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The Pianola Journal - Volume 13, 2000.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 13, 2000

  • Editorial
  • Application of Mechatronics and Image Analysis Techniques to the Archiving of Piano Rolls: Arthur Jones, Dan Austin, Andrew Coffin and John Kennedy
  • Ernst Munck - Piano Manufacturers by Appointment to the Court of Gotha: Manfred Schöler (translated by Rex Lawson)
  • A Pianola for a Musician, and a Camera for an Artist: Frederick H. Evans
  • Robert Casadeus (and Ravel) and the Duo-Art - a postscript: Denis Hall
  • Review:
    Claude Debussy, the Composer as Pianist: all his known recordings, the Caswell Collections, vol. 1; Pierian Recording Society, Pierian 0001: Roy Howat


Application of Mechatronics and Image Analysis Techniques to the Archiving of Piano Rolls: Arthur Jones, Dan Austin, Andrew Coffin and John Kennedy

The close parallels between reproducing piano technology of nearly a century ago and today's application of information technology to self-playing musical instruments (notably the sequencing of synthesisers etc via MIDI techniques) are well known, and the technology has come full circle with computers having been used to control roll perforation equipment for many years now. However, despite numerous successful examples of the application of computer-related engineering technology (mechatronics) to mechanical music, not all the possibilities have been explored. One of the challenges facing the world of reproducing piano conservation is the production of accurate copies of original rolls; this task is made much easier where original equipment and master rolls exist (as in the case, for example, of the Keystone's original Ampico perforators and masters); where neither equipment nor masters exist, the challenges are clearly much greater. However worthy the objectives, there is little commercial incentive to develop the techniques and equipment required and roll manufacture has often become a sideline to other operations such as instrument manufacture or restoration. The possibilities for roll manufacture presented by new technologies are nonetheless well worth exploring even though the resources for formal research projects or commercial development are rarely available. This article introduces a number of educational projects which have used the archiving and copying of piano rolls as a vehicle for studying echatronics and digital imaging within the context of a Mechanical Engineering course at the University of Nottingham. It goes on to describe (without, it is hoped, excessive mathematical detail) some of the possibilities explored for the application of digital imaging techniques to the archiving of piano rolls without the use of any specialized hardware. The projects are supervised by the first-named author, a mechanical engineer with strong interests in mechatronics, software engineering, and digital image analysis.

Ernst Munck - Piano Manufacturers by Appointment to the Court of Gotha: Manfred Schöler (translated by Rex Lawson)

In any survey of the history of pianoforte manufacture in mid-nineteenth century Thuringia, the names of Bechstein, Agthe and Munck stand out. All three have this in common; that they were born in Gotha and achieved international renown through the construction of pianos. By 1854, however, Bechstein and Agthe had already moved to Berlin, where they laid the foundations for their later successes.Ernst Munck, on the other hand, remained faithful to his home town. His life and works therefore form a natural part of this series of studies in local history. Ernst Munck was born in Gotha on 11 February 1827, the second son of Georg Wilhelm Munck, cabinetmaker, who owned a well-known furniture workshop at 615, 'Hinter St Margarethen' (Behind St Margaret's), a building that stands today as 21, Margarethenstrasse.

After successfully completing his studies at the local grammar school, Munck began as an apprentice in his father's own workshop. But the construction of furniture was not really his métier, and he felt much more of an affinity towards music. So it is hardly surprising that he had already become interested in the manufacture of pianos by the end of the 1840s. To that end he set out to acquire the necessary specialist knowledge and skills at the well-known piano firm of Seuffert in Vienna, and later at the factory of Kriegelstein & Herz in Paris. His outstanding dedication to work soon brought him recognition as a regulator and action finisher.

In 1857 Ernst Munck returned home, and in the same year founded the piano factory that carried his name. Taking over part of his father's joinery workshop, he produced grand and upright pianos based on American and German models. Munck laid down exacting specifications for the quality and up-to-date design of his piano actions (the mechanisms for relaying the movement of the keys to the strings), which even today are made up quite separately and delivered to the manufacturer as pre-assembled units. He placed similar demands on his suppliers of felt, and of the cast-iron frames that were mounted over the soundboard. The fame of Munck's pianos soon spread far and wide. Even at the Gotha court the good reputation of his products did not go unnoticed, and in due course Ernst Munck received official recognition of his efforts by his appointment as 'Hofpianofabrikant' (Piano Manufacturer to the Court). At various Thuringian trade exhibitions, such as those in Weimar in 1860 and 1861, his exhibition instruments received a 'First Prize of Honour' and a 'Gold Medal'. From then on, a brass plate with a display of the medals and exhibition dates adorned Munck's pianos.

By 1864 Ernst Munck was already employing 8 to 10 full-time workers. At that time an upright or grand piano sold for between 100 and 600 Thalers, depending on the model. But in the midst of all his success in business, Munck never lost sight of the future development of his firm. He made certain that his eldest son, Ernst (born 22 March 1863), had the benefit of a technical education every bit as good as his own. After finishing grammar school, the young man studied the craft of piano manufacture both at home and abroad, and for some considerable time worked as a tuner and action regulator at Steinways in New York. On 1 April 1893 Ernst Munck junior took over control of his father's factory, the older man retiring from the business at the age of 66, and devoting himself to his favourite pastime of gardening.

Claude Debussy, The Composer as Pianist: all his known recordings, the Caswell Collection, vol. 1; Pierian Recording Society, Pierian 0001: Roy Howat

Debussy's recordings are naturally fascinating material, comprising both audio discs and piano rolls. Although there's no duplication of repertoire across the two genres, the juxtaposition is still revealing. The audio recordings (from 1904) have Debussy accompanying Mary Garden in the tower song ('Mes longs cheveux') from Act 3 of Pelléas et Mélisande, and in three of the six Ariettes oubliées Debussy composed in the 1880s and then revised for a new edition in 1903. Born, bred and buried in Aberdeen, Mary Garden hit stardom in Paris in 1902, premiering the role of Mélisande in Debussy's one completed opera. Debussy dedicated his 1903 re-edition of the Ariettes oubliées to her in gratitude for her 'unforgettable' performances.

Despite the obviously superior recorded sound from the Welte recordings, it is the audio recordings that really take us into the room with Debussy and Garden, regardless of flutter and frying bacon. That edit-free era preserves human moments like Mary Garden clearing her throat during the piano's introductory bar in 'L'ombre des arbres', before coming in on the wrong note. (Debussy unobtrusively sounds the right note for her, and she recovers quickly, as with another off-note entry in the song 'Green'). Debussy plays much as he always told people to play, in pretty strict time except at the marking un poco stringendo in 'L'ombre des arbres', which both artists turn into molto stringendo, to superb effect. His extremely virtuosic playing in 'Green' (taken at a very fast lick) draws attention away from itself by the way he keeps it all very quiet (as marked), in time and at the service of the singer. He consistently avoids left hand anticipations or rolled chords except where marked in the score, and only one, momentary rhythmic unevenness is audible, at the pianissimo start of 'Il pleure dans mon coeur', a place where microphone nerves could be forgiven from anyone. At times one can hear him gently keeping Mary Garden moving, avoiding sentimental lingering or rubato. Towards the end of 'L'ombre des arbres' Debussy slows down in such a way that the quavers of the third last bar audibly become the crotchets of the last two bars. This makes for maximum audible (rather than visible) continuity and relates interestingly to one of the Welte rolls, of which more below.

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The Pianola Journal - Volume 14, 2001.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 14, 2001

  • Editorial
  • The Reproducing Piano - what can it really do?: Denis Hall
  • Interview with Wolfgang Heisig: Rex Lawson
  • Player Piano: James Kirkup
  • The Medcraft Perforator: Rex Lawson
  • The Ampico Recordings of Leo Ornstein: John Farmer
  • Regarding the Art of Reproducing: W. Creary Woods
  • Review: Vive le Pianola! Soirée Musicale for violin and Pianola, Leighton House, 14 July 2001: Gina Cowan
  • Review: 1929 Skinner Organ - opus 783. Residence Player Organ at Elm Court, Butler, Pennsylvania (JAV Recordings Inc, 2 CD set): Denis Hall


The Reproducing Piano - what can it really do?: Denis Hall


Lest it should seem that I am out to discredit this amazing instrument called the reproducing piano, let me state that I write as a real enthusiast and a true believer in what it can and should do.

The incentive for writing this article is the lack of appreciation generally of the capabilities of the reproducing piano, as well as its limitations, which results in authors in the music field making uninformed and sometimes exaggerated claims for it, and thus frequently reaching conclusions which are misguided if not completely wrong. Not only does this do the writers an injustice, but it also discredits the pianos themselves by making claims for them which not even their most enthusiastic inventors would have made. This article will try to dispel these inaccuracies and set out some of the facts.

Interview With Wolfgang Heisig: Rex Lawson

Wolfgang Heisig is a composer and Phonola player living and working in the former East Germany. He perforates his own music rolls, and gives concerts in many parts of Europe.

RL: Wolfgang Heisig, you are well known in the musical world as a composer and leading performer on the player-piano. Your Phonola push-up piano-player is a familiar site at contemporary music festivals throughout Germany. Your career and musical enthusiasms embrace a very wide range of music. What brought you to music in the first place?

WH: When I was a child, we had an Ibach upright piano in the family living room, and I began tinkling the ivories when I was about 7 or 8 years old. To begin with,  I wanted to play the 'hits' that I heard every night on the radio from West Germany, and I was rather pleased with myself when I managed to play an entire boogie-woogie in front of my class at school. Alas, the teacher forbade any repeat performances in the strictest terms!

RL: Clearly you were an anarchic composer in the making!  Did you also come across the player piano at that time?

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