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The Pianola Journal - Volume 17, 2006.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 17, 2006

  • Editorial
  • Peddling Pianolas: Rex Lawson
  • Music of and for the Records: Henry Cowell
  • Memories of Dan Wilson: Denis Hall
  • Review: Aus Freiburg in die Welt - 100 Jahre Welte-Mignon: Exhibition at the Augustinermuseum, Freiburg-im-Breisgau: Denis Hall


Peddling Pianolas - Aeolian Company Advertising: Rex Lawson

For around fifty years, from 1887 to the late 1930s, the Aeolian Company reigned supreme in the world of mechanical musical instruments. Others may have developed more ingenious instruments, or have made more faithful recordings, but no other company came close to the worldwide success of the Aeolian, Weber Piano and Pianola Company. This commercial supremacy did not spring to life fully armed; it was the result of a number of factors, chief amongst them being an awareness of the effective use of advertising. Indeed, a selection of Aeolian magazine advertisements provides a real insight into the way the Company developed, prospered, and eventually declined, and it also acts as a guide to the launching dates of its various instruments. The Pianola Journal does not usually publish articles where the illustrations greatly outweigh the text, and we hope this exception will nevertheless prove interesting.

Illustration 1 - Cover of the 1886 Mechanical Orguinette Company Catalogue.

Music of and for the Records: Henry Cowell

Stravinsky and many of his followers have written for player piano rolls music which might be played by hand, but which they desired to divorce from the possibility of misconstruction or "interpretation" by performers. By using rolls the composer makes sure that the tempo, notes and duration of notes are right. Antheil used several supposedly synchronized pianos in his Ballet Mécanique probably for this reason, for the music is nothing that cannot be played by hand. Hindemith, Toch, and others have written for mechanical organ but despite their claims it does not appear that they wrote things impossible to play on an unmechanical organ. Hindemith's Triadic Ballet produced at Donaueschingen in 1926 is one of the most elaborate attempts made in this field.

The composer who goes about writing for mechanical instruments in the most penetrating fashion is Nicolai Lopatnikoff. He has experimented in works for all kinds of recordings, such as mechanical orchestras, organs, violins, and pianos. He writes things which can only be performed mechanically, making the mechanism necessary to the composition. He has player piano passages which are impossibly fast, and combinations impractical for the hands of players, no matter how many should take part in a performance. Lopatnikoff also plans to make phonograph records of various factory and street noises, synchronizing and amplifying them as a percussion background for music written for keyboard recordings.

One excellent line of possible development, which so far as I know has not yet been attempted, would be to work with subtle rhythms. To hear a harmony of several different rhythms played together is fascinating, and gives a curious esthetic pleasure unobtainable from any other source. Such rhythms are played by primitives at times, but our musicians find them almost if not entirely impossible to perform well. Why not hear music from player piano rolls on which have been punched holes giving the ratios of rhythms of the most exquisite subtlety?

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The Pianola Journal - Volume 18, 2007.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 18, 2007

  • Editorial
  • The History of the Welte family and the house of M. Welte & Sons: Gerhard Dangel
  • The Welte-Mignon reproducing piano and its place in the history of music: Dr Werner König
  • A la recherche des rouleaux perdus: Jeanette Koch
  • Review: Almost Lost - Another way to play the piano, a reflection on the Pianola Institute's 21st Birthday Concert: Jim Edwards
  • Review: Rachmaninov's Third Concerto, for Pianola and Orchestra - Really?: Denis Hall


The History of the Welte family and the house of M. Welte & Sons: Gerhard Dangel

4.2 Edwin Emil Welte
Edwin Welte was born on 28 March 1876 in Freiburg and attended grammar school there. At school he formed a close friendship with Karl Bockisch, who had come to Freiburg with his family in 1888. Even when the Bockisch family returned to Sternberk in Moravia, the friendship was not broken; Edwin visited the Bockisches there and Karl, for his part, visited the Weltes in Freiburg. The two friends were even trained together in the Welte business, and as far as is known, neither of them received further education in the public sector. But the firm had become large enough to provide every opportunity for a sound education, both from a business and technical point of view.

Illustration 14 - The Welte family in 1912, in front of the entrance to their villa.

It should be noted that Edwin, as the only child entitled to inherit the running of the business, was thoroughly prepared for his future task as director of the firm. In 1895 he travelled for the first time to New York, certainly to visit relations, but also to get to know "the American business," as his uncle's firm, M. Welte & Sons, was known. On arriving in the US, he gave his occupation as "Manufacturer."

In 1897 Edwin married Betty Dreyfuss, his childhood love, the fourth daughter of Samuel Dreyfuss and his wife, Fanny Goldschmidt. At first the couple lived at their own home in Bismarckstrasse, but moved in 1902 to the newly-built family villa in Lehener Strasse. In 1900, when his uncle Michael jr decided to retire from the business, Edwin Welte and his brother-in-law, Karl Bockisch, both entered the firm in his replacements. As was frequently referred to in literature published by the firm thereafter, both men began in that year to develop the recording and replay technology for the later "Welte-Mignon" reproducing piano.

The Welte-Mignon reproducing piano and its place in the history of music: Dr Werner König

Let us look at some examples. One bad habit of that generation of pianists was to try and lend a personal note to the performance of a piece by changing the final bars. The result was crass distortions. D'Albert, for example, sacrifices the end of Schubert's Impromptu, opus 142, no. 4, to a virtuoso's whim by matching the descending scale that covers the whole compass of the Schubertian piano with a counter-movement that ends bombastically with two four-note F minor chords at the extremes of the modern grand piano (Welte-Mignon roll no. 421, recorded 1905):

A more common fashion was to reduce or (as was more usually done) exceed the prescribed number of bars. One of the few examples of the former procedure is d'Albert's performance of Liszt's Liebestraum no. 3 (Welte-Mignon roll no. 415, recorded 1905). Much to the listener's surprise d'Albert does not play the piece to the end but closes it ten bars earlier with an A flat major arpeggio. He omits the whole Abgesang and with it the piece's final flourish in the Neapolitan sixth before the concluding cadence. The result, if regrettable, is not entirely unacceptable, whereas Lamond's two bar extension (Welte-Mignon roll no. 570, recorded c. 1905) is a clear case of mutilation:

A la recherche des rouleaux perdus: Jeanette Koch

The story begins in the 19th century, with the family of one of Karl Otto's great-grandfathers, wealthy landowners, who owned estates near Hildesheim and Cologne. Great-grandfather was fired up as a student with the new genetic theories of Mendel, and he tried them out on his own sugar beet crops. These new-fangled ideas were of course opposed by his father, but the son managed to develop a new strain with a very high yield, and travelled worldwide selling his seeds. One of his major customers, according to his daughter, was the Esterhazy family, in their time patrons of Haydn and his orchestra.

Harvesting on the Hildesheim Estate.

Karl's grandparents married in 1913, and were given one of the family estates, which comprised land and a brick-making works near Cologne, and in order for the young couple to have a good start in life, a big house was built for them on the estate, to move into after the wedding. In 1914, Karl's father was born, but the Great War broke out and life changed forever. However, the grandparents were able to live in the house during the War, and afterwards they thought they could take up the grand old life of pre-war Germany, and wanted to have their own entertainment system out in the deep countryside! Cologne was then, as now, a great cultural centre with a first-class orchestra, and so they bought a Steinway Welte Grand with a goodly supply of rolls, probably from the best music house of the time in Cologne.

In the late 1920s the grandparents split up - Grandfather went to Wiesbaden and Grandmother moved in to a big villa in Cologne with the Steinway and all the rolls. Karl's mother, who was born in 1921, and whose own mother came from England in 1910 to study piano at the Berlin Conservatoire, still remembers this instrument being played in the big house in the early 1930s. Then the Second World War broke out. The house in Cologne was partly evacuated, but the Steinway was too weighty to move. All the rolls were stored in the basement of the house, in the area that had been built as a provisional air raid shelter for the inhabitants. English (or perhaps American) bombs were dropped on the house and took the roof and top floor off. But happily the Steinway was on the ground floor and survived unscathed. Grandmother was evacuated to the countryside, and the house was abandoned.

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