Skip to main content

Katzenklavier: Everything you wanted to know about cat pianos



From hideous weapons of war to outrageously bizarre fashion trends, the mind of man has shown its capability for madness in staggering ways- even when it comes to the design of musical instruments.

One such instrument is the katzenklavier, a cat piano reportedly designed in the 17th century by German Jesuit priest and scholar Athanasius Kircher (though some scholars insist that Kircher only described the instrument, and did not invent it).  Kircher's mad contraption featured a menagerie of cats, arranged in order by the pitch of their meows and tethered to a keyboard by their tails.  By striking a piano key, a sharpened nail would poke the unfortunate feline, producing a sweet melodic note that would make the Marquis de Sade proud.  We're pretty sure Athanasius Kircher was not a member of PETA, by the way.

While not many (if any) katzenklaviers were actually manufactured, the bizarre instrument was held in high regard by many psychiatrists right up until the 19th century.  One such psychiatrist, Johann Christian Reil, published an 1803 manual on the treatment of psychiatric disorders.  In his manual, Reil suggested that the behaviors of psychiatric patients might be changed if they were forced to attend a katzenklavier concert.   This recommendation, naturally, coincided with Reil's highly-regarded opinion that the best way to treat chronic depression was to have the patient visit an African village brimming with pestilence, and saying, "See? You don't have it so bad, so shut your damn pie-hole and stop crying like a baby."  At least we think that's what Reil said; much of his writing has been lost in translation.

Dr. Johann Christian Reil


As strange as some of his treatment methods may have been, Reil is still regarded as the father of modern psychiatry.  It was Reil, in fact, who coined the term "psychiatry" in 1808.  Two years later, Riel was appointed professor of medicine at a university in Berlin, and went on to make a name for himself as one of the leading medical men of Europe.

The purported inventor of the cat piano, Athanasius Kircher, also attained high acclaim as a scholar, in spite of his odd ideas.  In a biography of Kircher written in 2012 by John Glassie, the author writes that while "many of Kircher's actual ideas today seem wildly off-base, if not simply bizarre," Kircher was a "champion of wonder, a man of awe-inspiring erudition and inventiveness."

Popular posts from this blog

Jenny Hanivers, Mermaids, Devil Fish, and Sea Monks

Three centuries before P.T. Barnum attracted flocks of crowds with his mummified Fiji Mermaid (which turned out to be a papier-mâché creation featuring a monkey's head and a fish's body), sailors around the world had already began manufacturing "mermaids".  Known as Jenny Hanivers, these creations were often sold to tourists and provided sailors with an additional source of income.  These mummified creatures were produced by drying, carving, and then varnishing the carcasses of fish belonging to the order rajiformes- a group of flattened cartilaginous fish related to the shark which includes stingrays and skates.  These preserved carcasses can be made to resemble mermaids, dragons, angels, demons, and other mythical creatures.


Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling the novelties to tourists.  This practice was so common  in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed …

The Roberto Clemente death conspiracy

Was the Hall of Fame baseball star assassinated by the CIA?



From the Sandy Hook school shooting to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, it seems that every tragedy in recent times is accompanied by a slew of conspiracy theories. Yet history is filled with events that would be enshrouded in conspiracy theories if they happened today. One such event is the plane crash that killed baseball Hall-of-Famer and Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente on December 31, 1972.

Most of us are familiar with the story: Clemente, playing the role of humanitarian, decides to accompany a flight of emergency aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua, after the victims claim that the corrupt military dictator, Anastasio Somoza, was preventing the much-needed emergency supplies from getting into the hands of earthquake survivors. The rickety plane goes down off the coast of  Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, immediately after takeoff. Strangely, Clemente's body is never found.

This story has all t…

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his br…