Reminiscences of Liszt: Francis Bowdery
When the Welte Mignon reproducing piano was launched, Franz Liszt had been dead for less than twenty years. His presence through his teaching, his
compositions, and the memory of his unique and powerful playing, remained a compelling one. Commentators on both gramophone and piano roll
recordings would lament that the new technologies had narrowly missed capturing the playing of a figure who had single-handedly revolutionised
concert life and piano playing in the nineteenth century.
Franz Liszt and his Students, 1884
Welte successfully persuaded pianists of European stature to record in 1905, the first year of the Mignon piano's commercial activity. Many of the leading
pianists of the day had been Liszt's pupils or had come into his sphere of influence. Naturally, they too were approached to make recordings, and many did. In
some cases, such as Friedheim, we have at least a broader view of their art than that afforded by the gramophone. In others, such as Reisenauer and
Stavenhagen, piano rolls are the only remaining evidence of their pianism. Among the latters' recordings are two by each, labelled "Nach persönlicher
Erinnerungen an Franz Liszt." It is a significant gesture. If the age of recording - and immortalisation, of which performing artists were well aware - had missed
Liszt, perhaps it could recall him at second hand through his disciples.
On The Right Track - Dynamic Recording for the Reproducing Piano
(Part Two): Rex Lawson
In 1905, in response to the Welte-Mignon, Hupfeld's engineers were given the task of creating both a recording and a playback system for piano
rolls, similar to that used by Welte, but in addition for the production of rolls with no dynamic coding, so that the Phonola player at home could add his or her
chosen dynamics by means of the foot-pedals. History does not relate who exactly designed the Dea, but it must have been a team led by Robert
Frömsdorf, Hupfeld's factory manager and technical superintendent, who is often to be seen operating the roll recording machine in early Hupfeld
photographs. Amongst the Company's other technical experts at the time were Ivan Bajde and Karl Hennig, both of whom were involved in the development of
the Phonoliszt Violina, Bajde in particular having developed over many years a means of playing violin strings with a bow, by means of a piano keyboard.
An Advertisement for the Upright Dea, Leipzig, April 1909
By a lucky quirk of fate, we have a reasonable description of Hupfeld's recording process, though there are grounds for gentle caution in examining it. The
author, Ludwig Riemann, was present when Grieg recorded, on 11 April 1906, and probably on many other occasions too. In passing, one may remark that Grieg
noted in his diary for this day that he had played six of his piano pieces for Hupfeld's "Phonolist" (sic) player piano, confirming, even with its slight
mis-spelling, that the Dea was by no means in evidence at that time. Riemann was a music educationalist from Essen, who also acted as second pianist for a few
four-hand arrangements published on Hupfeld's rolls, and who was, with Dr Otto Neitzel, joint author of a book analysing and describing the music in Hupfeld's
Phonola and Dea catalogues, "Musikästhetische Betrachtungen."
Paderewski and the Player Piano: Denis Hall
Paderewski has left a good representative collection of disc recordings of the shorter works in his repertoire, made over the period from 1911 right up to
1938, when he paid his last visit to the HMV studios at Abbey Road to complete those titles he had undertaken the previous year. What is not so well known
generally is that, like most pianists active during the first thirty years of the twentieth century, he also made a substantial number of reproducing piano roll
recordings, and it is these which are the subject of this article.
Mr and Mrs Paderewski listening to a Duo-Art Roll
His first attempt at setting down his interpretations for replay at a later time was not actual reproducing rolls. In the very early years of the twentieth
century, the Aeolian Company, makers of the "Pianola" piano player, developed and patented a device called the Metrostyle for use with its Pianola rolls. It
advertised it as "Music's Life Line", and this took the form of a red line drawn the length of the roll which moved from side to side, to the left when the music
slowed down, and to the right to accelerate. By following this line with a pointer attached to the Pianola's tempo lever, it "enables anyone to play the Pianola with
genuine musicianly feeling and expression". This claim by Aeolian, if a trifle optimistic, is not so fanciful as it may seem, and many of the early Metrostyled
rolls, with the line created by a house musician, can work remarkably well. A development of the use of the Metrostyle line was to get famous artists to create the
line, with the aid of a member of Aeolian's staff. Paderewski was one of those who participated in the scheme, putting his name to a number of compositions. In
the light of his future piano roll activities, these Autograph Metrostyle rolls today are little more than historical curiosities. At that time, however, Paderewski
must have been enthusiastic, and he had two Pianolas in his residences in Switzerland and California.