«Recording the Soul of Piano Playing»

Performance research using Welte’s music rolls and newly-clarified recording processes


For player pianos and organs, Welte’s recording and playback technology was by far the most accurate and capable of subtle musical nuances. The playing of famous musicians recorded between 1904 and 1938 using this tech- nology offer wide-ranging research possibilities into cultural studies illuminating the musical practice of the 19th century. At the core of this project, successor to “Wie von Geister- hand 1 & 2”, is a vastly improved capability to make compari- sons made possible now thanks to our recently increased understanding of Welte technology – comparisons that Wel- te themselves suggested in their promotional material at the outset. This opportunity to compare interpretations was even then seen as an object of great value, especially among the well-off, well-educated bourgeoisie. The technology thus captured an entire musical culture just when it was about to be displaced by the counter-currents of new musical para- digms which have existed ever since.

Historically-oriented analysis of these performances clearly exposes the artistic intentions and decisions of musicians at this time – decisions that can now aid in forming criteria for computer-aided research into recordings. These results can then be applied to enhance today’s performances of 19th century music. In order to interpret the very precise editorial notes found on a surprisingly large number of organ master rolls, the one still-extant Welte recording apparatus was re- cently subjected to a thorough technical examination for the first time. This yielded important new findings about record- ing procedures that were hitherto impossible to be gleaned.


Picture: Section of a recorded organ roll, edited later with pencil markings and stickers: J. S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in d minor BWV 565, Paul Hindermann (1913), Welte No. 0751 (Museum of Music Automatons in Seewen)


Past events:


International Symposium "Recording the Soul of Music", 10/11 March 2013, Museum of Music Automatons Seewen


Exhibition "As if by Magic. A history of the Welte Company to mark the 100th anniversary of the Welte Philharmonie organ". Museum of Music Automatons Seewen, 22 October 2011 - 31 March 2013.



further information about the project (PDF)