NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1895 __ Pianola
Edwin Scott Votey (1856-1931)
Comment : The first true Pianola was completed by Edwin Scott Votey in a workshop at his home at 312, Forest Avenue East, Detroit, by the spring or summer of 1895. Edwin Votey is rightly credited as the inventor of the Pianola, but this does not mean that roll-operated musical instruments sprang from nowhere at the end of the nineteenth century. In both the United States and Europe a large number of engineers and musicians had been involved in their development and manufacture over a period of some twenty-five years. It was the first roll-operated piano playing device that transcended the experimental, and so allowed truly musical performances to be achieved by means of piano rolls. Votey later joined the Æolian Company, which put the instrument on sale in the USA in late 1898, and in Europe a year later. But the Pianola and its competitors were not simply the invention of any one person; E. S. Votey's particular contribution was to draw together a number of existing mechanisms which rendered his creation the first truly musical piano-playing device in the world. The pianola is a semi- or fully automatic piano that plays perforated music rolls by a pneumatic system. The correct terms are “piano player” and “player piano”, but “Pianola”, originally a brand name under a patent by The Æolian Company in New York, became a generic term for all brands and types. The first pianola models, “piano players” or “push-ups” as they were called, were set up against a normal piano. The new invention was such a great success that, soon, pianos were available with the mechanism built in. These “player pianos” are the most common type of pianola. Most pianolas are played by a pianolist who generates suction pressure for the pneumatic system by pressing 2 pedals. The player can also control the tempo and dynamics with handles and, thus, render a rather realistic and expressive interpretation without actually being a pianist. The notes are provided on the roll and only musicality and practice is required. “You can play better by roll than many who play by hand,” it promised. “And you can play ALL pieces while they can play but a few.” (1925 Saturday Evening Post, advertisement). Altogether, some 2 million pianolas were built during the first thirty years of the twentieth century and the repertoire includes thousands of titles. During its heyday, the repertoire available on rolls was as rich as the known piano repertoire at the time, including arrangements of opera and orchestral works, early jazz and light music. During the crisis years starting in 1930, the relatively expensive and large pianola disappeared and the public began to listen to the radio or electric gramophone. (Compiled from various sources)
Urls : http://www.pianola.org/history/history.cfm (last visited ) http://www.pianola.org/factsheets/votey.cfm (last visited ) http://www.pianola.be/en/pianola.htm (last visited )

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