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MMD > Archives > January 2000 > 2000.01.26 > 09Prev  Next


Welte Mercury Trough Recording Piano
By Craig Brougher

Albert Petrak had an interesting letter in MMD 000125 recalling Richard
Simonton, who saved the Welte roll masters from the Allied bombing of
Germany.  Those rolls were eventually spirited out of Europe to the US
through France.  He went to a lot of trouble, even risking prison and
death a few times, to get this collection to a safe place, as I have
understood.

I learned this through a friend of his who knew him well.  It was
through this same old gentleman friend, and a piano restorer besides,
who was told about the Welte recording piano with the tray of mercury
under the keybed.  Richard had seen it, and Edwin explained it to him.
It was obviously not a hoax, as has been falsely claimed more recently.

It would be very interesting if someone were to explain to all of us,
sometime, how that really worked, and how they were then able to hear
the recording instantly, just like the modern electronic pianos are
able to do, today.  Some people believe that it was just advertising,
but making such a claim would risk the reputations and eventually
livelihoods of every musician associated with that company's product,
and constitute advertising fraud.  A very serious charge in those days
that no one would want to risk -- particularly with a stable of
musicians who might record for other companies as well.

Wilcox and White also developed the same kind of instant playback
system for their Artrio-Angelus, described in general in the brochure
"Genius Immortal" under the heading; "How Artrio-Angelus Records are
Made..."

Can anyone shed some more light on this subject?  It is one of the most
fascinating of all the stories which can be told about reproducing
players.

Craig Brougher


 [ The only account of a mercury trough recording piano in Germany
 [ I can find is in the album notes for "Legendary Master of the
 [ Piano", an album of three LP discs produced by Simonton in 1963.
 [ The title page of the album says:
 [
 [    "Produced and Directed by Walter S. Heebner, Recorded in
 [    Los Angeles, California, winter 1962-1963, on Steinway
 [    Concert Grand No. 261, Manufactured by Richard C. Simonton
 [    for The Classics Record Library, Book-of-the-Month Club, Inc.,
 [    345 Hudson Street, New York, New York."
 [
 [ A short description of "the recording piano of Herr Edwin Welte" is
 [ given in a section of the album notes written by John M. Conly, who
 [ contributed articles to High Fidelity magazine.  Mr. Conly states:
 [
 [    "His method was as simple as genius could make it.  The
 [    electrical terminals were a trough of mercury below the length
 [    of the keyboard and a tiny, almost weightless carbon prong on
 [    the underside of each key.  The pedals were similarly wired.
 [    When the key was struck, the prong dipped into the mercury,
 [    completing a circuit and signaling the _exact_ force and
 [    duration of the finger stroke; in other words, every subtlety
 [    of the pianist's expression."
 [
 [ It's a tantalizing story, and perhaps it was technically possible,
 [ but I don't believe that any recordings were made in Freiburg using
 [ the force signaling device described above, and I doubt that it ever
 [ existed in Freiburg.  Is there any concrete evidence, not just hearsay,
 [ which could prove that a machine did exist in Freiburg for recording
 [ finger force or key velocity?
 [
 [ I think that the story was invented by Richard Simonton, simply to
 [ satisfy folks who asked the question, "How did they do it?"
 [
 [ -- Robbie


(Message sent Wed 26 Jan 2000, 13:51:00 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Mercury, Piano, Recording, Trough, Welte

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