'The piano was a child of 19th century social habits: first an article
of luxury for the rich, then gradually made more and more cheaply so that
the less rich could ape their betters... The piano's decline was the 20th
century fate of any object - or any publication, or performance, or idea
- that cannot be sold quickly to scores of millions of people...
'In the family, the piano competes manfully with the washing machine
and the station wagon for the instalment dollar, and rather more weakly
with gardening, photography, and canasta for hobby time. As a source of
passive musical enjoyment, it has been all but snuffed out by the phonograph,
the radio, and the television set; but as an active musical exercise among
the young, it runs not far behind the clarinet, the trumpet, the accordion,
and the guitar.
'It is doubtful now whether the piano will be improved, in any fundamental
sense. One wonders, however, why the electronic piano has never caught on.
This is an instrument with very small hammers, low tension, and no sounding-board
every string, however, being provided with a set of pickups from
which the tone is then amplified through a loud-speaker. A special lever
can regulate the degree of amplification. In this instrument, the agreeable
feeling of dynamic stroke-responsiveness is not only preserved, but augmented,
by electronic means. Several small companies were experimenting with it
during the 1930's, but nothing further seems to have happened.'
- Arthur Loesser, Men, Women and Pianos: a Social History,
New York 1954, London 1955
The pianist Arthur Loesser (1894-1969) studied in New York with Sigismund
Stojowski - a pupil of Ladislaw Zelenski, Director of the Cracow Conservatoire,
Louis Diemer, professor at the Paris Conservatoire, and Paderewski. He made
his debut in Berlin before the First World War, cut piano rolls for Ampico,
made some early electric 78s, taught at the Cleveland Institute, and was
first President of the International Piano Library founded in 1965 by Gregor
Benko and Albert Petrak (since 1974 the International Piano Archives). In
The Great Pianists (1963), Harold C. Schonberg of the New York
Times thanked him 'for having written Men, Women and Pianos.
Anybody working in the field of pianos and pianists must be beholden to
him for his pioneer work and for the brilliant book that resulted.' Jacques
Barzun contributed a memorable Preface. Put to the test, he wrote, here
was one who 'gives us the grateful feeling that he has seen and thought
a man of strong and vivid opinions.' AO
IPAM is the only research facility in the world devoted exclusively to
piano recordings, scores, memorabilia and data. Current holdings include
at least 10,000 78s, 25,000 LPs, 8,000 CDs, 8,000 piano rolls, 2,500 reel-to-reel
tapes (featuring many historic recordings of live concerts and radio broadcasts),
9,000 scores (some autograph), 2,500 books, and more than forty private
collections. Donald Manildi, Curator since 1993, profiled the resource in
the Autumn 1997 issue of International Piano Quarterly.
Music Library, Hornbake 3210, University of Maryland,
College Park, MD 20742, USA
+ 1 301 405 9224, Mondays-Fridays, 9am-5pm local time
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