Oswald Michaud | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Oswald Michaud

Oswald Michaud. Acoustician, pianist, inventor, b Verner, near North Bay, Ont, 18 Jul 1891, d Montreal 24 Aug 1966.

Michaud, Oswald

Oswald Michaud. Acoustician, pianist, inventor, b Verner, near North Bay, Ont, 18 Jul 1891, d Montreal 24 Aug 1966. At 18 he went to work for a piano manufacturer in Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, near Montreal, and learned piano technology and tuning; in 1910 he obtained a diploma as a piano tuner/technician in Battle Creek, Mich. At the same time he took private courses in piano, harmony, electronics, and industrial chemistry. He began practising his trade as a tuner at McGill University in 1911. Sometime later he joined the teaching staff at the Conservatoire national of Montreal and there taught acoustics and was an examiner for 25 years. He also played the piano for silent movies ca 1911-22. In partnership with Euclide and Jérémie David, he founded the piano manufacturing firm David & Michaud and was its secretary-treasurer in 1922. He was the regular tuner for the Montreal studios of the CRBC (later the CBC) from its creation until the late 1950s.

In 1937 Michaud developed an electric piano, which he named the Sonobel. Having removed the soundboard from an upright piano, he thought of attaching a small electromagnet to each of the 88 strings, linking these in turn to an amplifier connected to one or several loudspeakers. While the natural timbre of the instrument was preserved, each string could resonate fully. Since a pedal allowed the sound to be increased or diminished, a considerable variety of expression was possible. According to the inventor, 'it gives a whole new colour to the sound texture - powerful bass notes, and crystal clear high notes - and is suitable for the whole range of piano literature, early, classical, or modern' (Montreal Petit Journal, 20 May 1951).

In 1939 Paul de Marky played the Sonobel on the CBC and in Charlottetown at an official reception for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Paul Doyon, Alfred La Liberté, and the famous pianist Egon Petri performed on the instrument. In a letter to Michaud dated 16 Jan 1941, Petri praised his 'extraordinary Sonobel piano' and spoke of it as 'a wonderful invention in which pianists will take delight.' Because of the scarcity of materials during World War II the invention could not be exploited commercially. Michaud had to be satisfied with making a second prototype, which he installed in a CBC studio in the early 1950s.

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