Music clocks mark the arrival of each new hour of the day with a musical tune using a variety of mechanical instrumentation. Most use a spiked cylinder to create music with bells, strings, organ pipes with combs or bellows. They are a popular item today for fans of classical music and historical time keepers.
As for the origins of the music clock, also known as the musical clock, the earliest model known to exist resides in the British Museum in London. It was crafted by Nicholas Vallin in 1598 and is believed to have been used in the home of a wealthy merchant. This ancient music clock plays a different piece of music on every quarter hour, with the tune played at the mark of each hour being truly spectacular.
The earliest music clocks made in Europe for use in private homes all played their tunes with the use of bell carillons that were triggered by a spiked drum within the clock body. How often they played varied quite a bit. Some played on the hour while others played each 3 or 4 hours. In addition, some tunes were accompanied by a striking of the hour while others were not.
As the craft grew and developed, larger musical clocks were crafted for use in public places. Churches were one of the first places these larger music clocks were used and they typically played traditional hymns. Town squares would often employ them to mark the hour for starting work in the fields, the time for lunch, and the end of the work day—though farmers and others were free to keep their own schedule, these clocks became familiar reminders of the day’s passing.
Into the 1700’s, diversification in music clocks is seen. In the Black Forest area of Germany, where the cuckoo clock was also being crafted, music clocks that used bellows and pipes to signal the hour came into prominence. Many had automated figures, often a trumpeter, who would appear to play the tune. In England about the same time, London clock makers began to borrow technology from pipe organs in their designs, while others fitted they musical clocks with conical cylinders and combs to make the music. The grandest of these early music clocks had interchangeable cones or drums so that a greater variety of tunes could be played.
This traditional style music clock has continued in production and they remain popular today among music lovers and those who appreciate fine craftsmanship in their clocks. Of course, in this digital age, music clocks are now very popular that store their cache of tunes on a computer chip and offer a wide array of music selections from which to choose. Whether your style is traditional or very modern, there are music clocks you will certainly enjoy hearing throughout the day.