I note that the new Liszt Piano Sonata Monograph website makes the
claim, "For many years the roll was believed to have been lost or
destroyed, but in March 2010 it turned up in a private collection in
New York." This just isn't true! This roll was never lost, nor was it
considered so in any general sense.
When MMD first reported this "discovery" back in April, Randolph Herr
wrote, "Scholars have found a Hupfeld roll catalog that lists Friedheim
as playing the Sonata, but no one has ever found a trace of it. ... If
they'd asked me, I would have told them that I have the two-roll set."
Likewise with me. I've got a copy of roll 2 sitting here on the shelf
(I'd like to add roll 1). This isn't a lost roll, it's a commercially
produced roll from Europe's largest manufacturer, and there are probably
dozens or hundreds of copies around the world, many in known collections.
Those looking for it simply didn't look in the right places.
The claim the roll may have been destroyed is even more odd. It implies
there was only one copy, a unique artifact. That's hardly going to be
the case for a commercial piano roll, is it? The website concludes, "It
follows that the Friedheim roll is an epoch-making find for scholars and
performers," which isn't the case other than maybe for the writers
Now, while I suppose we shouldn't be mean about a bit of hyperbole in a
promotional claim, we can't let inaccurate statements go unchallenged
either, or else the historical record (the MMD archives in this case)
will only present the error and not the facts.
Sadly, this isn't an isolated case. There seems to be a particular
problem with Hupfeld and other hand-played 88-note rolls. Musicologists
simply can't locate these rolls, no matter where they look. This leads
to similar claims that particular rolls are lost or may never have been
issued. I've been very happy to provide recordings of a couple of such
rolls to researchers who had been looking for them for years.
So why can't these rolls be located? Obviously, because there are no
sources that help people find them. Why are there no such sources? I
rather suspect this is because there has never been much interest in
these rolls in the hobby, despite their substantial historical
significance. Research has instead concentrated on reproducing rolls
to the exclusion of almost all else. The root cause is, I suspect,
that having to sit down and pedal rolls excludes them from the community
interested in reproducing rolls, who expect to push a button and simply
listen. If I were a music historian or researcher, I'd not have a clue
where to go about finding this material either. It seems that the hobby
is missing a trick somewhere, if interested parties can't get to hear
the music we have available.
In theory many Hupfeld rolls exist in Triphonola reproducing-piano form,
but these versions are significantly less common and often coded from
the 88-note roll anyway, hence not a contemporary dynamic record.
Personally, I think the 88-note hand-played classical versions are
underrated. They need some intelligence and care to play properly, but
the notes are still those of the original pianist, and very accurately
recorded in Hupfeld's case, because they used much finer perforation
step rates than anybody else, up to 90 per inch as opposed to 30 per
inch for Ampico or Duo-Art. A careful performer can produce excellent
dynamics, following the roll markings and using the theme accenting.
Maybe not as good as the finest reproducing pianos, but equal or
superior to most of them.
So, I'm delighted to find a serious publication studying a bit of the
Hupfeld legacy, but disappointed about some of the claims surrounding
it. Let's help make more of this legacy accessible for study, and
dispel some of the associated myths!