• FA-118228 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
  • FA-118229 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
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Steinway-Welte grand reproduction piano


The keys of this pneumatically-controlled piano move as though played by ghostly hands. Its invention in 1904 was a sensation.

Player pianos have existed since the late 19th century. The piano mechanism is controlled automatically in all of these instruments. The first real breakthrough occurred through the use of pneumatic controls using suction air, with perforated paper strips as data carriers. The keys are played by bellows moved by the supply of air. The air is controlled by means of a series of holes in a paper strip, the "piano roll".

Welte & Söhne, one of the most important manufacturers of reproduction apparatus, only fitted its technology into well-known makes of grand piano, such as Steinway, Bechstein and Ibach. The particular feature of the Welte system was that not only the key movements but also the dynamics of playing were included when a piece of music was recorded. The recordings are thus documents that are important for the history of interpretation. They allow authentic reproduction of the playing of famous pianists at the start of the 20th century, such as Max Reger, Eugen d´Albert and Emil von Sauer.

There are also pieces that were composed especially for the mechanical piano, such as those by Paul Hindemith, George Antheil and Conlon Nancarrow. The mechanical piano offered new freedom to composers: Any tonal sequences could be placed on the music rolls, without having to take into account the restrictions of two actual playing hands. Some of the avant-garde pieces cannot actually be played by human hands.

This grand piano from the collection of the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna Technical Museum) has undergone years of restoration work and can now be played. It is the only existing Steinway-Welte grand piano decorated in "limed oak".

Manufacturer of grand piano: Steinway & Sons, Hamburg
Manufacturer of reproduction apparatus: M. Welte & Söhne, Freiburg
Date of construction: 1913/1915

Inv.Nr. 17864/1
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