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MMD > Archives > October 2001 > 2001.10.10 > 02Prev  Next

The Metrostyle Questions
By Frank Himpsl

Hi Robbie,

Randy Herr wrote in asking about the early Metrostyle rolls which were
billed as "played by" famous classical composers, and wanted to know
if anyone has seen these or knew anything about them.  I've seen a
number of these rolls, and each carries a stenciled facsimile
signature of the composer/artist along with a long stenciled testimony
that the roll was "annotated" by him or her to play on the Metrostyle.
I assume this to mean that ritardando and accelerando effects were
added to the "performance" by lengthening or shortening the
perforations in places, and that the composer/artist added themodist
snakebite perforations to accent the melody line as appropriate.
However, the rolls which I've played appear to be no more than direct
transcriptions of the music score onto paper, and they don't sound
more "hand played" than any of the other classical Aeolian 65-note or
88-note rolls of the period (i.e. without the Themodist snakebite
expression perforations).  That's not to say that hand-played-sounding
performances can't be achieved in the creative, live performances of
this type of roll...only that these deluxe Metrostyle rolls don't
appear (to me) to differ substantially from other similar Aeolian
rolls of the era.

These early Metrostyle rolls were issued on very high quality manila
paper stock and presented in substantial "top hat" design boxes with
either dark maroon or deep blue labels, with a metal restraining clip
to keep the roll from juggling around.  The metal clip and top-hat box
design were deluxe features Aeolian kept using for the early Duo-Art
rolls, which naturally followed the Metrostyles.  These were extremely
expensive rolls for the era; ranging from $2 to as much as $4 and
possibly more per each...a fortune in terms of today's dollars.

I know two composers of light classical music who are represented on
the early Themodists with facsimile signatures and testimonials; these
being Moritz Moszkowski and Cecile Chaminade.  Their extensive piano
music is of the late romantic style, very beautiful and melodic, and
it enjoyed immense popularity in its day.    While anything is
possible, I sincerely doubt that either composer/artist ever did
Themodist arranging of their compositions for Aeolian.  I believe
both artists lived in Paris at the time the Metrostyles would have
been issued, so travel to and from the Aeolian office in England
would likely have been a minimum necessity.   It seems more likely
that Aeolian paid them a fee for the use of their name and testimonials
on the rolls, and the expression or tempo effects (if any) were added
by staff artists.   Maybe the Themodist-edited rolls were later sent
to the composers for approval, that's a possibility.   The only way to
gauge whatever artistic input these artists might have contributed to
the Themodist rolls would be a comparison of like-compositions on the
Aeolian "standard" 65- or 88-note issue rolls against the Themodist
artist-credited versions of the same piece.  Of course that assumes
there are examples where these pieces were issued in both formats, but
I'm fairly certain there are several because of the popularity of their
material.  Finding the roll comparison-sets to study is the only

If memory serves correctly I think I've seen Edvard Grieg's name on
these rolls as well.   Grieg did record his playing for the red Welte,
whereas to my knowledge Moszkowski and Chaminade never recorded.
Moszkowski died in 1925, but Chaminade lived into the 1940s.

All best,
Frank Himpsl

(Message sent Thu 11 Oct 2001, 08:37:17 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Metrostyle, Questions

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