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MMD > Archives > July 2003 > 2003.07.29 > 12Prev  Next

Pianist Pauline Alpert
By Douglas Henderson

Hello MMD readers,  This is a posting which continues with the subject
of player roll artist, Pauline Alpert, in light of the audio recordings
she made.

Some time ago, I wrote a series for the AMICA player club magazine,
and issued a tape cassette that complemented one of the texts, called
"Where's Pauline?"  This featured some of her ultra-spectacular radio
transcriptions, released 78s, Duo-Art rolls (Universal by Aeolian,
also), and a modern roll arrangement of "Toy Trumpet", presented back
to back with her Sonora 78 rpm audio recording of the same material.

At the time, I selected a real "dog" for the tape, a roll which didn't
have any wide dynamic swings, but possessed formula arranging and muted
expression.  This was "Pomponola" (The King of Jazz) Fox Trot, a real
"Milne special" if ever there were one.  Shortly after the article
appeared I read an older AMICA text containing an interview with the
pianist, who was still living at the time.  Among the tunes she never
heard about before was "Pomponola".

Now, most artists, even when elderly and no long playing the piano,
remember their program sets, especially due to the repetition that took
place, in presenting the material.

"Pomponola" on that tape remains as far away from Pauline's playing as
Gershwin's "Swanee" (by Erlebach), Gershwin's "So Am I" (by Armbruster)
or Gershwin's "Kickin' the Clouds Away" (by Milne).

Anybody who heard Pauline Alpert on Vitaphone shorts, on the radio
broadcasts, or via phonograph records, can tell that the released rolls
sound nothing like her.  Notes were not left out because "people won't
believe anyone could play like that".  Milne worked from graph paper
methods, and the rolls reflect that method of operation.

If you hear "Tiger Rag" from her radio transcriptions, the Alpert
version would give "Flight of the Bumble Bee" a good run for its money.
Even today, her rendition takes one's breath away!

Miss Alpert also composed "Perils of Pauline", a 'word play' upon the
earlier movie serials by Pearl White.  On audio recordings she has
arpeggios all over the place, her trademark.  On the commercial sheet
music score (and a roll of recent vintage arranged from it) all these
ornamental details are missing.  One only gets the framework for what
would have been the springboard for the pianist's virtuoso displays.

There are collectors' myths that have circulated for years and, being
around for a half-century, I see them rising like "urban legends",
again and again.

One claims that Pauline Alpert was swinging over audiences, suspended
by cables, as she played the piano, but the fear of being dropped on
the listeners ended this exercise.  The fact is, Miss Alpert played
a stationary piano, which is the only way to achieve the fantastic
results that she did.

This myth of the "piano on cables" -- which even found its way to
modern record jacket notes(!) -- came from her being called "The
Whirlwind Pianist", during her performance career.

She was a "Whirlwind Pianist" on record albums, magazine articles,
radio broadcasts, and presumably the Vitaphone shorts, which still
exist.  Even her sheet music covers use the "Whirlwind Pianist" term.

Where you do _not_ see this "whirlwind" business is in player roll
advertisements and catalogues by The Aeolian Co., and for good reason,
musically.  The rolls by Milne, made in her name, were hardly a
cyclone, but just pedestrian arrangements, with a few homogeneous
arpeggios, added, to convey her presence (to the musically naive).

When playing Richard Dearborn's Geo. Steck Duo-Art grand piano at an
AMICA convention, Pauline Albert kept speeding up the roll's tempo,
to get away from those clumpy Aeolian staccato effects.  "Frank never
got those right," she told the New Jersey collector.  Even when
impaired, physically, I've been told her playing was memorable, on the
keyboard of that same Steck instrument.

Danilo Konvalinka had a pianist-aunt who lived with us decades ago.
She was Theresa Maetz, who even traveled to South America with an
Austrian ensemble for a concert tour.  When at The Musical Wonder House
museum she was featured on many evening programs, appearing with canes,
stooped over and seemingly too weak to play Middle C.  However, when
her fingers touched the keys, sForzando effects reigned, and arpeggios
of the most delicate order flew out of our Steinway AR to the amazed

She played music akin to the realm of Pauline Alpert, having been in
Austrian vaudeville at one time, so works by Confrey, Mayerl and
others were performed along with European hits like "Jazz-O-Piano".
Pianist Maetz also played many Viennese songs, some from talking
pictures, such as "Vienna, City of my Dreams."

If one separates the Alpert rolls (with their "played by" logotypes)
from the audio, everything falls into place.

At this point I'm trying to hire a musician-friend of mine to
transcribe her "Tiger Rag" performance as it appeared on my cassette.
The finished roll, if the project is ever completed, would have to run
at Tempo 150 (or whatever the player action can do) in order to
approximate the effects of her keyboard recording.

By the way, compare the 'Constance Mering' rolls and the "late"
Gershwin fox trots with the 'Pauline Alpert' releases for the Duo-Art,
and you'll discover they have more in common with each other than the
three artists, as preserved on their audio recordings.  All were
arranged by Frank Milne.

Hope this sheds a little light on the mystique of Pauline Alpert, who
for me remains a spectacular artist in every way on audio recordings.
I don't dislike Milne arrangements, but few of them ever excited me,
primarily due to the formula staccato that was catering to pneumatic
stack valves, more than reflecting a specific artist's keyboard
technical aura.

Douglas Henderson - Artcraft Music Rolls
Wiscasset, Maine

(Message sent Tue 29 Jul 2003, 17:19:13 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Alpert, Pauline, Pianist

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