Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler
Vladimir de Pachmann
Ignace Jan Paderewski
Emil von Sauer
E. Robert Schmitz
Michael von Zadora
The player piano goes back to the 1890s, however in 1905 German company M. Welte & Sons marketed the first "reproducing piano", a player piano that played with expression. Reproducing piano rolls have extra information on them to control the volume of the playing notes.
This invention spawned a huge industry that saw a range of other reproducing pianos, including Ampico and Duo-Art. These instruments and their rolls were expensive, the Welte-Mignon the most expensive.
Reproducing piano rolls ceased being made in 1941, leaving a legacy of piano roll recordings by many important pianists of the day. These include well-known pianists such as Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Serkin, Paderewski, Grainger and Rubinstein. There are many others, now forgotten, but who were very famous in their day, such as Leschetizky, Busoni, Samaroff, Bloomfield Zeisler, Carreńo, Saint-Saëns and Pachmann.
Into the 21st Century
In the 1980s I developed a system of recording Ampico piano rolls in electronic form. This required a recording machine and a suitable interface fitted to my Ampico so the e-roll files could be played on the Ampico. (See Gallery page for photos.) Other interface systems have since come on the market, and today numerous collectors play their instruments from MIDI files of piano rolls.
In 2006, I began developing a new suite of equipment to record all types of reproducing piano rolls as MIDI files. The new equipment was commissioned in late 2011 and has since been used to record over 6000 reproducing piano rolls as MIDI files, including many rolls from the Condon collection, now held by Stanford University.
The end result
It has taken nearly 10 years to reach the point where we can offer such a wide range of MIDI files from Ampico, Duo-Art and all types of Welte rolls. The MIDI files come in two formats: as an e-roll, to suit original reproducing pianos fitted with MIDI valves, or as a standard MIDI file for a piano such as the Disklavier. At this time, we offer over 85 percent of the Ampico and Duo-Art classical roll libraries, and over 40 percent of the Welte-Mignon/Licensee classical roll libraries. Several rare roll recordings are included.
While we have concentrated on gathering classical music from rolls, we also have a large number of popular roll recordings, in particular a significant selection of roll recordings made during the 1930s, including the last to be made in 1941. A feature of many popular rolls is the arrangement, achieved either by two live pianists, or post editing the roll. One of the great arrangers was legendary piano roll artist Frank Milne. The popular music library includes a wide range of musical styles, played by some of the best known musicians of the times.
Full fidelity recordings of celebrated pianists of the past – as MIDI or audio files
Some of the pianists in the collection