History of Electroacoustic Music
Thus it was not based on creating timbres out of sine waves (additive synthesis, as was employed by the Telharmonium). Rather than build complex timbres from sine tones, the Trautonium started with a complex wave and filtered it -- a methodology now known as subtractive synthesis. The filters were called tone-formers, based conceptually on the formants that characterize acoustic instruments. The performer could establish formants in different key regions, creating a tone color that varied with tessitura (pitch range). A wire was pressed at some point along its length to create a pitch. A floor pedal controlled volume. Like the theremin and the ondes martenot, the instrument was monophonic -- meaning it could only produce one pitch at a time.
The instrument was popular in the 1930s. It was able to change pitch continuously, like a string instrument. The ability to change tone color with pitch range was also a fascination. Among the composers who wrote for it were Hindemith, Richard Strauss, and Paul Dessau. The instrument was marketed by Telefunken in 1932, making it the first mass-produced electronic instrument in Europe. It was not a commercial success, and was discontinued it in 1935. The instrument may have been just a momentary fad had it not been for the efforts of Hindemith's student, Oskar Skala (1910-2002), who adopted it as his main instrument and continued to work with it, developing improved versions of it over the years.