Waart, Edo de. 56 Wachmann, Eduard 56

Würfel, Václav Vilém [Werfel, Wenzel Wilhelm]

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Würfel, Václav Vilém [Werfel, Wenzel Wilhelm]

(b Plaňány, nr Kolín, 6 May 1790; d Vienna, 23 March 1832). Bohemian pianist and composer. He came from a musical family and was pushed (especially by his mother) towards a career in music. A precocious pianist, he made many concert tours in Bohemia as a youth. He went to Prague as a pupil of Tomášek and, though he primarily studied the piano, was tremendously influenced by the novel style of Tomášek’s keyboard compositions and modelled some of his own works on them; this is particularly so in the music he wrote while in Warsaw during the most important period of his career.

In 1815 Würfel went to Warsaw, where he soon became a favourite artist in the salon and the concert hall; that year he was appointed professor of organ and thoroughbass at the conservatory. In Warsaw he published some major didactic works for keyboard, including Euterpe: dziennik muzyczny na fortepiano (1818) and Zbiór exercycyi w kształcie preludyów ze wszystkich tibów maior i minor (1821), a set of exercises and preludes in all the major and minor keys; he also published a number of polonaises and other keyboard works. There was a colony of Czech musicians in Warsaw, including Živny (Żywny), Chopin’s first teacher. Würfel knew the Chopin family well and often worked with young Fryderyk, on whom he had a strong influence. In 1824 Würfel left Warsaw and returned to Prague where his first opera, Rübezahl, was presented at the Estates Theatre on 7 October. After the performance he worked as a conductor at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna until 1826 and wrote his second opera, Der Rotmantel. He continued to tour as a pianist until his death.


F. Zagiba: Chopin und Wien (Vienna, 1951)

G.S. Golos: ‘Some Slavic Predecessors of Chopin’, MQ, xlvi (1960), 437–47

S.V. Klima: ‘Jeden z pozapomenutych (Václav Vilém Würfel 1790–1832)’ [One of the forgotten], OM, ix (1977), 304–9


Würker, Johann.

See Wircker, Johann.


American firm of instrument makers and dealers of German origin.

1. History of the company.

(Franz) Rudolph Wurlitzer (b Schöneck, Saxony, 31 Jan 1831; d Cincinnati, 14 Jan 1914) came to the USA in 1853; he settled in Cincinnati and began dealing in musical instruments in addition to working in a local bank. It is likely that he was one of a long line of Saxon instrument makers, beginning with Heinrich Wurlitzer (1595–1656), a lute maker. By 1860 he had a thriving trade and is said to have been a leading supplier of military wind instruments and drums during the Civil War. In 1865 he opened a branch in Chicago and in 1872 joined his brother Anton to form the partnership of Rudolph Wurlitzer & Bro. On 25 March 1890 the firm was incorporated as the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company. Rudolph served as president of the corporation from 1890 to 1912 and as chairman from 1912 to 1914.

Rudolph’s eldest son Howard Eugene (b Cincinnati, 5 Sept 1871; d New York, 30 Oct 1928) joined the firm in 1889. He guided the general business management, aggressively involving the firm in the increasingly popular automatic instrument trade. Through the purchase of manufacturing operations of the DeKleist Musical Instrument Works in North Tonawanda, New York (1908), and of the Melville Clark Piano Co. in DeKalb, Illinois (1919), Howard established the company as a leading instrument manufacturer and dealer. He served as president from 1912 to 1927 and as chairman from 1927 to 1928.

The artistic development of the firm stemmed from the second son, Rudolph Henry Wurlitzer (b Cincinnati, 30 Dec 1873; d Cincinnati, 27 May 1948). In 1891 he went to Berlin, where he studied the violin with Emanuel Wirth (of the Joachim Quartet), the history of instruments with Oskar Fleischer and acoustics with Hermann von Helmholtz. From the violin expert August Riechers he acquired a basic knowledge of violins and violin making. Returning to Cincinnati in 1894 he joined the company as a director, and in addition to serving as treasurer and secretary (1899–1912), vice-president (1912–27), president (1927–32) and chairman (1932–42), he developed the violin department.

The third son, Farny Reginald Wurlitzer (b Cincinnati, 7 Dec 1883; d North Tonawanda, NY, 6 May 1972), provided technical and manufacturing expertise. After graduating from the Cincinnati Technical School, he went to Germany in 1901 to learn German and to serve apprenticeships with various manufacturers, including six months at Phillips & Söhne, makers of automatic pianos and orchestrions in Bockenheim, near Frankfurt. He returned to Cincinnati in 1904 to join the company, first as a sales representative, and in 1907 as head of the automatic musical instrument department. In 1909 he moved to North Tonawanda to take charge of the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company, formed after the purchase of the manufacturing operations of DeKleist, and in 1910 bought the Hope-Jones Organ Company of Elmira, New York. In 1933, also under Farny in North Tonawanda, the firm began to manufacture coin-operated phonographs. Farny was president of the corporation from 1932 to 1941, chairman from 1942 to 1966, and chairman emeritus from 1966 to 1972. In 1934 R.C. Rolfing joined the company as vice-president and general manager, and at the beginning of his presidency (1941–67) the offices moved from Cincinnati to Chicago; the corporate name was changed in 1957 to the Wurlitzer Company. In the 1980s the president of the company was George B. Howell, the chairman was A. Donald Arsen, and the corporate headquarters were in DeKalb, Illinois. The company split in the 1980s: the keyboard division was acquired in 1988 by Baldwin Pianos, who continue to use the Wurlitzer name for a range of upright and grand pianos.

The Wurlitzer Company had the knack of sensing the demands of the musical public. The emphasis was first on importing and selling: an advertisement of 1865 lists a wide variety of instruments and accessories for sale. The company commissioned drums during the Civil War and had pianos carrying the name of Wurlitzer made from 1880. When automated instruments became popular in the USA in the 1880s, Wurlitzer became leading sellers for the Regina Music Box Company, which in 1896 at the request of the Wurlitzers equipped their 27-inch disc-changer machines with coin slots. In 1899 they marketed the Wurlitzer Tonophone, an electrically powered piano fitted with a coin slot and a cylinder pinned with ten tunes. The success of this coin-operated piano led to the development of other coin-operated machines (among them the Pianino, Mandolin Quartette and Mandolin Sextette).

When silent films were introduced, Wurlitzer was ready by 1910 for theatre music with the introduction of the Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra, known as ‘the Mighty Wurlitzer’ theatre organ, fitted with brass trumpets, tubas, clarinets, oboes, chimes, xylophones, drums, and many other sounds and effects. For smaller theatres Wurlitzer Photoplayers were developed. In the late 1920s Wurlitzer developed coin-operated phonographs: first, in 1934, the P-10 jukebox, with ten selections, then a machine with 24 selections in 1946 (model 1015, ‘The Bubbler’), and by 1956 they had produced their Centennial model with 200 selections. (When they ceased production of jukeboxes in 1974, nearly 750,000 had been manufactured; in 1985 the Wurlitzer name was acquired by the Nelson Group of Companies, who have resumed the manufacture of jukeboxes under the marque.) In 1935 the company introduced a console upright spinet piano, just under 1 metre high, and in 1947, following trends in the musical instrument trade, they began to produce electronic instruments; the most important of these were electronic organs (see §3 below), but they also marketed ‘stringless’ electric pianos based on struck tuned reeds, originally designed by Benjamin F. Miessner (model EP–100, from 1954) and subsequently by Harald Bode (EP–200, from 1968); later they marketed digital electric pianos. In about 1960 they introduced the first commercial electronic drum machine, the Side Man (c1960).

The violin department became one of the world’s leading centres for rare string instruments. Begun by Rudolph Henry Wurlitzer after his training in Germany, by 1918 the violin collection included over 200 instruments with several by Stradivari and Guarneri. Jay C. Freeman joined the Wurlitzer branch in New York in 1920 to head the violin department. Under his leadership the firm bought in 1923 the Betts Stradivari of 1704 and in 1929 the important Rodman Wanamaker Collection. Rudolph Henry’s son Rembert Wurlitzer joined the department in 1930, and became a violin authority and a strong supporter of 20th-century American violin makers. In 1949 the violin department became independent of the parent company, and was directed by Rembert.

2. The Wurlitzer harp.

For many years Wurlitzer imported from Europe harps made by Erard, Erat, Dodd, Grosjean and others; the repair of these harps at the Cincinnati store indicated the need for a harp that could better withstand both the American climate and the demands of contemporary music. In 1909 the company began harp production at its Chicago factory, under the direction of Emil O. Starke, who had been for 20 years an associate of George B. Durkee at the Lyon & Healy harp factory. Like the Lyon & Healy harp, the new Wurlitzer harp was a far sturdier instrument than its European prototypes; its special features included body ribs of maple and a patented anchor and shoulder brace which minimized the need for frequent regulation of the harp action.

At the 1915 International Exposition in San Francisco the Wurlitzer harp was awarded a medal of excellence. Soon harpists and important conductors, including Walter Damrosch and Leopold Stokowski, endorsed the instrument. Alberto Salvi, the Italian-born virtuoso who acquired the medal-winning harp, stated that even after seven years of touring, playing 1000 solo concerts, neither travel nor climate changes damaged the harp. By 1924 Wurlitzer was advertising more than eight different styles of harp, from a 43-string instrument of ‘Grecian’ design to a ‘Grand Concert’ one of ‘Gothic’ design. The latter, Style DDX, was 182 cm high, weighed over 35 kg and had 47 strings ranging from C' to g''''. A 46-string version of Style DDX was also introduced.

In tone, craftsmanship, and appearance the Wurlitzer harp competed successfully for many years with the Lyon & Healy harp, and both instruments were generally preferred to their European counterparts because of their durable construction. Owing to economic conditions and changes within the parent company, Wurlitzer ceased harp production in the late 1930s, but harps with the mark ‘Starke Model’ engraved on the brass plate remain among the finest pedal harps ever made.

3. The Wurlitzer electronic organ.

The Wurlitzer Company began the manufacture of electronic organs in 1947 at its factory in North Tonawanda, New York. In 1946 Wurlitzer had taken over from the Everett Piano Co. the Orgatron (based on a patent by Miessner), in which the vibrations of reeds operated by suction were converted into voltage variations by means of electrostatic pickups and made audible through a loudspeaker; a modification of this principle was used in the first Wurlitzer electronic organ, which was marketed in 1947. Between 1959 and the mid-1960s these were phased out and all new models were fully electronic.

Most Wurlitzer electronic organs have two manuals and pedals, and are primarily for home use; an important group are the ‘spinet’ organs (introduced 1952) in which two manuals (each usually having 44 notes) are staggered, their ranges overlapping by one octave. Most models feature an additional Leslie tremultant loudspeaker. For some years, starting with the Model 4037 in 1971, all Wurlitzer organs, except the smaller ‘spinet’ models, included the Orbit III Synthesizer (not strictly a synthesizer, though it incorporates some synthesizer features) on a third, principally monophonic, manual with a compass of two octaves. During the early 1970s some models incorporated a cassette tape recorder. Advances in electronic technology from about 1970 made possible several new devices that are included in many home organs: rhythm and ‘walking bass’ units, arpeggiators, memories, and a choice of chord systems. Digital electronics were introduced in 1980, permitting among other things the storage of different registrations in a memory.


A. Dolge: Pianos and their Makers, i (Covina, CA, 1911/R), 209ff

The Wurlitzer Harp Catalogue (Chicago, 1924)

J.H. Fairfield: Known Violin Makers (New York, 1942, 5/1988)

R.L. Eby: Electronic Organs: a Complete Catalogue, Textbook and Manual (Wheaton, IL, 1953), 159–80

J.H. Fairfield: Wurlitzer World of Music: 100 Years of Musical Achievement (Chicago, 1956)

R.H. Dorf: Electronic Musical Instruments (New York, 2/1958), 128–41

H.E. Anderson: Electronic Organ Handbook (Indianapolis, IN, 1960), 239–50

Q.D. Bowers: Put another Nickel in: a History of Coin-Operated Pianos and Orchestrions (New York, 1966), 71ff

A. Douglas: The Electronic Musical Instrument Manual: a Guide to Theory and Design (London, 5/1968), 278–87

R. Rensch: The Harp, its History, Technique and Repertoire (New York and London, 1969)

N.H. Crowhurst: Electronic Organs, iii (Indianapolis, IN, 3/1975), 105–21

T. Rhea: ‘B.F. Miessner's “Stringless Piano”’, Contemporary Keyboard, iv/4 (1978), 62 only; repr. in The Art of Electronic Music, ed. T. Darter and G. Armbruster (New York, 1984), 21–2

J.W. Landon: Behold the Mighty Wurlitzer: the History of the Theatre Pipe Organ (Westport, CT, 1983)

R. Rensch: Harps and Harpists (London and Bloomington, IN, 1989)

B. Carson: ‘A Parade of Exotic Electric Pianos and Fellow Travellers’, Keyboard, xix/12 (1993), 147–9, 154–6


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