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MMD > Archives > April 1997 > 1997.04.02 > 07Prev  Next

Arrangers Make The Rolls
By Craig Brougher

I suggest that we take heed to what Doug Henderson has said here on MMD about the authenticity of hand-played rolls by Hofmann, Paderewski, or anybody else for that matter. There is much truth to what he is saying. And also, great art!

Some people may not realize it, but it takes a special set of very rare talents, all coming together, to do what Doug and a very few other people are able to do. They have the ability to "see" the music and the pathos as a physical pattern of holes, and to place those holes precisely to "imitate" an artist, or to arrange a style of their own.

Now there are some rolls, particularly those made by Ampico in the latter days of their recording history which are so very close to hand play that it is scary. The Volavy roll of Greig is just a fantastic rendition and deserves to be noted as such, even though it (as well as others) may be largely arranged, too. It becomes immaterial.

Remember too that the registering pianos very accurately positioned the notes and the pedaling, which became the skeleton framework of the actual playing and except for editing adjustments like removing the clinkers, that framework was cast into stone from that point. So we cannot discount a very strong basis of claim, either.

So I think the bottom line should be realism, instead of method of production. I think Doug is right to say, we should stop spreading baloney about rolls and call a spade a spade. Those who have heard a great reproducer also know that many truly great rolls also exist! This doesn't take away from what is patently and physically there to hear.

As far as comparing Victor 78's to rolls, those renditions too were altered, both in content (from the original score), in tempo sometimes, to get it all on one record, and even edited tape to tape (later) and pieced together mechanically/optically to falsely correct things they didn't want in the final commercial versions. Very early recordings which could not be edited had to be replayed over and over again until the artist was not at all in the mood anymore or playing his best with proper style.

I think it was Godowski-- but maybe someone who knows better will correct me here-- who said on a radio interview when asked about his playing on rolls, (two generations later) something to the effect that he felt that his rolls were a BETTER representation of his actual performances than were the 78's. They also played excerpts from those performances, I believe. I have been asking around for a transcription of that broadcast, but so far haven't been able to come up with it.

So we have room for opinions. This doesn't detract from Doug's factual information about the roll business at all! It simply says that with great care and detail, a roll _can be arranged on a board_ so accurately that you cannot honestly say that it is faked. Despite a perfectly detailed recording of someone's playing, the finished roll would still have to be "adjusted" to compensate for some of the limitations of the player in certain small ways. Any way you slice it, it becomes a piece of history, good, bad, or indifferent. But the history should acknowledge the collaboration with the roll editing department and their efforts required to perform the piece too, instead of an overly simplistic, ebullient proclamation, "Here is the Ghost of So-and-So!"

Everybody likes to imagine, but the truth will always wear out anything else and will stand there when all else has long since faded away. The truth will also improve the next generation of rolls, too! (And by the way, make sure that the piano expresses to its full capacity and repeats its notes well enough to perform those rolls effortlessly). The weakest element in a performance is less often the roll and too often the instrument itself.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Wed 2 Apr 1997, 14:17:34 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Arrangers, Make, Rolls

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