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MMD > Archives > March 2000 > 2000.03.12 > 04Prev  Next

"Piano300" Exhibition at Smithsonian Institution
By Douglas Henderson

Hello MMD readers,  In recent times the pianoforte (and to a lesser
extent, the player in its pneumatic and solenoid forms) has been
receiving increased media publicity.

Yesterday, National Public Radio did a spot on "Piano300": an
exhibition of 25 pianos, representing three centuries of the
instrument, opening at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington,
D.C.  If you have RealPlayer G2, you can hear this broadcast at

Then, when Maine's local TV news station hyped a forthcoming spot
about piano history, I decided that this subject was probably being
'orchestrated', as those of Gershwin, Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton and
George Antheil have been in the print and broadcast avenues, recently.

Sure enough, The Smithsonian had just launched what has to be the
longest-to-download-ever illustrated URL concerning their new
exhibition, called "Piano300":

The star of the exhibit has to be the Cristofori grand piano, circa
1722, one of three known to exist today, lent by Museo Nazionale degli
strumenti musicali, Rome.

There are many interesting pictures and descriptions of keyboard pianos
on the Smithsonian's web site, but things get dicey when player pianos
arrive, toward the end of the series.  A black and white picture of an
ordinary pedal player upright is shown, and then the series closes with
the MIDI solenoid models by Yamaha.  Since the museum collection
includes the Votey 'prototype' 58-Note pianola, an art case Steinway
'AR' with a remote Concertola roll-changer and some other fascinating
pneumatic player instruments, it would have been more balanced to
include some of these, or at least photographs and mention of them in
the historical survey.

As the non-interactive, "passive-listening" Disklaviers (when
compared to pianolas) conclude the player series, it would have also
been a bit more fair to include or list the celebrated Boesendorfer
SE grand pianos or the once-ubiquitous Pianocorder mechanisms, both
appearing on the scene before this singular solenoid computer product.

As a music roll person, I believe that the pneumatic players have
_more_ to do with piano history than these electronic models, since
both the keyboard pianist and the pianolist have to be involved with
the music production.  This also includes the 'reproducing' players,
such as the Duo-Art, since without a capstan drive, the operator is
best seated on the bench to monitor the tempo and make corrections as
the paper builds up on the lower spool.

If this Smithsonian exhibit were to focus on keyboard pianos only,
the array and progression of instruments is stellar.  However, the
pneumatic player piano was for several decades (the majority of piano
production) reaching 80% of the industry for one brief period of time.
So popular and influential were the pneumatic players that piano
advertising often referred to the standard instrument as "the silent

Thus, if players were to be part of the Piano300 display, then more
of the traditional examples should have been included, rather than the
electronic gadgets of recent vintage, produced for a special market
long after broadcasting, stereophonic audio and other musical diversions
crowded the pianoforte out of the typical parlour.

Still ... how often is a genuine Cristofori on display in the States,
or on the Web?

There's always something to learn.  I associated Walter Teague with
Marmon automobile designs and architectural buildings at the 1939 New
York City World's Fair.  However, the Smithsonian display includes a
picture of a Steinway D grand, in the Art Deco style -- also by Teague!

For those have the time to visit this comprehensive display in
Washington D.C., "Piano300" runs from March 9, 2000 through March 4,
2001, giving die-hard pianoforte enthusiasts plenty of time to see the
exhibit.  There are also MP3 and .WAV sound files on the linked Web
pages, for those who wish to play some music.

Regards from Maine,
Douglas Henderson - Artcraft Music Rolls
PO Box 295, Wiscasset, ME 04578

(Message sent Sun 12 Mar 2000, 19:28:20 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Exhibition, Institution, Piano300, Smithsonian

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