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Frederic Kastner


FREDERIC KASTNER, who is known to the scientific world as the inventor of the Pyrophone, has recently died, as we announced at the time, at the early age of thirty years. He was the son of an Alsacian composer of some merit, Georges Kastner, and was himself an accomplished musician. Educated partly at Paris and partly at Strasburg, he imbibed a love of science, and at the early age of fourteen years was already assisting his teachers in the chemical laboratory. When seventeen years of age he invented and patented a novel form of electromotor, in which a series of electro-magnets were caused to act in succession upon a rotating arbor. After the war of 1870–71, in which he was driven from Strasburg, he devoted himself to studying the properties of musical flames. The discovery of Higgins in 1777, that a hydrogen flame burning within the lower end of an open glass tube could set up a musical note, had been the starting point of a number of hitherto barren attempts by Schaff-gotsch and others. Without knowing anything of the experiments of Schaffgotsch, Barrett, or Tyndall, young Kastner set to work to experiment, with the determination to construct a musical instrument on this principle. For two years he worked at the subject, endeavouring to temper the harsh tones of the flames and to produce a purity and constancy in their notes. He tried tubes of different sizes and forms. He varied the form of the gas jet, and essayed to introduce two or more jets into one tube. At last, in 1871, he discovered that when he employed two flames he could control their note at will, being silent when both were close together, but producing sound when they were separated. This phenomenon, which Kastner called the interference of flames, was the real starting-point of Kastner's Pyrophoue or Flame-Organ, which he patented in 1873. This organ had for its pipes glass tubes of different lengths, two hydrogen flames burning in each at the proper height. A very simple lever-arrangement served to separate the flames at will. In this form the instrument was presented to the Académie des Sciences at Paris, and publicly exhibited. Two subsequent improvements followed. A circle of small jets of common coal gas was found to answer quite as well as the two hydrogen jets, the circle being constructed so that by a simple mechanical contrivance it could be increased or diminished in size, thus separating or reuniting the flames at will. The second improvement was the application of electric currents and an electromagnetic apparatus enabling the flame-organ to be played at a distance. The first instrument of this kind constructed by Kastner was in the form of a singing-lustre hung from the chandelier in his mother's house. The pyrophone was shown at the Royal Institution in January, 1875, and at the Society of Arts in the succeeding month. It was also shown at the Loan Collection of Scientific apparatus at South Kensington in 1876, and at the Paris Exhibition in 1878. In 1876, moreover, an account of the instrument and of the researches which led to its construction was published by Kastner under the title of “Flammes Chantantes.” The strange, weird tones produced by the instrument attracted the notice of musicians. Gounod sought to introduce the pyrophone into his opera of “Jeanne d'Arc,” and Kœnemann at Baden Baden, in 1879, actually introduced the instrument on one occasion. A decline, however, seized the young inventor, whose strength for some years ebbed slowly away, and he died all too soon to see his invention fairly recognised by the public.

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Frederic Kastner . Nature 26, 304 (1882).

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