A dance to the music of the Artrio-Angelus.
The Artrio-Angelus was a development of the normal Angelus player piano, manufactured in Meriden, Connecticut, by the firm of Wilcox and White. In the 19th century, Meriden had grown wealthy on the back of the silver trade, with many famous plating factories situated in and around the city. Indeed, it was known as the 'Silver City' for many years. Wilcox and White founded their company in Meriden in 1877, and derived their initial capital mainly from Horace Wilcox, whose various silver companies had made him the richest man in town. The White family, on the other hand, were the experts in musical instrument manufacture, two generations having worked at the Estey Organ Company's factory in Brattleboro, Vermont.
As the era of the player piano dawned in the late 1890s, Wilcox and White created the Angelus, and subsequently argued unceasingly that they had been the first to develop such a piano player. Around 1914, when the reproducing piano began to take over, the Company quite naturally wanted its own product to compete in the marketplace, and so Frank C. White, grandson of the founder, and the firm's technical director, set about inventing the Artrio Angelus, perhaps deliberately choosing the name in order to be one up on the Aeolian Company's Duo-Art. As happened in so many player piano companies, the recording producers for the new automatic instruments were recruited from the ranks of the expert foot-pedallers, and so it was that Percival Van Yorx, the leading Angelus player, took on the responsibility of creating Artrio rolls from the playing of a worthy selection of fine pianists. Both Frank White, the inventor, and Percival Van Yorx, the recording producer, can be seen in this photograph of Harold Bauer's 1915 recording session.
Harold Bauer recording for the Artrio-Angelus - 13 April 1915, Meriden, Connecticut.
(Photo courtesy: The International Arcade Museum)
The Artrio Angelus was launched gradually over a period of two or three years, with a notable introduction to the music trade in New York in June 1916. Its high point was arguably a well-received public concert at Carnegie Hall in February 1921, at which the Hungarian pianist, Yolande Merö, alternated with the Artrio in the playing of the Liszt Hungarian Fantasia, accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Willem Mengelberg. However, the piano was not destined for a long career, since Wilcox and White succumbed to bankruptcy in early 1922, being sold at auction to the Hallet and Davis Piano Company. For another three years the recording of Artrio rolls continued as before in Meriden, with new studios in Colony Street in the downtown area, while the reproducing mechanisms were manufactured by the Simplex Company in Worcester, Mass. Finally, in 1925, the roll department was taken over by the QRS Music Co of Chicago, and the repertoire was thereby merged with that company's Recordo expression piano.
Then and Now - the Artrio Recording Studios in Meriden, in 1922 and 2010.
The pneumatic playing mechanism of the Artrio-Angelus was in many respects very similar to those of other reproducing pianos, with note pneumatics and valves assembled together in a pneumatic stack. Unusually, in the grand piano version of the instrument, the whole stack and expression mechanism were mounted in a drawer under the keyboard, with a cunningly designed set of pivoting rods which transmitted the movement of the note pneumatics to the piano action. There were similarities to the normal Angelus player, with its series of adjustable dynamic restrictors, and to the Duo-Art, since the Artrio used a Solo and Accompaniment system, though it had separate mechanisms for regulating the treble and the bass accompaniment levels.
The Dynamic Control Mechanism of the Artrio-Angelus.
The Artrio Recording Process
Since the Artrio recording department was rather small, it was inevitable that the technical means of recording and reproducing dynamics should have been tailored to suit the abilities of the Company's chief musical editor, Percival Van Yorx. Van Yorx was a very experienced player pianist, initially with Aeolian and Apollo, and then, from 1901 onwards, as a demonstrator and manager for the Angelus in various American cities. In this connection he was employed from 1906 by Wanamaker's in New York, performing regularly in the department store's large concert auditorium. When Wilcox and White began recording hand-played rolls around 1911, publishing them on the Voltem label, they took on Van Yorx to supervise the process, which grew quite naturally into the production of fully-automatic rolls for the Artrio.
Artrio-Angelus Recording Piano - US Patent 1,016,862 - Application 21 July 1911.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the dynamic recording process developed and patented by Frank White should have been designed around a foot-pedalled player piano. First of all a hand-played roll was recorded, with the note placements marked and perforated, and no doubt with indications of the pianist's dynamics notated by Van Yorx on a printed score, as was the custom at Ampico for many years. However, instead of laboriously transforming this marked-up shorthand into actual dynamic coding by hand, Van Yorx took the initial perforated roll and pedalled it at a special recording piano, and the suction levels which he generated were automatically perforated on to the edges of a master roll, while the notes were copied across at the same time. In order to be faithful to the original performance, this demanded a good deal of skill on the part of the operator, but given Van Yorx's widely recognised musicianship, it was probably very effective.
Pianists and Repertoire
The Artrio in Perspective
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