Hello MMD readers, As one who's well-known for crediting Mary Allison
(and her dining room table Leabarjan #5 perforator) for making the
'final' released Vocalstyle rolls allegedly played by 'Jelly Roll'
Morton, and who also sees/hears _no_ Josef Hofmann in the Woods
arrangements of pieces like Turkish March by Beethoven and other
mathematical exercises in Duo-Art arranging, I think I should toss out
one facet which some of the historic roll collectors often ignore.
That is, the "played by" rolls had to be, for the most part, artists
who were popular with the classical music enthusiasts, since piano
sales often hung on the logotype of the pianist and the arrangement
of the commercial rolls being sold in the name of the musician.
Thus, it didn't hurt pianist Hofmann that he had a good-looking
appearance, something reinforced by the many paintings of him which
hung in Steinway & Sons dealerships around the world at the time.
By contrast, Leopold Godowsky, who was a "musician's musician" in many
more ways than Hofmann, had a rounded, somewhat fat face, not something
which attracted people on roll labels or show room posters to the
extent of his contemporary musician.
Is it any wonder that Aeolian paid Hofmann $1000.00 per roll while
Godowsky received something like $3000.00 for a collection of
'recordings' for the Duo-Art? (A friend of mine has a privately-
published book of Hofmann's letters, and it gives the exact dollar
figures and numbers of titles for which Godowsky was paid. It seems
to me, upon recall, that something like 12-16 rolls were required for
Godowsky's Aeolian contract -- at a vastly lower price.)
Godowsky wrote those fantastic pieces called "Triakontameron" (a cycle
of 30 compositions), as well as many transcriptions and paraphrases of
operatic and Viennese melodies, beyond playing the classical repertoire
up to 1930 when a stroke curtailed his performing career.
I have heard Claudio Arrau in live performance, dating back to the
'Fifties, and was unimpressed with every concert that I attended,
of which there were several. Always, I wondered was I "missing
something," but concluded that what turned down the excitement, for me,
was technically-perfect playing -- something a machine like the Pianola
could execute with the challenging music roll arrangements. I also
found that Russian pianist Richter had a similar effect on me, though
I only heard him on recordings. Glenn Gould was another person whose
live performances sounded, to me, too cold and mechanical.
Perhaps Aeolian didn't promote and distribute more of the "played by
Arrau" Duo-Art rolls because he didn't really make waves in those days.
Arrau's long performing career, topping that of Horowitz, has a lot to
do, in my opinion, with his latter-day fame. Whoever lives the longest
gets the final applause.
(If you want to read what Vladimir Horowitz thought of his Duo-Art
rolls, check out http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/links.htm and scroll
to the bottom of the page.)
The player roll companies "typecast" their artists much as the
Hollywood Studios did in the past. For Duo-Art, the artist's
marketability, and slot in their performance repertoire, had much to
do with the expression which was punched into the 'recording' after the
fact. For example, if one examines the $4.00 artists like Paderewski
or Hofmann against the lesser ones of the time, such as the $2.25-$3.25
pianists (Gabrilowitsch, Iturbi, Landowska or Ganz), for example,
you'll note that Aeolian perforated a "louder" loud and a "softer" soft
on their higher-priced releases, in most cases.
This is why, in the 'Fifties, I started cutting into the Duo-Art
performances via the control levers (taking up the "duo" nature of
the Pianola's name) after asking myself, "Why put up with a more muted
accent on a cheaper roll?" or "Why not add some Soft Pedal for the less
It wasn't long before I found that few rolls really challenged the
pneumatic player action, and that the Pianola controls were often a
good way of fine-tuning the music to the specific instrument.
At this writing I have on one side of my Leabarjan perforator (where
Duo-Art expression is being added to a spectacular arrangement) a stack
of the old 'reproducing' piano ads, all about the "fleeting moments
captured on immortal performances", viz. the usual puffery of the old
days, when advertising was unrestricted.
On the other side of my arranging perforator stand is a stack of CDs
and cassette tapes of piano music, being played while the "coolie" work
of cutting-in the expression commands takes place. (If something needs
proofing, I stop the audio long enough to crank out the roll and try it
on a Duo-Art player only steps away.)
It's impossible, when mired in this kind of activity, to accept the
notion that an artist exists on perforated paper, even if he or she
played some 'recording' (marking/punching) equipment at the start of
the roll arranging process.
Thus, Claudio Arrau -- who is rare on rolls today -- was probably so
for his technically perfect but bland keyboard performances. Hofmann
and Paderewski, and the others, however, are also absent on rolls, from
If one is looking at a high speed melody, as I'm doing now, knowing the
speed limitations of the accordion pneumatics which "tug" on the same
hand levers a Pianolist uses (but a tad less effectively, when all is
said and done), the decisions which surround the arrangement are: Will
the Theme rise fast enough for this note without affecting the next
one? And, if so, should the hammer rail lift (Soft Pedal) be added to
smooth things over? Or, if the octaves are crossing over the division
of the Bass-Treble scale: should I cut the accented octaves in half (as
Aeolian often did) or override the bass Accompaniment for a few chords
to "track the melody"?
By the time one gets into the nuts and bolts of roll arranging, the
artist comes across as "Betty Crocker," "Reddy Kilowatt" (remember
him?) or the "Gold Dust Twins" (ditto).
As for signatures, my Artcraft rolls have been signed by living artists
of today, for their fans, even though there has been no claim to
'recording' and 'reproducing' their "Art" (as the old manufacturers
used to call it).
I don't buy Arrau audio recordings and I certainly wouldn't have many
hopes for his music rolls being scintillating, unless arranged by
somebody who added these elements, as I am doing now for something
admittedly not 'hand-played'.
I guess it all boils down to: Is this a music roll for a mechanical
instrument, modified by an interactive operator (the Pianolist) up to a
point, when needed -- or is an artist being "preserved" for posterity?
In the latter case, why do the audio recordings sound more
individualistic and less formula-made?
Perhaps avid roll collectors should rediscover the joys of audio,
which is something apart from an expression player or a pedal Pianola
manipulated by a musically inclined person.
Regards from Maine,
Douglas Henderson - Artcraft Music Rolls