Last Updated: 10/8/2008


"ianola; the history of the self-playing piano," by Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume. Published in 1984 by George Allen & Unwin, London. Hard cover with dust jacket, 395 pages with 67 line illustrations and 150 photographs. The book measures 10 inches (25.2 cm) high by 7 inches (19.2 cm) wide.

Text from the dust jacket, in part, is as follows:

"Pianos which play by themselves are today the province of the technologies of electronics and the home computer, yet half a century ago, pneumatically-played pianos such as the Pianola were commonplace. Earlier still, pianos played by a studded wooden barrel were equally popular in the select drawing rooms of the wealthy and the aristocracy. Brash relatives of these courtly barrel pianos became the dispensers of music to the masses on the Victorian street corner and in the public bar.

The development of the self-playing piano reached its peak with the reproducing piano which was claimed to be able to reproduce a virtuoso performance by a master pianist. Many great artists recorded in perforated paper for these instruments and thanks to the delicately-adjusted pneumatic computers which these early twentieth century pianos possess, we can today hear the performances of artists such as Rachmaninoff, Bauer, Busoni, Pachmann and Cartot in our drawing rooms. Only a few years, pianist Percy Grainger was the soloist at a London performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto although he had been dead for some years.

Along the way to this perfection, though, there were endless experiments and piano-playing systems. There were 'kicking-shoe' actions, planchettes, cardboard strips and discs, thin rolls of punched brass and electric solenoids, and wooden fingers with felt-covered ends. Amidst all these rich flights of the inventors' fancy were rubber tubing, airtight cloth, springs, slides, screws and a host of special manufacturing techniques and processes/

...Pianola recounts the fascinating story of Man's attempts to make his pianos play by themselves. This is a definitive guide to the history and development of the player piano illustrated by contemporary advertisements. The operation of the player is described in copious detail and is enlivened by the author's own clear drawings. There is an extensive list of makers, inventors and patentees. Many of the illustrations are of extreme rarity and have collected during the author's extensive research and travels over a number of years. An Appendix tells the story of how the player piano was in part responsible for the war-time training of flyers.

For collectors and enthusiasts alike, Pianola is an invaluable reference work on the player pianola in all its many forms. There is a companion volume by the same author Restoring Pianolas which details the repair and preservation of these fine instruments.

              List Of Plates
              List Of Line Illustrations
  1. The Rise and Fall of the Automatic Piano
  2. The Barrel Piano and Its Development
  3. From Mechanical to Pneumatic Action
  4. The Evolution of the Player Piano
  5. How the Pneumatic Player Piano Works
  6. The Perfection of the Player Mechanism
  7. The Reproducing Piano
  8. The Nickelodeon
  9. Other Roll-Playing Musical Instruments
  10. The Post-War Revival of the Player Piano
  11. Music for the Player Piano
  12. How to Play the Player Piano
  13. An Assessment of the Capabilities of the Reproducing Piano
  14. List of Principal Makers, Patentees and Agents
              Appendix A     Player piano pot-pouri
              Appendix B     The player piano in flying training
              Picture Credits

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