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MMD > Archives > November 2005 > 2005.11.30 > 07Prev  Next

Enjoying Classical and Popular Piano Rolls
By Paul Murphy

Ray Fairfield has responded most thoughtfully to my confessions
regarding the playing of classical rolls and I appreciate his comments.

I think we agree that a reproducer in a superb piano would come
the closest to recreating an inspired performance of the classical
repertoire.  That's why I made the quip about directing my thoughts to
those, like me, who pump their own pianos and work the controls (not
the least of which are the pedals that activate the air mechanism).

I suppose some MMD readers would assume I do a bad job of bringing
out the best in my piano -- or that it's not a good instrument or
a well-regulated one.  That's really not the case.  I've loved this
Steinway upright for 40 years, kept it in fine shape, and learned to
make it do at least 90-95% what it's capable of.  I just feel that that
missing few points leave a void that it and I can't fill.  Perhaps an
excellent reproducer in a superb grand piano would be the answer, but
I'm a little too old to get into that.

Don't get me wrong.  I _do_ play the classics, know how they should
sound and truly love them best.  Sometimes I'm happiest with the Metro
Style rolls, but just as often I trust my own musical instincts and
do just as well.  The inherent incapabilities of the 1913 foot pumper
Themodist mechanism are what let me down.

Here's an example: I adore the Alfred Cortot (Duo-Art) Chopin "Andante
Spianato and Grande Polonaise."  It opens with a lovely section with
a gently moving bass and a beautiful tune in the right hand.  Clearly
the bass has to be subdued and the melody brought out.  If there were
no times when a treble and bass note were sounded simultaneously, the
Themodist mechanism and my artful pedaling could accomplish the task.
But there _are_ simultaneous notes.

No matter how I "split the stack" to accentuate the treble (or actually
diminish the bass, I believe) the bass note either sounds too loudly or
the treble too softly.  This is a shortcoming of the player mechanism
and not of Mr. Cortot.  I'm quite sure that, even though he was prone to
forget his place in a piece, he weighted the fingers in his right and
left hands properly.  And Rubinstein demonstrated on one of his tapes
that, in the Revolutionary Etude, one doesn't even have to be playing all
of the correct notes in the right hand so long as the bass is insistent,
correct, and powerful.  (But try to get that level of differentiation
across all simultaneously striking bass and treble notes on a Themodist
foot pumper.)

Thanks for hearing me out.  Got to go play some Lamb rags to clear my

Paul Murphy

(Message sent Wed 30 Nov 2005, 13:25:56 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Classical, Enjoying, Piano, Popular, Rolls

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