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"
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.