The legend of the cat organ, a terrible instrument of torture with a vocation for psychiatric therapy?

This is a story that should not be taken lightly. The one on the cat organ (or piano) can make your hair stand on end and shiver. This strange and terrible instrument of feline torture, invented in the 16th century, would have made it possible to treat patients with dementia. But did it really exist or is it (as expected) an urban legend? We tell you more about the history of the cat organ.

Let animal lovers (and cats in particular) be warned, the following guidelines may affect your sensibility. The cat organ, as described in various works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, presented itself as a succession of small boxes in which poor cats are enclosed. Each box – and each cat – was lined up according to the feline’s tessitura. To complete the instrument of torture, the cats’ tails were stuck under a touch of the organ or piano corresponding to the feline’s tessitura.

The sequel is easy to guess. When the pianist plays the instrument, press and hold, when you are in the conversation queue, you can then make a douloureux meow. Other sources even mention a needle that, attached to the piano’s touch, would sting the cat’s tail.

The invention of this instrument dates back to the middle of the 16th century and was first used in Brussels, when a procession was given on the eighth day of the Ascension in honor of a miraculous image from. Virgin, attended by Charles V and son of Philip II. According to Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin, who tells this story in his New Musicianthe sight of this singular and no less cruel instrument, would have ridiculed Prince Philip II, who was not in the habit of sporting a jovial air.

The first illustration of a chat organ was found in a late 16th century manuscript, l ‘Emblemata saecularia: mira et iucunda varietate saeculi huius mores ita exprimentia ut sodalitatum symbolis written by Jean Théodore de Bry, copper engraver and German publisher.

Another element that contributed to the legend of this instrument of torture is that a suffering Italian prince was miraculously healed at the sight of this terrible spectacle of the cat organ. This “therapeutic” dimension gained momentum in the 19th century, with the theorist Johann Christian Reil, who used the cat organ in one of his psychology treatises to treat patients with mental disorders.

However, if one finds the evocation of this cat organ in various works, there is no tangible evidence that such an instrument was ever built and used – and one wants to cling to that idea. .

A legend that recently inspired the short film The cat’s pianoby Ari Gibson and Eddie White, released in 2009. Animated film plunges us into a city full of cat musicians and singers, threatened by a dark character who removes cats to create this famous “cat piano” and composer a symphony of meows of cats.

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