Wolfgang von Kempelen

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Self-portrait Kempelen (charcoal drawing with signature)

Wolfgang von Kempelen ( Hungarian Kempelen Farkas , Slovak Ján Vlk Kempelen ; born January 23, 1734 in Pressburg ; † March 26, 1804 in Alservorstadt , today Vienna ) was an inventor, architect and civil servant in the Kingdom of Hungary and the Archduchy of Austria .


Wolfgang von Kempelen came from a respected German-speaking family, presumably of Irish origin, and was the youngest son of the court chamber councilor Engelbert (von) Kemp (e) len, who was ennobled in 1722, and the brother of Major General Johann Nepomuk von Kempelen , with whom he is frequently confused or with in biographical terms is equated with him (see, for example, the entry in ADB.) For example, the name suffix de / von Pázmánd and the rank of knight of the St. Stephan Order are exclusively Johann Nepomuk and not Wolfgang von Kempelen. The designation as a baron is also based on a mistake, Engelbert K. was merely elevated to the post office.

Kempelen attended the grammar school in Pressburg (today: Bratislava ). He is then said to have studied philosophy and law in Vienna , but there is no evidence of matriculation there. However, a visit to the academy in Raab ( Győr ), where the students were specifically prepared for a career as a civil servant, is likely . Kempelen mastered the languages ​​German, Hungarian, French, Italian and Latin, later he probably also learned English for his travels with the Chess Turk in the 1780s. From today's point of view, the question of his nationality is controversial: Posthumous authors claim that Kempelen is Austrian, Hungarian or Slovak nationality, and is sometimes even referred to as German. Nothing is known about his own perspective on this.

After extensive travels in Italy, he became a member of a commission that translated the Codex Theresianus , the Latin draft of a civil code under Maria Theresa , into German (according to other sources, into Hungarian). Through this work he recommended himself to the empress, who promoted him to concipist of the Hungarian court chamber and a few years later to court chamber councilor. In 1765 he was appointed commissioner for the salt industry and settlement system in the Banat , in 1766 commissioner for the safety of the salt mines in Hungary and in 1767 commissioner for the repopulation of the Banat.

In the latter function, he played an essential role in organizing the settlement and infrastructure of the Banat, which was devastated by the war and natural disasters. He was responsible for the settlement of around 37,000 families, participated in the design of suitable residential buildings for the settlers, introduced the cultivation of flax and built a silk factory. In the area around Temeschburg in the Banat , he had swamps drained, roads restored and schools built, and he introduced compulsory schooling. In recognition of this activity, the Empress provided him with an annual annuity of 1000 guilders in 1771, which was later withdrawn by her son Joseph II as part of the general suspension of perks for civil servants.

In 1776 he convinced the court of the need to move the University of Tyrnau from its insufficient building to more suitable premises at the University of Buda in the Buda Castle . He was personally entrusted with the management of the move and was particularly responsible for the transfer of the university library.

1786 he became a Councilor in the United Transylvanian Hungarian Court Chancellery appointed. In 1798 he retired while retaining his full salary of 5,000 guilders. The repeatedly rumored loss of this income is incorrect, as is the claim that Kempelen was impoverished and forgotten when he died.

Kempelen was married twice; his second marriage, which he entered into in 1762, had five children, only two of whom reached adulthood.


The chess Turk

The chess Turk

Kempelen became known throughout Europe for the construction of his so- called chess Turk (see also chess computer ), an apparent chess machine, in which, however, a human chess player hidden in the device actually controlled the chess moves of a Turkish-clad doll with the help of an artful mechanism.

In 1769, at the invitation of Maria Theresa, Kempelen attended a demonstration of magnetic experiments with which the French Jean Pelletier performed at the Viennese court. According to legend, Kempelen made derogatory comments about this demonstration and announced that he would be able to design a much better machine within six months. At a later time, which is not precisely documented, he actually demonstrated his mechanical chess player to the Empress in Vienna.

The chess Turk quickly caused a stir across Europe, which was reflected in lively reporting. Kempelen then took him on a two-year trip to German and European cities in 1783/84. After his death in 1804, it was purchased by Johann Nepomuk Mälzel along with other items from Kempelen's estate and presented again worldwide in 1824, around twenty years after the death of its inventor. The machine later came to the USA through Mälzel, where it burned in a fire in Peale's Museum in Philadelphia in 1854.

According to one of the various etymologies for the expression “ faked ” (falsified, pretended), this should be derived from Kempelen's Chess Turks. It should be noted, however, that the identification of the chess Turk with an android was never carried out by Kempelen himself, but rather arose from the sensation-hungry reporting (as well as later the outrage over the alleged fraud).

The talking machine

While the Chess Turk was an invention primarily intended for entertainment purposes, Kempelen's speaking machine for producing human speech sounds is also an important achievement in terms of the history of science. Last but not least, it is the first basically functional construction for speech synthesis at all.

From 1769 at the latest, Kempelen began his first investigations with various musical instruments in order to reproduce the human voice or its production as faithfully as possible through artificial articulation processes. Double reed instruments appeared to him to be particularly predestined for this , due to a certain analogy between the double reed and the human vocal folds . In the following years he supplemented his mechanical observations with a thorough autodidactic analysis of human language and articulation processes . In 1791 he published the results of his research, in which he was able to fall back on the preparatory work by Albrecht von Haller , Denis Dordat and Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein , in his work Wolfgang von Kempelen kk real Hofrath's Mechanism of Human Language and a description of his speaking machine .

While in 1773 Kratzenstein presented five resounding reed pipes equipped with special resonators , with which only one particular monophthong (namely A, E, i, O, U) could be produced, Kempelen gained the insight that natural sounding language cannot be produced with such means because the articulation of every speech sound is almost always influenced by the speech sounds surrounding it ( coarticulation ). If this phenomenon is not taken into account in a speech synthesis, this greatly affects both its intelligibility and the authenticity of the synthesis. Therefore, Kempelen constructed his speaking machine largely based on the human speaking apparatus. The inertia and variation in articulation that are inevitably caused by manual operation intensify this effect. The scientific study of coarticulation was not taken up again until the 20th century.

The functioning of the speaking machine (depending on the source also: speech machine or speaking machine ) was based on the concept of a realistic reproduction of the human speech organs . The lungs are simulated by a bellows, the function of the vocal cords by a reed made of ivory Single reed of a bagpipe or bagpipe was used for initial experiments, the nose is simulated by a nasal tract with two nostrils and the mouth by a rubber funnel. However, this rubber funnel is completely empty, so it has no representations for the tongue, teeth, lips or soft palate. By changing the cover of the rubber funnel with your hand, you can create a few different vowels as well as certain consonants . The nasal tubes are always closed with the fingers, except when nasals or nasal vowels are to be produced.

Reconstruction of the speaking machine at Saarland University in Saarbrücken

The objectively rather mediocre articulation quality and accuracy of his synthesis, which resulted not least from the lack of almost all articulation points and articulators (see above) and the associated lack of modulation ability of the formants , Kempelen knew how to conceal the voice of a small child who for their part also have difficulties with the exact articulation processes. In fact, in impressive quality can be displayed only the vowels [⁠ a ⁠] , [⁠ ɛ ⁠] , [⁠ ɔ ⁠] and with some restrictions [⁠ ʊ ⁠] and the consonants [⁠ p ⁠] or [⁠ b ⁠] , [⁠ m ⁠] and [⁠ l ⁠] .

The original of the speaking machine , on which the description in his book published in 1791 is presumably based, is considered lost. In any case, it is questionable whether the speaking machine, as it is described in the mechanism of human language ... , ever existed: A description and drawing of the speaking machine made in Leipzig in 1784 (well before the mechanism was published ) with Kempelen's collaboration shows this with a much more complex structure than described in the book, which also enables some functions that cannot be represented with the book version (e.g. changing the pitch during operation). It is therefore possible that the representation in the mechanism is an idealized version.

A version of the speaking machine (sometimes referred to as a copy of Charles Wheatstone's replica) that was sent to the Deutsches Museum in Munich (DMM) by the Imperial and Royal Vienna Conservatory under circumstances that have not yet been fully clarified , also has a significantly more complex technical structure, which in some aspects rather the version from 1784 is similar to that from the mechanism . Many structural details are designed in a significantly different way from what Kempelen himself described (for example the construction of the reed whistle and the fricative generators).

Where and from whose hand the specimen in the Deutsches Museum originally came is not yet completely clear. Several experts, including Prof. Bernd Pompino-Marschall ( HU Berlin ), suspected that the parts exhibited in Munich did not originally belong together, but consisted of a relatively old torso with newer additions. This thesis was initially supported by Fabian Brackhane, who was able to examine and measure the specimen in detail in 2008: While the wind chest together with the whistle as well as the mouth and nose seem to be quite old and (not least because of the manufacturing techniques used) very close to Kempelen The outer resonance box, the base plate and the bellows are apparently more recent. Later, clearly visible changes and additions were made to the wind chest and its technology.

Current studies (2015f.), However, suggest a different finding: after intensive source research and examinations with modern imaging processes by the DMM, the evidence is growing that the specimen there is actually a construction made by Kempelen's own hand. The components, which initially appear to be much younger, also have features that make them part of the original inventory. An extensive publication on this is in preparation.

The often-to-read statement, this Munich version is the but talking machine Kempelen is fundamentally implausible: It is very doubtful that Kempelen always worked only with a copy of its synthesis machine. Rather, as his statements in the mechanism suggest, he may have experimented with several versions in parallel. The Munich apparatus has not been functional for many years.

Immediately after the appearance of Kempelen's mechanism , the first replicas of his speaking machine were made; Goethe already reported one of these. Another was created in the 1830s by the British physicist Charles Wheatstone. A number of replicas of the speaking machine have recently been made: In addition to an artistically free replica by Jakob Scheid at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna from 2004 a. a. three copies, each strictly based on Kempelen's specifications, in Paris (Jean-Sylvain Liénard, Laboratoire d'Informatique pour la Mécanique et les Sciences de l'Ingénieur, 1968) and at the universities of Budapest (Péter Nikléczy and Gábor Olaszy 2001) and Saarbrücken ( Chair for Phonetics and Phonology; Fabian Brackhane and Dominik Bauer 2007-09). Further replicas exist in York (David Howard 1993), Utrecht (Marcel van den Broeke 1967) and Montluçon (Jean Jeltsch 2008), in the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum Paderborn and in the Historical Acoustic-Phonetic Collection (HAPS) of the TU Dresden (both Fabian Brackhane 2009) and at the Leibniz Institute for the German Language Mannheim (Fabian Brackhane 2017).

Tools for teaching the blind

In 1778, Kempelen was introduced to Maria Theresia Paradis , who was a gifted singer, composer and pianist but remained illiterate because of her blindness . At the request of the Empress, Kempelen invented a three-dimensional palpable type set as an aid and taught the blind man to read and write. In 1779 he built a printing machine with movable type and a type case for her, for which she thanked him profusely on August 16, 1779 in a letter written with this machine.

Buildings and mechanical works

Partly as part of his administration, partly out of private inclination or at the personal request of members of the court, Kempelen accomplished numerous achievements in the field of architecture and mechanics:

  • 1770 Design of a pontoon bridge over the Danube near Pressburg
  • 1772 Design of the self-regulating water pump for the fountain and the cascades in Schönbrunn Palace Park
  • 1774 Invention of a mobile bed in which the Empress could lie, sit, write and go about her government business while recovering from smallpox
  • 1777 and 1780 construction of two steam engines , the first of which was installed near the Wiener Stubentor and was later used for the construction of the Franz Canal
  • 1788 or 1789 Receipt of an imperial patent for the design of a steam turbine for the operation of mills and other machines
  • Participation in the reconstruction of the Buda Castle and planning of the Castle Theater, which was inaugurated on October 25, 1790

Artistic and literary work

Kempelen was a talented draftsman and eraser . He wrote epigrams , poems, dramas and singing games , for which he composed the music himself. His comedy The Magic Book was performed in Pressburg in 1767, his Singspiel Andromeda and Perseus was published in Vienna in 1780 and was performed publicly there in 1781. From 1789 he was an honorary member of the Vienna Academy of the Arts .


In 1935 the Kempelengasse in Vienna- Favoriten was named after the inventor.

On the occasion of Kempelen's 200th anniversary of death, there were several attempts to recreate his famous machines. The Viennese artist Jakob Scheid created a replica of the speaking machine that follows Kempelen's instructions using modern materials and can actually utter verbal sounds. Parts of the Chess Turk were also recreated by Scheid (both in Felderer / Strouhal 2004). A complete replica of the Chess Turk was made by the Heinz Nixdorf Museum Forum in Paderborn . There are now several replicas of Kempelen's speaking machine which, in contrast to Scheid's work, are closely based on the construction described in the mechanism (see above under 'The speaking machine').

Kempelen's importance as an innovative inventor has recently been recognized. In 2007 exhibitions in Budapest and Karlsruhe reflected the topic of Wolfgang von Kempelen - man - (in) the machine . From a modern point of view, Kempelen appears as a “prototype of the pragmatic genius in the age of invention”.



Contemporary sources:

  • Wolfgang von Kempelen: Wolfgang von Kempelen kk the real Hofraths mechanism of human language together with the description of his speaking machine . Degen, Vienna 1791 ( digitized version and full text in the German text archive ), (digital version) (PDF; 123 MB), facsimile edition Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt 1970; simultaneous French edition: Le Mécanisme de la parole, suivi de la déscription d'une machine parlante et enrichi de XXVII planches. Bauer, Vienna 1791
  • Wolfgang von Kempelen: The Mechanism of Human Language. / The Mechanism of Human Speech. : Commented Transliteration & Translation into English. Edited by Fabian Brackhane, Richard Sproat & Jürgen Trouvain; Dresden 2017 ( online version ).
  • Wolfgang von Kempelen: Wolfgang von Kempelen kk the real Hofrath's mechanism of human language together with the description of his speaking machine , 5th department - From the language machine '. - Transliterated and annotated version
  • Anonymous review of the two editions of Kempelen's writing, in: Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung , August 3, 1792, Sp. 297-300 ( online version )
  • Constantin von Wurzbach : Kempelen, Wolfgang Ritter von . In: Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich . 11th part. Kaiserlich-Königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Vienna 1864, pp. 158–163 ( digitized version ).
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von: Goethe's works , published on behalf of Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxony, IV. Department, Volume 12, Weimar 1893
  • Hindenburg, Carl F .: About the chess player of Herr von Kempelen . Müller, Leipzig 1784
  • Joseph Friedrich von Racknitz: About the chess player of Mr. von Kempelen and his replica . Joh. Gottl. Immanuel Breitkopf, Leipzig and Dresden 1789.
  • Karl Gottlieb von Windisch : Letters about the chess player of Mr. von Kempelen along with three copperplate engravings that introduce this famous machine , ed. From Mechel, Pressburg, 1783

Recent research literature:

  • W. Paul AurichKempelen de Pázmánd, Wolfgang Ritter von . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 53, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1907, p. 766 f.
  • Fabian Brackhane: Wolfgang von Kempelen's speaking machine - From the originals to the replicas , in: Phonus 16 (= research reports from the Institute for Phonetics of the Saarland University), Saarland University, Saarbrücken 2011.
  • Fabian Brackhane: "Can anything sound more natural than Vox humana?" - A contribution to the history of the mechanical speech synthesis Phonus 18 (= research reports of the Institute for Phonetics of the University of Saarland), dissertation, University of Saarland, Saarbrücken 2015.
  • H. Dudley & TH Tarnoczy. The Speaking Machine of Wolfgang von Kempelen. In: The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 22 (2). 1950. pp. 151-166.
  • Marion Faber (Ed.): The chess machine of the Baron von Kempelen . Harenberg, Dortmund 1983, ISBN 3-88379-367-1
  • Brigitte Felderer, Ernst Strouhal: Kempelen - two machines. Texts, images and models of the speaking machine and the chess-playing android Wolfgang von Kempelens . Special number, Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-85449-209-X
  • Hans Grassegger: Von Kempelen and the Physiology of Speech Production. In: Grazer Linguistische Studien 62 (2004), pp. 37–49 ( PDF )
  • Angéla Imre: On the personality of Wolfgang von Kempelen . In: Grazer Linguistische Studien 62 (2004), pp. 61–64 ( PDF )
  • Hans Jaeger:  Kempelen de Pázmánd, Wolfgang Ritter von. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 11, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1977, ISBN 3-428-00192-3 , p. 484 ( digitized version ).
  • J.-S. Liénard: Reconstruction de la machine parlante de Kempelen. In: Proceedings of the 4th International Congress of Acoustics, Budapest 1967
  • Péter Nikléczy / Gábor Olaszy: Kempelen's speaking machine from 1791: possibilities and limitations. (Recovering a 200 year-old technology). In: Grazer Linguistische Studien 62 (2004), pp. 111–120 ( PDF )
  • Bernd Pompino-Marschall: Von Kempelen's contribution to the theory of acoustic articulation. In: Grazer Linguistische Studien 64 (2004), pp. 137–147 ( PDF )
  • Bernd Pompino-Marschall: Wolfgang von Kempelen and his speaking machines. In: Research reports of the Institute for Phonetics and Linguistic Communication of the University of Munich 29 (1991), pp. 181–252
  • A. Reininger: Wolfgang von Kempelen. A biography . Dissertation, University of Applied Arts, Vienna 2003
  • T. Standage: The Turk - The story of the first chess machine and its adventurous journey around the world. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2004
  • Wheatstone, Sir Charles: Reed organ-pipes, speaking machines, etc. , in: The scientific papers of Sir Charles Wheatstone; published by the Physical Society of London, London 1879

Biographical essay:

  • Theodor Heuss : The artificial human. The life of Wolfgang von Kempelen , in: Ders .: Shadow conjuring. Figures on the margins of history. Wunderlich, Stuttgart / Tübingen 1947; Klöpfer and Meyer, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-931402-52-5


Web links

Commons : Wolfgang von Kempelen  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Wolfgang von Kempelen  - Sources and full texts
Wikisource: General German Biography  - Entry Johann Wolfgang von Kempelen

Individual evidence

  1. Alice Reiniger: Wolfgang von Kempelen - A Biography , p. 25
  2. Alice Reiniger: Wolfgang von Kempelen - A Biography , p. 28
  3. Wolfgang von Kempelen kk the real Hofrath's mechanism of human language along with the description of his speaking machine . Vienna, 1791. [Knew about the reeds in organs:] Page 391, “I also knew that, for a long time, especially in France, the so-called human voice, which consists of such large and small clarinet mouthpieces, has been in organs attached; but since these imitate the human voice only very imperfectly, and therefore cause a deafening noise, I found them unsuitable for my project. "[Main knowledge, not the pitch, but the formation is important:] Page 397 398," This all together taken, the language or articulation is nothing more than voice passing through various openings. This sentence was confirmed more and more every day through experiments and discoveries and grew with me to the point of mathematical certainty. "Page 402, (*) [Characteristics of the reeds:]" Both how to tune the pipes and how to get rid of their rough tone, will be shown below. ”Page 412,“ To take away the roughness and wooden creaking of these tuning tubes, but to give them a softer and more pleasant tone, I put on the edges of the groove, as well as the ivory leaf, or the tongue the lower side with a thin, soft glove leather. A piece of leather is glued on with fine glue without much ado, but in such a way that the smooth side of the leather comes out, then the protruding part is cut away exactly at the edge of the ivory. " [1]
  4. page 392,394, single reed of a bagpipe or bagpipe was used for first experiments. [2]
  5. Fabian Brackhane: Wolfgang von Kempelen's speaking machine - historical context, construction and performance . (Master's thesis), Saarbrücken 2009
  6. Fabian Brackhane: 'Can anything sound more natural than Vox humana?' - A contribution to the history of mechanical speech synthesis . Dissertation. Saarbrücken: Inst. For Phonetics, Univ. des Saarlandes, 2015. (Phonus 18), p. 68 f.
  7. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Goethe's Works , published on behalf of Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxony, IV. Department, Volume 12, Weimar 1893, p. 154
  8. ^ Sir Charles Wheatstone: Reed organ-pipes, speaking machines, etc. In: The scientific papers of Sir Charles Wheatstone ; published by the Physical Society of London, Lonson 1879
  9. ^ Brigitte Felderer, Ernst Strouhal: Kempelen - Zwei Maschinen , Vienna 2004
  10. Jean-Silvain Lienard: Reconstruction de la machine parlante de Kempelen . In: IV. Budapest Akusztikal Konferencia, Budapest 1969
  11. Péter Nicklécyz, Gábor Olaszy: A reconstruction of Farkas Kempelen's speaking machine . In: Eurospeech 2003 - Geneva
  12. Fabian Brackhane: Wolfgang von Kempelen's speaking machine - historical context, construction and performance . (Master's thesis), Saarbrücken 2009
  13. Marcel van den Broeke: Wolfgang von Kempelen's Speaking Machine as a Performer . In: Studies for Antonie Cohen, Foris Publications Dordrecht
  14. Oliver Junge: Knight and jet drive go together . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , July 25, 2007.