History

Reproducing Piano roll owners of some history may recall that in 1963, a first attempt at cataloguing the classical output of the three major companies - AMPICO, DUO-ART and WELTE - originated in Cleveland, Ohio. It was, of course, flawed and incomplete (for lack of detailed information); the only accurate catalog resulting from the work was that of the Aeolian Co...Duo-Art. The impetus was the acquisition of a Steinway M., 1925/6, and a roll collection which, in the space of three years, totalled nearly 1,000. When it became evident that some attempt to preserve this historic collection should be made, I founded the International Piano Library.

Without success in Cleveland in garnering support, the collection with the piano, was moved to New York. There, in the span of two years, some success was enjoyed with the location and subsequent publication of rare disc recordings, notably those of the late Josef Hofmann. However, nothing was done with the rolls, except to catalog and maintain them. In the ensuing ten years, the collection grew to nearly 40,000 artifacts: 78 rpm, cassette, tape, LP and ultimately CD recordings; sheet music, books on and about music and musicians and all else musical. The archive was, in 1977, successfully transferred to the University of Maryland in College Park; and renamed the International Piano Archive at Maryland (IPAM).

To this day, however, nothing has been accomplished in the matter of transfer of the roll recordings, despite the fact that IPAM owns and maintains one of the 37 Bösendorfer SE290 "Imperial" concert grands, the piano equipped with Wayne Stahnke's computer-driven reproducing mechanism.

As I am unaware of any organized program to preserve the rolls, therefore other than sporadic copying by one or another of the companies formed to perpetuate them, I have decided upon this method of insuring their preservation. With the data bank in operation, any roll to be found anywhere in the world can be copied, and reproduced utilizing current and future methods of transfer and realization.

As many of you are aware, a beginning has been made. Wayne Stahnke has successfully transferred the 35 known Ampico rolls set down by composer / pianist, Sergei Rachmaninoff, between the years 1919 and 1929, and the two resulting CD's have been issued by TELARC INTERNATIONAL of Beachwood, OH. They are Telarc 80489, made up of the 19 original works or transcriptions of Rachmaninoff; Telarc 80491 contains five pieces by Chopin, and selections from the work of Bach, Beethoven-Rubinstein, Gluck-Sgambati, Henselt, Mendelssohn, Paderewski, Schubert, Schubert-Liszt and Tchaikovsky.

Finally, a statement of intent must include the following caveat: The RPRF has no intention of superseding any program of transfer of any kind. Attempts have been made and are continuing, to effect realizations of the performances by NIMBUS, utilizing the complete Duo-Art collection of Gerald Stonehill, and making use of his Ampico "robot"...a specially-equipped and designed vorsetzer pushed up to a Hamburg Steinway concert grand. The series is titled "Grand Piano' and has now reached 19 in a projected series of 50 compact discs. Although temporarily withdrawn by the company, the existing issues have been restored. Consult Amazon.com or other venues. In addition to these, five CDs, derived from the original German, as well as the Licensee Welte have been released by Pierian Records. They contain the complete recordings of Claude Debussy, Enrique Granados, Maurice Ravel, Alexander Scriabin and a 2 CD set of most of the 35 recordings made by Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler. Again, consult Amazon.com for details.

Further, no attempt is made with this program to in any way discredit or discourage any reproducing piano owner from perpetuation of the instrument and the rolls designed to be played on it. Every program of copying of rolls should go forward and be encouraged. Some time ago, a website devoted to the "Life and Times" of Leopold Godowsky has been successfully (and impressively) mounted at: Godowsky.com Piano enthusiasts the world over will be delighted with the complete detail of compositions, recordings and now reproducing piano roll recordings of this significant artist.

Inspired by this effort, the RPRF offers a similiar tribute to the work of the great German / Italian composer / pianist, Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924). It contains a brief, yet lively, biography, detail of his historic 12 orchestral concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic between 1902-1909; and his piano repertory, compositions and transcriptions. A more detailed biography for those desiring more complete information is also now available. Further, a listing of his phonograph recordings, and those of his work by others, as well as a complete rollography is part of the site.

I invite comments on and about any detail of the foregoing and the program itself . I want to say yet again that what I have provided is the barest of surveys of the roll scene. Many of you have little or no interest in the classical recordings, and that is perfectly understandable. I urge the enthusiast for popular, rag and stride piano rolls to attempt as complete a listing as I believe the RPRF provides here.

Last of all, the choice of recordings considered most desirable for perpetuation. For those who do not find in these listings rolls made by a given performer, I state that not I, but history, has failed to maintain interest in that artist. Hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more recordings were made by performers much admired in their time. Posterity has, however, neglected to concur.

Albert M. Petrak - Founder

©1997-2009 The Reproducing Piano Roll Foundation