By Dan Wilson
|Rob DeLand says:|
> Metrostyle rolls are those with a colored line down the middle
> of the roll which indicates to the pianolist when to move the
> tempo lever up & down (implying arranged rolls as opposed to
> hand-played rolls which should by definition have their rubato
> built-in). This is not to be confused with the OTHER line on
> the roll which implies dynamics. I believe metrostyle rolls
> will all have 2 lines, one for dynamics (usually a blue line,
> and usually further left on the roll) and one for the
> metrostyle function (usually a red line and further to the
> right on the roll). Further, rolls were issued that have
> Themodist and no Metrostyle, Metrostyle and no Themodist, or
> Themodist AND Metrostyle.
Exceptions: Metro-Art were hand-played AND to be difficult had Metrostyle lines which were a roll editor's idea of how the original performance could be modified. Aeolian's subsidiary Universal Music Co in England issued a lot of "snakebitten" rolls without Metrostyle lines but these were not labelled Themodist but "Full Scale Accentuated". They just had the dotted green or grey dynamic guide-line. I suspect this was "another make of soap" ploy, because dance rolls could be had "snakebitten" but not Metrostyled under the Universal, Triumph, Broadwood, etc. name, or Metrostyled as Aeolian "Metrostyle" with no snakebites, but almost never both !
In retrospect, the Metrostyle line was a good idea without a good system for ensuring it worked properly. It came in on 65-note rolls as a substitute for "hand-played" arrangement and a huge thing was made of it, with pianists signing the rolls just as for the later reproducers. And before the Great War a lot of care was taken with reproducing it. If you see a Metrostyle roll by Moritz Moszkowski made then, it's really a laugh - he had little faith that people would follow the line properly, so he hardly moved the pointer at all. Just sat there puffing his cigar and slowing down a bit at the bar ends.
After 1919 the UK factory took over almost all the classical titles and the Metrostyle became just a way of adding a bit of value to the rolls. And, I'm sorry to say, it wasn't taken too seriously. The lines become vague and have none of the tight precision of the pre-1914 rolls. Rex Lawson (he gets a copy of these discussions and may want to correct me) has an eye-witness account of the Metrostyle lining machine running at Hayes c.1927 with a stack of eight rolls in it which weren't even at the same spot in the music. However, I will say, having played many hundreds of well-known classical rolls, the Metrostyle does give you a ballpark idea of where the tempo lever should be on the less familiar stuff.
A very curious thing about the Metrostyle line is that because really practised pianola players naturally twitch the tempo lever to the left for accents, partly to get the timing exactly right and partly to take suction out of the motor for a moment and give it to the stack, leftwards flicks almost always mean accents - but they never told the public ! Post-1919, most of these got ironed out from the master, as they must have caused mayhem when in the wrong place on the roll !
The right way of putting the lines on which would have ensured complete fidelity was obviously to use an automatic typewriter running off punched tape* and triggered from key holes in the roll - well within 1920s teleprinter technology. (*Or another roll - there was in fact a form-letter-writer available in the 1930s which used an 88-note roll puncher and (I think) mechanical reader as the storage medium.)