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MMD > Archives > December 1999 > 1999.12.05 > 11Prev  Next

"Ballet Mecanique" Disklavier Concert
By Douglas Henderson

Hello MMD readers,  Thank you for publishing both my long critique
of the 11-18-99 16-Disklavier concert which featured George Antheil's
Ballet Mecanique and also my follow-up posting of yesterday, concerning
the capabilities of the Disklavier pianos, a subject raised by a piano
technician whose PTG friend did the actual tuning.

Anyway, I'd like to state that I never brought any rolls to the Antheil
concert to sell.  Several of my roll customers were attending the
performance, so I took them along due to the fact that beyond mine, one
was an Antheil original roll, with his penciled-in annotations "slower
here", "bass pedal", "louder, pause", and so forth.  The roll was by
French-Aeolian after they apparently took over the Pleyel music roll
enterprise, but has the Pleyel "look" and leader, with minor modifi-
cations; the cheap paper and irregular perforating aspects were the
same as the earlier rolls.

I'd have to unroll this to get the exact date stamped near the core,
but it was either manufactured in '27 or '28, considerably _after_ the
1925 Pleyel score was given to the original company, suggesting that
the composer purchased rolls on a regular basis.  Mr. Amirkhanian told
me on the telephone once that Antheil "gave them away to his friends"
after a variety of performances.  Perhaps they were purchased via
Aeolian Hall in New York City, since it's possible that the interna-
tional company imported some, due to the publicity for the Carnegie
Hall concert, and so had copies on hand in the States.

(Note: music rolls can be "in stock" for years!  When I worked with Max
Kortlander at QRS (i.e., Imperial Industrial Co., in the Bronx) they
had overproduced a 1930s song called "The Music Goes Round and Round",
so dozens and dozens of copies, with weathered labels and aging boxes,
were sitting on the shelves up to 1963, and possibly later(!), for the
rare customer who wanted this selection.  Similarly, Rolls I and II of
Ballet Mecanique were still there at the original Pleyel factory.  A
collector and customer of mine, Monsieur Touzelet (now late), just
picked them up from the rubble as the plant was being razed in the late
1950s.  Later, Monsieur Douglas Heffer, who makes the new Duo-Art
consoles and other craft-built pneumatic player instruments in Paris,
acquired these rolls from Touzelet, when failing health forced him to
part with his carefully-built roll library.  Anyway, these are 2
titles, one from the Swing Era in the States and one from the Art Deco
days of Paris in the 1920s, which were still on the shelves for decades
after their era!)

(Only 1 of 3 rolls I made for QRS in the early 1960s was ever
published: #9838, "You Do Something To Me", a truncated and highly
edited arrangement made from my master by J. Lawrence Cook.  (I
repurchased the 3 from Herman Kortlander, following Max's death, since
the company had no plans to issue them and ... these were the original
arrangements, after all.  Today, these hand-perforated rolls are in my
studio in Maine.)  This Cole Porter song stayed in the catalogues for
about 25 more years, however, being cut in Buffalo, NY with the next
management.  I'd purchase quantities of them to give away to museum
visitors and send to friends, on occasion.  I suspect that composer
Antheil did the same with his Ballet Mecanique rolls, be it Pleyel
or the French-Aeolian successor for the music roll business.)

Again, let me reiterate that I only had my roll set with me for "show
and tell" to some Pianola roll customers during Intermission, bringing
an original "Antheil-annotated" copy along as well.  These rolls were
with me anyway, since they were brought to Mass. to perform at a
friend's house just prior to the Lowell concert, so that both of
us would be especially familiar with the musical patterns when an
orchestral version was performed.

As so the nature of trills and such on the Disklaviers, I don't pretend
to know much about the mechanics of MIDI arranging. I do know that I
could barely hear the eight instruments in the front, which is why a
roll collector told me afterwards that he was glad that the front
panels were removed and the piano actions were illuminated, so "We'd
know when the pianos were playing." I could hear a delay in the
performances, and could see that chords were 'rolled' which should have
been striking in unison.  Perhaps this could have been tweaked, given
time and more experimentation.

I'm certainly glad that I attended the concert that evening, and it was
obvious that much work and time went into the preparations as well as
the ultimate presentation.

My review was strictly from someone who has spent a lifetime of
interest in pneumatic players with music roll arrangements, and I tried
to state this personal bias several times in the text, including in
the opening statements.

When all is said and done, I would barely hear the pianos, which were
playing portions of what the Pianola rolls (Pleyel's and/or mine) can
do, while the balance was such that the talented live musicians pretty
much drowned-out the effect of the 16 pianofortes.

Part of it had to be the players themselves, since a roll collector did
try one of the keyboards after the performance, writing me by E-Mail
once I had returned to Maine, that he was amazed to discover that a
single Yamaha piano had such power and full sonority.

All told, Paul Lehrman is to be congratulated for this musical effort.
Ballet Mecanique is one of those works which is always in flux, and
presented in a countless variety of forms, with and without Pianolas.
His performance introduced Kurzweil electronic keyboards to the
mixture, for example; if they weren't there, I'm certain a good portion
of the "piano key" nature of the score would have been totally lost
on the audience, due to the overall softness of the MIDI players.

Musical variety is the spice of life!

Douglas Henderson
Artcraft Music Rolls

(Message sent Sun 5 Dec 1999, 16:50:29 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Ballet, Concert, Disklavier, Mecanique

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