The Squealing Pig Organ Of King Louis XI

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” —Victor Hugo

In A Nutshell

According to Nathaniel Wanley, author of The Wonders of the Little World (1678), on the order of King Louis XI, one of the world’s more sadistic and weird musical instruments was created. The pig organ, invented by the Abbot of Baigné, created tunes by poking pigs in the rump to make them squeal. Reportedly, the “concert” made the king smile.

The Whole Bushel

The story goes that one day while walking through 15th-century Paris, King Louis XI had his progress interrupted by a herd of pigs roaming the street. The king made a sarcastic comment to the Abbot of Baigné about the musicality of the pigs’ noises, comparing them to birdsong, which the abbot—an amateur inventor—took as a challenge.

He had a construction made containing velvet-covered cages to hold the pigs in order from shoats to full grown boars. An organ keyboard was attached to an apparatus that would prick the pigs’ rumps with metal spikes when keys were depressed. The pigs’ grunting and squealing in pain and fear comprised the “music.” The king and the royal court were impressed, probably more by the abbot’s ingenuity than the concert itself.

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The idea of combining pigs and musical instruments made a reappearance in Cincinnati, Ohio with the invention of the Porco-Forte in 1839. A similar keyboard arrangement caused the pigs’ tails to be pinched, producing a “delightful” effect.

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