The metronome was foreshadowed in the 1580s when Galileo Galilei observed that pendulums are roughly isochronous, which means that the duration of their swing will be the same in pendulums of similar length. This made pendulums useful components for timekeeping pieces such as the clock built by Christiaan Huyghens in 1657. By the end of the 17th century, Etienne Loulie was applying pendulum technology to a metronome, but it was not perfected until 1814 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel of Amsterdam. Thought widely credited with inventing the metronome as we know it today, the device was actually patented in 1815 by Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, who was living in Paris at the time. In Europe, Maelzel was better known as the inventor of the panharmonicon, a forerunner to the orchestrion, and he was a colleague and friend of Ludwig van Beethoven, so his interest in a machine such as a metronome was understandable.

Beethoven, however, would eventually reject the metronome for the composition and performance of his music, saying “Those who have a right feeling do not need it, and those who have not, will not be helped by it.” In fact, by the end of the 19th century, the backlash against the metronome was in full swing, with the machine decried by musicians as an inhuman interference on the creative impulse. Others, though, saw a market for the device. In particular, American clockmaker Seth Thomas made its Metronome de Maelzel, as did a French manufacturer named Paquet, which also used the Maelzel name in its product.


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