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MMD > Archives > May 1996 > 1996.05.21 > 08Prev  Next

Re: Original Recording Pianos
By Robbie Rhodes

I'm truly sorry that Robin Pratt has withdrawn; his articles in the Digest display a great expertise, and a genuine love of the player piano.  My editorial was intended solely to raise awareness -- we have lots of exaggeration and few concrete facts about what occurred decades ago.

I enjoyed the feedback from Keith Nealy, especially since it illustrates how facts or anecdotes can become myths.  Keith wrote in Digest 960520:

> ... I recall reading [from CD liner notes] that after Rachmaninoff
> recorded for the first time it was played back to him and he
> headed for the door and turned back and said in apparent
> dissatisfaction: "Gentleman, I have just heard myself play."
> I'll try to track down this quotation ...

In the interview of Ampico artist Adam Carroll by Nelson Barden in 1969, Carroll was asked, "How good were the rolls in those days?" He replied:

      "After Rachmaninoff first recorded Paderewski's Minuet
   in G Major for the Ampico, Mr. Stoddard said, 'Sergei,
   when you hear this recording it will be a reproduction
   of your playing.'
      When he came back, Wagner and all the bigwigs were
   there.  Then they played the roll.  Rachmaninoff said,
   "Gentlemen, I, Sergei Rachmaninoff, have just heard
   myself play.'"

Notice that the "dissatisfaction", which Keith recalls, is apparently "awestruck" in Carroll's recollection.

This interview and several others are reproduced in "The Ampico Reproducing Piano", edited by Dick Howe, published by Music Box Society International, 1987.  There is no mention in this book of any capability to instantly play back the performance just registered at the Ampico recording piano.  So we must ask ourselves, "What is the authenticity of the interview with Carroll, and where did the writer of the CD notes get his information?"

But, Keith, I heartily agree that the Rachmaninoff performances, as presented on the piano rolls sold to the public, were, and still are, magnificent.

I searched also, without success, to find some documentation about the "instant playback" process at DuoArt.  It seems to me that the recollection was by DuoArt artist Robert Armbruster, who died not too many years ago.  Does anyone know of this anecdote appearing in print?

Craig Brougher and I enjoy technicalities, and the accompanying speculation about "how did they do that", or "how _might_ they have done that".  Karl Bockisch, who developed the Welte Mignon reproducing piano system, was an ingenious man.  I like to think that he realized hammer velocity was the proper parameter to record, but that practicalities forced him instead to deal with key velocity.  A small carbon rod dipping into a tray of quicksilver would change resistance with the position of the key.  The electric current (from a low-voltage electric cell) could be differentiated with a simple transformer; the resulting voltage would be the velocity of the key, which could have been recorded on paper by a moving pen (as in the American Welte recorder) or an inking wheel.

"... could have..."  Will we ever know for certain?

-- Robbie Rhodes

(Message sent Wed 22 May 1996, 04:35:34 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Original, Pianos, Recording

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