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"Don't you sometimes regret that you can't recreate the impressions from the theatre and the concert hall, the timbres and nuances of the orchestra, while playing your piano? It [the piano] has only 1 timbre and 1 colour - and usually no colour at all. It is the black and white reproduction of the 100 colours in a painting. The ideal would be to give the piano that richness of colour without losing its original qualities. Thanks to the orphéal and the luthéal, this ideal is now becoming reality. ", (Sales catalog, s.d.)

Timbre is the constantly recurring theme in Georges Cloetens' inventions. As an organ builder he had already experimented with changing the timbre of an organ pipe by giving it a slide with separate bells. But with his new instruments, such as the luthéal (instrument of the month, May 2010) and the orphéal, he goes a step further. He builds new systems that can be combined with existing instruments (particularly the piano) or used as a stand-alone instrument.

The orphéal is not mentioned by name in the Cloetens patents. It is the sum of two Belgian patents, namely numbers 284326 (1920, patent was filed in France in 1913 under the number 461591) and 303728 (1922). Both certifications concern wind-blown free reeds in keyboard instruments.  But little is known about the operation of the orphéal, other than that it is "a combination of the piano, the organ and the harmonium".

The orphéal consists of two parts: a keyboard - placed above the tuning pegs of a grand piano or built into a piano or an organ (with two bells) and an electrical device that provides the air supply. Copies built into an organ can be found in the St. Walburga Church in Oudenaarde and in the organ of the basilica in Heliopolis (Egypt)

When Salomon Eyckmans claims that Cloetens played an "electric instrument at the 1935 World Fair, the sound of which was sent through loudspeakers", he was most likely referring to the orphéal with two bells ("loudspeakers") where the air supply is electrically controlled. In contrast to the luthéal, the orphéal can also exist as an autonomous instrument, as is the case in the MIM collection. The autonomous orphéal is the instrument on display for the month of October.

But the most important aspect of the orphéal is the large number of timbres it allows to be played. It can recreate the sounds of string instruments (violin, cello, double bass, viola da gamba and viola d'amore), of wind instruments (oboe, (contra) bassoon, trumpet, saxophone, (hunting) horn and bagpipes), and of the organ (church organ and late-medieval reed organ, or regal organ). A slight similarity is not sufficient for Cloetens, the timbre must be as impressive as possible, including the movement of the bow on the string and vibrato, and "the tongue movement" at the beginning of notes on wind instruments.

According to Cloetens, the orphéal should ideally be combined with the luthéal. In this way the orphéal achieves "its best artistic return: and both together constitute the ideal musical instrument ... that will charm the most enlightened musicians" (sales catalog, s.d.). According to Boulanger, it becomes even more interesting if we add a cantacorder to the combination luthéal-orphéal (also an invention by Cloetens, patent No. 387957 of 1932). With this device you can play a vibrato, as played on a violin. In this way it seems that the piano "sings" and the name "cantacorder" was not far-fetched. The variable rotation speed of a small motor here activates a rotating plate which in turn influences the vibration of the string. What is new is that the vibrato can be applied to a note or a chord, and that other notes (which are also played) do not sound vibrato.

Cavaillé-Coll - Paris - l'Orphéal - Brevets Cloetens is mentioned on the construction label. This is because the orphéal (but also the luthéal) was built by the company of the organ builder Cavaillé-Coll in Paris, and sold by the Société L'Orphéal (Rue Boissy d'Anglas, 10). How and when Cloetens came into contact with Cavaillé-Coll, however, is not known.

Cloetens presents himself to the world

Cloetens presented his instruments at the world exhibitions in Brussels in 1910 and 1935. In 1910, he presented the orphéal and received the Grand Prix, with congratulations from the jury. At the world exhibition of 1935 he presented three instruments: the orphéal, the luthéal and the cantacorder. For the first two he again received the Grand Prix.

Orphéal, G. Cloetens, 1910 (inv. 3612)
Orphéal, G. Cloetens, 1910 (inv. 3612)
Orphéal, G. Cloetens, 1910 (inv. 3612)