Grieg's Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Pianola, 1912.
By the time the gramophone and player piano industries were ready to consider the recording of famous pianists and composers, Edvard Grieg had already reached the last few years of his life. Born in Bergen, Norway, in June 1843, Grieg was never a very strong man, having lost the use of his left lung as a result of early and protracted illness. When the youthful Percy Grainger visited him at Troldhaugen in 1907, Grieg felt that he had discovered the person who most nearly approached his own ideal of piano playing, had he himself been blessed with the energy and vigour that exuded from the young Australian. But there was another way in which Grieg re-discovered some of the liveliness of his earlier days: piano rolls, with their novel possibilities for editing and improvement, were also magical enduers of youth. Grainger himself observed that the Duo-Art represented him, not as he actually played, but as he would like to have played, and at least some of Grieg's Phonola rolls bear the signs of skilful post-production activity. We should not run away from these "virtual" techniques, since they have also played a part in audio recordings of classical music since the start of the LP era. Piano rolls are generally akin to portraits rather than photographs, but it is often the case that a portrait is the more successful at encapsulating the character of its subject.
An Advertisement for Grieg's Autograph-Metrostyle Rolls, London, 1913.
The Aeolian Company - Autograph-Metrostyle Rolls for the Pianola
The first approach to Grieg towards preserving his ideas of interpretation on music roll came from the Aeolian Company in London, which, like its parent organisation in the USA, sold the recently invented Pianola and the perforated music rolls that went with it. Most rolls at this early stage were not recorded, but simply transcribed by trained editors from the normal sheet music, and it was up to the "Pianolist" to interpret the music as he or she saw fit. The performance of the Grieg Concerto in February 1912, depicted at the head of this page, used non-recorded rolls of the solo part, and the Pianola was played by Easthope Martin, a young English composer, with the London Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Artur Nikisch. Such events were no doubt motivated by the publicity that they very effectively generated, but it is clear that the musical standards that could be achieved with normal piano rolls were good enough to satisfy the likes of Nikisch. It is one thing for a conductor to sign an over-enthusiastic testimonial, but quite another to place his reputation on the line in a live concert with such an instrument!
By the summer of 1901, Aeolian already had a good selection of Grieg's compositions in its Pianola catalogue, including music for solo piano, piano duet, and accompaniment rolls for singers and instrumentalists. In 1903 it introduced the Metrostyle, invented by Francis L. Young, which consisted of a pointer attached to the Tempo Lever, by means of which the Pianolist could follow a wavy red line marked throughout the transcription of the music, thereby introducing variations in speed and rubato, as previously indicated by a staff musician. A further development of this principle resulted in "Autograph-Metrostyle" rolls, whose initial red lines had been marked by, or under the supervision of, famous composers and pianists, with all the advantages of authenticity that this provided. George Whitefield Fay Reed, Technical Director of the Orchestrelle Company, Aeolian's London establishment, visited Grieg in late 1904 to mark up a series of his compositions, and around twenty years later he wrote up his memories of the trip, as an adjunct to a series of musical lectures given at Aeolian Hall, London, by Percy Scholes, the well-known musical historian and lexicographer.
George Whitefield Fay Reed, Technical Director of the Aeolian Company, London.
"Having a personal introduction to Grieg, I went to Bergen, taking with me one of the latest "Pianolas", equipped with the Metrostyle. After a little difficulty I succeeded in persuading him to listen to it, at the same time explaining the function of the Metrostyle, and how by its means his own interpretations of his compositions could be marked on the music rolls, and thus enable thousands of music lovers, and possible future "Pianola" owners, all over the world in the years to come, to play these compositions according to his exact interpretation.
"The thought that his own ideas could thus be preserved for posterity appealed to him, as it has to many other composers who at the beginning were equally prejudiced against the "Pianola", and he agreed to assist me in marking the following rolls:
Opening of Papillon by Grieg, Metrostyled by the Composer - Troldhaugen, 1904.
"I remained in Bergen for a week, working with Grieg several hours each day, until the marking was complete, and the line on each roll was to his absolute satisfaction. As the work progressed, and he commenced to realise what the invention of the "Pianola" really meant to the music lover, he became very enthusiastic, so much so that during the few remaining years of his life, Grieg was numbered amongst the staunchest supporters of the instrument.
"I shall never forget my delightful visit to his villa, "Troldhaugen", a few miles from Bergen, situated on one of the many beautiful fjords which abound on this coast. Here, in his home, surrounded by his family and friends, he played piece after piece and chatted about the many quaint sources by which they had been inspired; old Norwegian legends of the dwarfs, giants, etc., who in his imagination peopled many of his pieces. My friend, Johannes Wolff, the violinist, himself an old friend of Grieg, was also there, and together they played several Movements from the Violin Sonatas. Then, after a simple Norwegian supper, we sat in the music room with the wonderful glow of the Norwegian twilight coming in through the windows, while Madame Grieg sang a number of her husband's Songs."
Roll Leader of Papillon by Grieg, Metrostyled by the Composer - Troldhaugen, 1904.
The result of this intense activity was a series of red ink lines on "pattern" rolls for the 65-note Pianola, which were kept by the Aeolian Company for many years, and used as fair copies in the production of normal Pianola rolls of Grieg's compositions. Unfortunately, these "Autograph-Metrostyle" rolls have not been popular with collectors of player pianos since the Second World War, whose tastes have tended more towards light music, and as a result, most are not known to have survived. The illustration above shows the start of Grieg's roll of "Papillon", with a reproduction of his attestation and signature made, not at the time of marking, but later on, in May 1906 in London, on the way to receive an honorary degree from the University of Oxford. Grieg confirms that "The Tempo Line in this roll is in accordance with my intentions."
Ludwig Hupfeld - Recorded Rolls for the Phonola, Phonoliszt and DEA
In April 1906, Grieg had travelled twice to Leipzig in Germany, on either side of a concert engagement in Prague, and he was able to record nine music rolls of his own compositions for two different German companies, those of Ludwig Hupfeld and Hugo Popper, the latter representing the Mignon reproducing piano manufactured by Michael Welte and Sons of Freiburg-im-Breisgau. On 11th April 1906 he visited the Hupfeld recording studio and played six of his own compositions for Hupfeld's new series of "Künstlermusikrollen", Artists' Music Rolls, which had been initiated in the autumn of the previous year.
Hupfeld's First Brochure for its Artists' Rolls - Leipzig, Germany, Autumn 1905.
No photograph seems to have survived from the occasion, although the recording sessions of many other pianists were captured in this way, and so one cannot be certain who was in attendance. However, it is very likely that Ludwig Hupfeld, the owner of the firm, welcomed such an important international personage as Grieg, and the recording engineer was most probably Robert Frömsdorf, inventor of the Phonola, who operated the roll-marking machine for many such recordings, until his untimely death in the summer of 1908. It is also known that the German pianist and musical theorist, Ludwig Riemann, was present, and it may be that he acted as an unofficial recording producer, since his analytical mind would have been very useful in following the score.
Ludwig Hupfeld and Robert Frömsdorf, Grieg's Recording Team for the Phonola.
In his volume on the theory of piano playing, Das Wesen des Klavierklanges, Ludwig Riemann transcribes the first sixteen bars of music from Grieg's recording of one of these six rolls, Erotikon, conveniently providing us with the nearest we have to an original master roll of Grieg's playing. Like many other roll-recording devices, the Hupfeld system marked a moving roll in real time, as the pianist played, though the connections between the piano and the recorder seem to have been pneumatic in this case, through rubber and lead tubing, unlike the systems of many other companies, which used electrical connections through multicore cables. Riemann describes the recording process in detail, and it is clear that a rudimentary form of dynamic recording was available, with six lines at each edge of the master roll representing the approximate force with which notes in the treble and bass sections were played, presumably pp, p, mp, mf, f and ff.
It is most unlikely that this dynamic information was edited into the playable rolls in any automatic way, and a surviving photograph of Grieg, listening to a pedalled performance of his rolls on the Phonola in 1907, is a good indication that any process of adding dynamics was done well after the recording session, if at all. Hupfeld's main commercial avenue at this time for the new series of recorded rolls was the pedal-operated Phonola, whose dynamics were created by the feet of the Phonolist, the individual player at home. However, Herr Hupfeld's instruments changed in style and title with remarkable frequency, and the confusingly named "Phonoliszt" (note the extra "z"), an expression piano powered by an electric suction pump, was able to add three degrees of automatic loudness to any rolls that were issued in its separate series. Grieg's own diary states that he was recording for the Phonoliszt, though in fact his recordings were used on a variety of the firm's instruments.
The Phonola, invented by Robert Frömsdorf - Leipzig, Germany, 1902 onwards.
The final step in Hupfeld's progression towards a fully automatic reproducing piano at this time was the DEA, always spelled in capital letters, though without any surviving indication that the name might have been an acronym. The DEA allowed for six levels of dynamics in treble and bass separately, with variable speed crescendos and diminuendos between any chosen levels. This was certainly a system of some considerable theoretical subtlety, though this writer is not aware of any instrument that might currently do justice to the underlying theory, and in any case the practical implementation would have depended on the experience of musical editors, which, in the years immediately following its introduction in 1907, would have been very limited.
All six of Grieg's rolls have survived in versions for later Hupfeld instruments, with the note placements exactly as played and edited in 1906, but without automatic dynamic coding, and on this new recording they have been performed by Rex Lawson. Such a process is not infallible, but in general the rolls will tend to sound like an idealised version of Grieg, perhaps a rather more youthful man than the one who actually played in 1906, but a virtual Grieg with whom the real Grieg would be in sympathy.
Michael Welte and Sons - Recorded Rolls for the Welte-Mignon
After his concert in Prague, Grieg returned to Leipzig, and on 17 April 1906 he visited the studios of Hugo Popper, another major manufacturer of musical instruments. Popper was on friendly terms with the southern German firm of Michael Welte und Soehne, whose fully automatic Mignon piano had been introduced to the public in early 1905. Once again, no photograph seems to have survived from Grieg's recording session, but it must have been very similar to the photograph of Paderewski shown below, taken barely two months beforehand, in the same room and with the same personnel in attendance.
Ignace Jan Paderewski recording for the Welte-Mignon - 27 February 1906, Leipzig.
Apart from Paderewski and his wife, those depicted in the photograph, from left to right, are Edwin Welte and Karl Bockisch, inventors of the Mignon, Julius Feurich, manufacturer of the piano used for recording, Berthold Welte, managing director of the Welte firm, and Hugo Popper, in whose studio the session took place. Grieg recorded only three rolls for the Mignon, Papillon, The Little Bird and Norwegian Bridal Procession. His diary records that he was feeling unwell, and had hardly slept the night before, and he joked with Karl Bockisch that, "Other people play my music better than I do!"
Other Recorded Piano Rolls of Grieg
Although the recordings described above represent all the direct contributions that Grieg made for piano roll, other companies acquired duplication rights to some of his rolls, so that his performances were also to be heard on the Ampico, the Angelus-Artrio, the ArtEcho and the Duo-Art. Those for the Ampico were reissues of Grieg's Hupfeld rolls, the Artrio and ArtEcho came from the Welte-Mignon, while the Aeolian Company transferred just one of the Autograph-Metrostyle rolls, Papillon, to the Duo-Art, presumably by using an 88-note Pianola push-up in front of its Duo-Art recording piano.
Many LP and CD transfers have been made of Grieg's Welte-Mignon rolls, not always very successfully, but the new 2L recording represents the first occasion when any of the composer's Phonola rolls have been available in audio form, 103 years after they were actually recorded.