Listen to a reproducing piano

Click on the "play" button in the video to hear some light(ish) classical music played on an Ampico reproducing piano owned by one of our members, made in around 1924.  The piece is Liszt's "Soirees de Vienne" No. 6, "Valse Caprice", an arrangement of some of Schubert's waltz tunes.  The roll (no. 69263) was recorded by Nikolai Orloff in October 1928 - the resulting performance aims to be a faithful reproduction of the pianist's original performance.  The present video recording of the roll was made in January 2022 in the UK. Learn more about reproducing pianos here.

Here are two more classical pieces played on the Ampico reproducing piano.  Both pieces are by Frederic Chopin.  Firstly a lively Waltz (Op. 18 in E flat Major) played rather energetically and robustly by renowned composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, on Ampico reproducing piano roll no. 59743.   And in rather more contemplative mood, Chopin's Nocturne Op. 72, No. 1 in E minor (written for his sister and published posthumoustly many years later), played by Esther Marvin Cutchin, on Ampico reproducing piano roll 52474.  Again, click on the "play" button of the video.

By no means all the music on reproducing pianos and pianolas is serious - here is a typical piece of "pop music" from the heyday of the player piano, again played on the Ampico reproducing piano.  It is the fox trot "Idolizing", played by bandleader Vincent Lopez (assisted, probably rather signficantly, and probably by one of Ampico's resident recording artists) on Ampico reproducing piano roll no. 208661. 

Listen to a PIANOLA

Click on the "play" button in the video to hear some more dance music from the 1920s, this time played on a pedal-operated pianola rather than a reproducing piano.  This particular instrument is a "push-up" player (rather than a self-contained player piano), playing 65 notes of an existing piano via wooden fingers.  The music is not normally a recording of a real performance but a manually-coded transcription to the paper roll of the musical notes.  To achieve satisfactory results, the person pumping the pianola to provide the suction will need to vary the intensity of the pedalling to give expression to the music and bring out the melody.  This particular instrument, despite being extremely basic (no proper expression controls, no automatic sustain pedal, no automatic accenting system etc.) gives an entirely respectable performance of "Miracle Melodies", a medley of fox trots on Meloto dance roll no. 32810A.  

One of the best interpreters of piano rolls, especially of popular and ethnic music, was the late Robert "Bob" Berkman (1955-2023), who for most of his working life was the manager at QRS Music Rolls and was responsible for issuing and re-issuing many rolls from the 1980s until the end of large-scale roll production.  Here is one of his own compositions, "Menlo Park Rag", which he recorded onto roll in the 1970s as a private project.

This roll of "Birth of the Blues" also appears to have been a custom production by Bob Berkman, and in this case is pedalled by him on his own player piano in a home recording, sensitively providing the expression via the pedals and hand controls in order to create a highly musical performance.