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MMD > Archives > February 2000 > 2000.02.07 > 13Prev  Next

Welte-Mignon LP "Legendary Masters of the Piano"
By Craig Brougher

The Book of the Month Club in 1963 issued an album of 20 of the world's
greatest piano masters, re-performed by the Welte Vorsetzer and its
master rolls on a Steinway Concert Grand, No. 261.  The name of the
album and book is "Legendary Masters of the Piano." "A legacy of great
performances preserved forever in modern sound."

The list of artists is absolutely astounding.  They are:  Ferruccio
Busoni, Claude Debussy, Josef Hofmann, Maurice Ravel, Ignace Jan
Paderewski, Edvard Grieg, Teresa Carreno, Gabriel Faure', Eugen
d'Albert, Camille Saint-Saens, Theodor Leschetizky, Alexander Scriabin,
Alfred Grunfeld, Richard Strauss, Xaver Scharwenka, Gustav Mahler, Ossip
Gabrilowitsch, Josef Lhevinne, Enrique Granados, and Vladimir de

Some of the liner artists endorsing this album with interesting
comments are: Louis Biancolli, Leonard Bernstein, Glen Gould, Dame
Myra Hess, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokwoski, and George Szell.  For
example, Leonard Bernstein said:

"I have finally listened to the recordings of ancient pianists and
composers that you have so kindly sent me.  It has been a ball!...
All marvelously authentic, surprising, other-planetary, incredible.  It
is a thrill to hear these records; we not only extend our knowledge of
past pianistic styles, but we gain a fresh view of our own age.  And
not only pianistically; this glimpse into the past, to the thoughtful
observer, becomes nothing less than revelation of the present!"
(Leonard Bernstein)

Josef Lhevinne said, "I have today, after making a concert tour of the
United States, for the first time heard the compositions which I played
for Welte reproduced upon the Welte player with absolute accuracy as to
tempo, touch, and tone quality, and with exact gradation of expression.
In fact, it reproduces my exact interpretation of the compositions
which I played as above noted."

In regard to whether or not artists spoke of these advances by Welte or
not, John M. Conly, Contributing editor, Hi Fidelity Magazine said,
"No wonder the famous conductor Arthur Nikisch called the device
'epoch-making,' and added, 'The reproduction of the pieces played by an
artist on the apparatus is in every respect (whether it concerns
technique or musical and poetical elements) such a wonderfully natural
one, that it is difficult to believe that the artist himself is not
present and performing personally.'"

"There is no question of this being merely fascination-with-the-sound-
of-one's-own-dexterity.  The young Beethoven scholar, Artur Schnabel,
surely one of the least vain of the pianists, said, ' Not only the
technique of the touch, but all of the personality of the shading and
interpretation of the artist are most faithfully rendered.  Instead of
all traces of his art disappearing with the last note played, the
pianist has now the consoling certainty that his art will survive him.'"

"Other artists were equally awed and fascinated by the machine, and
talked about it, especially to each other.  Welte soon had all the
candidates for immortality that he could handle."

(Interesting comment, especially to those who thought that no one at
the top in the classical music world at the time was really very
impressed with reproducers, or spoke favorably about them).

The article continues, and refers to artists like Mahler, Busoni, and
Leschetizky who were "delightedly eloquent" in describing their own
recorded performances.  There was not a single great artist who was not
absolutely thrilled and amazed upon hearing his recordings.  And Josef
Hofmann, who despised all recordings and refused to be recorded by
anything at any time, gave his full, uncompromising approval.

While the book which accompanied the record album (containing a total
of 27 performances on 6 sides) did not go into any technical detail,
the unequivocal professional artistic endorsements so far outweighed
any speculation as to how Welte accomplished it that doubts from here
on become trite.

However, it also mentioned an interesting way that Edwin arranged the
recordings.  His recording piano was situated in a castle providing
luxury accommodations for his musically prodigious, world-famous guests.
The piano's recording mechanism was always turned on and a technician
was present behind the scene day and night, so that whenever one of the
virtuosos had an inspiration, privately or otherwise and felt like
turning it all on, they could just let it rip on that fabulous piano in
a glorious, acoustic hall.  What Welte got on paper was the best of the
best!  And yes, they again mentioned that the piano faithfully recorded
both the duration and expressive touch and pedaling of the artist and
reproduced it faithfully.

Craig Brougher

(Message sent Tue 8 Feb 2000, 01:00:12 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Legendary, LP, Masters, Piano, Welte-Mignon

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