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The Pianola Journal - Volume 15, 2003.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 15, 2003

  • Editorial
  • Prokofiev and the Player-piano: Rex Lawson
  • Enrique Granados' Recordings - Verification of the Granados Performance Tradition: Douglas Riva
  • The Pianola Institute's Duo-Art Push-Up: Denis Hall
  • Paderewski in Persepective: Denis Hall
  • Machines and Mechanisms in Music - a Conference at Michaelstein, Germany, May 2003: Rex Lawson
  • Some Studies in Practical Player-Interpretation: William Braid White
  • Review: Agape Agape, by William Gaddis, Atlantic Books, 2002: Claire L'Enfant
  • Concert Review: Prokofiev and Stravinsky at the Purcell Room, 12 March 2003: Benjamin Wolf
  • CD Review: Paderewski in Recital, Aeolia 2002: Malcolm Binns
  • Obituary: Trevor Watkins - An Appreciation: Rex Lawson


Prokofiev and the Player-piano: Rex Lawson

Serge Prokofiev's ten-year association with the Duo-Art reproducing piano not only provides an insight into the composer's own recording activities, but also serves as a fairly typical example of the ways in which the Aeolian Company dealt with its roll artists. We are particularly lucky that in Prokofiev's case we have not only the evidence of the music rolls themselves, but, thanks to the farsightedness of his family, much of the correspondence surrounding the various recording sessions that he undertook. In this connection, the Pianola Institute is very grateful to Sviatoslav Prokofiev, the composer's surviving son, and to Noëlle Mann and the Prokofiev Archive at Goldsmiths' College, London, for all their help in providing information, advice and illustrations for this article.

In passing, we were especially pleased that Sviatoslav Prokofiev and his own son, also named Serge Prokofiev, took the trouble to come and listen to their forbear's music rolls during the recent Prokofiev Festival organised by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.

Enrique Granados' Recordings - Verification of the Granados Performance Tradition: Douglas Riva

The importance of any composer's recordings is unquestionable. However, in the case of Spanish composer and pianist Enrique Granados (1867-1916), his piano roll and acoustic recordings of his performances of his own compositions have a particular and unusual significance. Undoubtedly Granados' recordings preserve some of his artistry at the keyboard. However, in addition, Granados' recordings document the very notes that he intended for his finished compositions-intentions which were not reflected in scores of Granados' compositions as published during his lifetime.

Circa 1912, around the same time he recorded piano rolls for Welte-Mignon, Granados wrote: "My motto has always been to give up an easy success for one which is real and lasting." Today, Granados is universally recognized as one of Spain's most important composers. His works are primarily Romantic with certain Nationalist characteristics. Attempts to classify Granados' music quickly dissolve into superlatives. He has been variously described as "completely espaņol," "the Spanish Chopin," and "the last Romantic." Granados' music is multi-faceted. No single characterization adequately describes its complexity. He had a distinctive voice that is instantly recognizable and entirely his own.

One of Granados' most remarkable gifts was his ability to improvise. In fact, improvisation may have been his most natural form of expression. Casals said of his friend that "music simply poured out of him." The story is told that once Granados tried to describe a beautiful woman he had seen and as words failed him, he turned to the piano and improvised a poetic description of her. According to Natalia Granados, the composer's youngest daughter, her father improvised constantly, creating new, more refined versions of his own compositions. It can be said that many of his 'finished' compositions have the freshness and formal structure typical of an improvisation.

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The Pianola Journal - Volume 16, 2005.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 16, 2005

  • Editorial
  • The Welte-Mignon Recording Process in Germany: Mark Reinhart
  • The Early Recordings for the Welte-Mignon: Denis Hall
  • Recording Welte-Mignon Rolls in Germany: Denis Hall
  • Scriabin and the Welte-Mignon - A different perspective: Mark Reinhart
  • Nancarrow's Concerto for Pianola: Paul Usher
  • Appendix - CD: Aeolus 1003


The Welte-Mignon Recording Process in Germany: Mark Reinhart

A century ago, the player piano was changed forever when Edwin Welte and Karl Bockisch introduced the Mignon, later called the Welte-Mignon, to the public. For the first time, a fully automated piano was introduced which played with a full range of dynamics. Today some people have argued the merits of whether or not the system actually reproduced the performances but whatever the actual reliability, the audience which heard these for the first time stood in amazement that anything of this nature was possible.

Keyboard recording has been known since at least 1746. In a description quoted in 1982/3 in Das Mechanische Musikinstrument, a series of pencils were affixed to a keyboard while a moving web of paper traveled past an array of styli. It should be noted that this recording process was for the purpose of making a graphical representation of the notes played, as a means of determining a written score for the music. This was a field that received much attention from inventors. Many people attempted to develop a process whereby keyboard performance could be translated into a printed score. This was not initself intended for automatic playing, but was nevertheless a precursor to the automatic recording and playback technology to come.

The recording process for the Welte-Mignon was a closely guarded secret. There exists some documentation from the time of recording, as well as published accounts by Richard Simonton, Sr., who visited Freiburg and interviewd Welte and Bokisch shortly after the Second World War. Edwin and Karl photographed the recording sessions and used these photographs in their advertising leaflets and catalogs. The studio session photos offer some evidence of the recording process. In the 1905 photograph of Raoul Pugno, Edwin Welte is pictured sitting at the recording machine, with the roll take up spool clearly showing. In the 1905 photo of Erno von Dohnanyi, Karl Bockisch sits at the recording device, and there appears to be a portion of paper roll wound on to the take up spool. Both of these session photos were taken at the Leipzig studio of Hugo Popper. By 1907, the session photos show the addition of a box atop the recording machine with large holes in the side. The purpose of this additional unit was never disclosed. What can be gathered from this photographic evidence is that the recording process was an evloving one, and apparently changed over time as improvements were developed. This would be a logical expectation since, just as Edwin Welte and Karl Bockisch made improvements to the Welte-Mignon player, they likewise would have made improvements to the recording machine.

The Early Recordings for the Welte-Mignon: Denis Hall

The story of the recording of the first reproducing piano rolls, those for the Welte-Mignon, the earliest system, seems so improbable that it almost reads like fiction. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the concept of a piano which could play by itself, and reproduce not only the notes, but all the subtleties of touch and phrasing, was a complete novelty, and yet this was the achievement of two young men, still in their twenties, Edwin Welte and his brother-in-law, Karl Bockisch. Welte and Bockisch worked for the firm M. Welte u. Soehne, which had been producing musical clocks and mechanical pipe organs since 1832. These latter instruments were operated by pinned barrels up until the 1880s, but after that paper rolls were used. So the young men were equipped as well as anyone at that time with the right technology to develop a self-playing piano. Nevertheless, they still needed the imagination to want to produce such an instrument. How they achieved this is told elsewhere.

Many Welte-Mignon rolls show a date on the label which is, almost certainly, the recording date. These dates start to appear regularly from 19 January 1905. By that time, roll numbers had already reached #168. Prior to that, the one name which dominates the listing is that of Eugenie Adam-Benard, a shadowy figure who is thought to have been a local Freiburg musician, possibly a music teacher, and a friend of Welte or Bockisch. At any rate, she must have been a remarkably patient lady to have played time and again for the young inventors, to have enabled them to present a respectable library of music with which to launch the instrument. We do not know when she first played for the Mignon, but by 21 June 1904, she had recorded roll #104 (Liebestraum No. 2/Liszt). In the most comprehensive Welte-Mignon roll listing so far, that by Charles Davis Smith (The Welte-Mignon: Its Music and Musicians), there are gaps in the early sequence, presumably titles which only survived for a very short time, or may never have been issued. Since there are some blocks of numbers missing, it is also possible that other pianists may have made recordings which have been lost. Frau Adam-Benard's rolls are variable, some compromised by Welte's and Bockisch's inexperience in roll editing, but even the best of them show that she was hardly a world-class pianist. She was, nevertheless, good enough for a selection of her recordings to have remained in the catalogue right up to the end in 1932.

During the 16 months between January 1905 and April 1906, no less than 1109 titles were recorded, a remarkable achievement by any standards. One wonders how all this activity could have been crammed into such a short time. An analysis of the dates on the roll labels starts to show how it was done. By months, the numbers of pianists attending looks like this:-


Breaking down the statistics another way, the recording team was active in Leipzig during the following dates:-

1905January19-235 days
March3-97 days
April2-109 days
May7-8 and 193 days
June101 day
September10-16 and 21-2714 days
October10-3021 days
November8-11 and 20-3015 days
December1-13 and 2315 days
February6-19 and 2715 days
March151 day
April171 day

During the total period of 464 days, which includes weekends and public holidays, they recorded on 97 days. At busy times, they even managed to record more than one artist on a single day.

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