Reproducing Pianos
Pianola Journal
Friends of the Institute
Concerts and Recordings
Recent News
Contacts and Information
Site Map
Text Only Version
Click Images to enlarge

The Pianola Journal - Volume 19, 2008.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 19, 2008

  • Editorial
  • Ferruccio Busoni, the Duo-Art and Bach's Chaconne: Francis Bowdery
  • Josef Lhévinne - Reproducing Piano Roll Artist: Mark Reinhart
  • Mechanical Piano-Players: G.C. Ashton Jonson
  • Review: After the Golden Age: Romantic pianism and modern performance, Kenneth Hamilton, Oxford University Press, 2008: Denis Hall
  • Review: The Aeolian Company: Original compositions and arrangements for Pianola, Rex Lawson (Pianola), CD D136, NMC Records: Denis Hall
  • Appendix - CD: Aeolus 1004


Ferruccio Busoni, the Duo-Art and Bach's Chaconne: Francis Bowdery

Busoni's most well-known Bach transcription is undoubtedly that of the Chaconne from the Violin Partita BWV 1004. It was first performed by its author in Boston, USA on 30 January 1893, and published not long after by Breitkopf and Härtel with a dedication to Eugen d'Albert - who preferred Brahms' left hand solo version. The 1893 first edition differs substantially from that now in print; like others of Busoni's Bach transcriptions it was rethought and reworked, in this case through four editions, up to its final form. Breitkopf and Härtel's Bach-Busoni Edition, comprising the major and some minor keyboard (not organ) pieces, also collected together and revised the whole series of transcriptions dating back to 1888. The project was completed in 1917, the Chaconne being prepared in 1916 for this purpose. Busoni's observations on the piece are worthy of note:

Ferruccio Busoni playing the Duo-Art Recording Piano

'The editor, in his transcriptions of the Preludes and Fugues in D, Eb, and E minor, has devoted much care to the registration, and begs to call attention to them as a series of examples in point. His piano-transcription of Bach's Chaconne for violin may also be added to this series, inasmuch as the editor has, in both cases, treated the tonal effects from the standpoint of organ sonority. This procedure, which has been variously attacked, was justified, firstly, by the breadth of conception, which is not fully displayed by the violin; and secondly, by the example set by Bach himself in the transcription for organ of his own violin-fugue in G minor.'

Josef Lhévinne - Reproducing Piano Roll Artist: Mark Reinhart

Josef Lhévinne was born in Orel, Ukraine, on 13 December 1874, receiving his earliest piano lessons at the age of six, from a local teacher, the Swedish born Nils Krysander. Once the young Josef had reached the age of eight, Krysander arranged for him to perform publicly from time to time, evidently proud to be able to show off the talent of his quite outstanding pupil. At one such function arranged by Krysander, the Grand Duke Constantine, second son of Czar Nicholas I, was present, and the eleven year old Lhévinne played Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and the Wagner-Liszt Pilgrims' March from Tannhäuser. The Duke was greatly impressed by Josef's playing, and as a result, arranged for him to study at the Moscow Conservatoire under the tutelage of Vassily Safonov, who gave him lessons every day.

Josef Lhévinne, Concert Pianist (1874-1944)

In November 1889, a Jubilee Gala Concert in honour of Anton Rubinstein was held at the Moscow Conservatoire, in which a number of students took part. Lhévinne and a cellist played Rubinstein's Sonata, Op. 11/2, and the composer's own opinion was sufficiently favourable for him to ask Safonov to allow the young pianist to take part in an annual benefit concert for the widows and orphans of musicians. On that subsequent occasion, the fifteen-year-old Lhévinne played Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, under the baton of Rubinstein himself. The Moscow critic, Nicholas Kashkin, writing in Russkie Vedomosti (Russian News), observed that the young Lhévinne already showed the qualities of a virtuoso, with a colossal technique and perfect tone colouring, characteristics hardly to be expected from someone of his tender age.

Mechanical Piano-Players: G.C. Ashton Jonson

Wagner once said that musical masterpieces are kept alive at the pianoforte desks of amateurs, and it is through the medium of the sometimes unjustly despised pianoforte that we have the opportunity of becoming familiar not only with pianoforte music, but with orchestral and choral works, by means of pianoforte arrangements. But the most accomplished head of a musical staff in a school or college cannot possibly devote the time necessary to being able to play an enormous, not to say unlimited, range of new and difficult music in order that a wide and comprehensive knowledge of musical literature should be the privilege of all his pupils. And this is where the Pianola comes in.

Now what exactly is the Pianola? The word itself is really the trade name for the particular make of mechanical piano-player manufactured by the Aeolian Company, of New York, and the allied Company called the Orchestrelle Company, of 135, New Bond Street, London. Now I do not know whether these two companies take it as a compliment or consider it a nuisance, but the general public and the Press have adopted the term 'Pianola' as a generic term for all mechanical piano-player devices. It is a short and convenient and not uneuphonious word that has found its way into the language. You meet it in the up-to-date novel and in the comic papers, where the jokes about it would fall flat if the humour-assassinating term 'mechanical piano-player' had to be used every time on pain of an action for infringement by the Orchestrelle Company.

back to top

The Pianola Journal - Volume 20, 2009.

The Pianola Journal - Volume 20, 2009

  • Editorial
  • On The Right Track - Dynamic Recording for the Reproducing Piano (Part One): Rex Lawson
  • The Philipps Duca Reproducing Piano: Mark Stikkelbroek
  • Review: Player Pianos in the News (and not): Paul Usher
  • Obituary: Yvonne Hinde Smith: Denis Hall


On The Right Track - Dynamic Recording for the Reproducing Piano
(Part One): Rex Lawson

The Welte dynamic recording system: a probable solution
As we have discussed earlier in this article, it is very likely that from the late 1880s onwards, Welte und Soehne were producing rolls for their orchestrions by means of recordings made at a keyboard, with a real-time marking machine using small metal rollers to create traces on wide, pre-lined paper. This not only explains why an orchestrion company in a relatively small town in the Duchy of Baden should have led the world in developing a piano-based recording instrument, but it also renders the invention of a dynamic recorder more feasible, and the desire to do so more understandable. Further than that, if the orchestrion recording process was a commercial confidence within the Welte Company, giving it a musical edge over its competitors, and helping it to maximise its profits, it might well explain the otherwise incomprehensible prejudice against the Mignon on the part of Emil Welte in New York, who was so unwilling to help with promoting the new instrument that a separate company and separate American premises had to be established.

Dynamic Transfer Pneumatics and Rotor for a Possible Welte Recording System

The most useful form of dynamic recording mechanism would have been one that somehow made use of each individual note dynamic, automatically converted it into the coding needed for operating the bass and treble sections of the replay mechanism, and marked it on the master roll at the time of recording. Such a process would ideally have used materials and methods already common at the Welte factory: pneumatic motors, electro-pneumatic valves and contacts, wooden and metal frameworks, and a marking machine and paper of the same nature as those already in use for the Welte orchestrion rolls. This puzzle has obsessed me for several years now, as my long-suffering friends will testify. If such a chimaera of a machine were to have existed, it would have to fit with all the evidence gleaned from photographs, master rolls and occasional written sources from the historical era, it would have to allow for the fact that only a small number of musical staff were available to edit the rolls, it would need at least some correlation with Richard Simonton's tenuous memories, and above all, it would need to work.

The Philipps Duca Reproducing Piano: Mark Stikkelbroek

In 1869, the 23 year old Johann Daniel Philipps settled in Frankfurt am Main, in Germany, and became the proprietor of a café with adjoining premises for dancing. When some of his musicians threatened to go on strike, the determined Johann acquired an orchestrion in order to provide alternative music for the dancers. Ultimately he decided to build an orchestrion himself, but to make it an even better one, of course. In 1877 he founded the manufacturing partnership of Philipps and Ketterer, but later reverted to business on his own, under the name of the "Frankfurter Orchestrion und Instrumental-Pianofabrik J.D. Philipps". The rest of the company's history can be easily imagined: the business prospered. When both of Johann's sons, August and Oswald, had finished their education, they too became managers of the company.

The Duca grand reproducing piano - J.D. Philipps und Söhne, Frankfurt

In 1903, Philipps introduced the Pianella line of automatic pianos and orchestrions. In 1908, the Duca reproducing piano came on to the market, and in 1911, Philipps introduced the foot-pedalled Ducanola player piano, as well as the Paganini, a series of medium and large sized orchestrions that were much more sophisticated than the Pianella. In 1921, the Ducartist, a combination of an 88-note player piano and a Duca reproducing piano, was ready for sale. Apart from player pianos and reproducing pianos, Philipps also built a considerable number of regular pianos, both uprights and grands. As with all producers of mechanically playing pianos and orchestrions on the continent of Europe, the early years after the First World War were reasonably prosperous, but the golden years of the time before the War did not return. After about 1925, Philipps' sales went down, and around 1931, the production of mechanically playing instruments came to a complete halt, although regular pianos continued to be manufactured, as well as limited numbers of pipe organs for theatres and churches.

The Duca upright reproducing piano - J.D. Philipps und Söhne, Frankfurt

back to top