechanical units were produced through June, 1994.
In 1977 the Franz pendulum metronome was introduced embodying the firstsignificant improvements in the "Maelzel" type of mechanism. Theworking parts were suspended in the case in such a way as to allow them to levelthemselves when the case was placed on a slanted surface thus precluding "limp."A mechanism was provided to prevent accidental jamming of the escapement and anadjustment to compensate any inherent limp due to manufacturing variations.These devices were produced through 1990.
From 1950 to the present time numerous versions of the relaxation oscillatortype of electronic circuit have been introduced adapted to the standard temporange of the metronome.
Early models were the "Metronoma" and "Stamford' electronicmetronomes. Later on Seth Thomas, Sabine and Metone in this country. Cadenzia inSwitzerland, Metrotone in England and Wittner in Germany introduced metronomesoperating on this general principle. The accuracy of these all suffer from thedifficulty of compensating the non linearity of this type of circuit over thewhole timing range. Obtaining good setting accuracy is also quite hard toachieve.
In the late 1970's digital electronic techniques had developed to the pointwhere it became economically feasible to apply them to the design of a metronomeThe accuracy has been enhanced by a factor of 10 or more over the best availableprior to the use of this type of design. The capacity and low cost ofmicroprocessors has made it possible to add other functions besides beating thestandard tempos. Tuning pitches, accented beats and other functions are possibleat reasonable cost. Such instruments have been introduced by Wittner in Germany,Seiko in Japan and Franz in the USA, among others. Back (c) copyright 1997 FranzManufacturing Company, Inc.