The idea is simple enough. Create a piano with 6-8 cages, add cats. Play piano, listen to cats yowl as sharp spikes are driven into the captives’ tails. Attention deficit disorder is now cured. At least that is how it could be understood in present times.
The Cat Piano is said to have originally been developed by German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher in 1650. The piano was designed by Kircher to cure the prince of his melancholy. Who wouldn’t be cured after listening to several cats yowl in pain? However, there is also record of another man developing the Katzenklavier and for a similar reason.
The Katzenklavier was developed by German physician Johann Christian Reil. Johann was the first to use the term psychiatrist, and description of his invention was documented in a book on the treatment and prescriptions of insanity. The Katzenklavier was to focus the patient’s attention to the current on-goings of the world. It was believed that one note from this piano would snap them back to attention.
The purpose of this device seems to be quite similar to the one that Kircher proposed. Whether Johann learned of Kircher’s description of his device earlier or devised it on his own is unknown. The cat piano however was only an idea that was never executed.