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Pianola Institute

Rex Lawson recording Stravinsky at Dulwich College in September 1990 - recording studios are not always the coolest of places!

Rex Lawson's music-making is well represented on both LP and CD. Many of the recordings are now no longer available, but they are all documented here, the most recent first. Most of the older recordings turn up on Ebay from time to time, but if you have been looking for one without success, by all means email us via the Contacts page of this website.

The Aeolian Company - Compositions and Arrangements for Pianola
NMC D136 : May 2008

CD Contents
1.J.S. Bach: Organ Prelude & Fugue in G, BWV 541, transcribed by Esther Willis
Percy Grainger: Two British Folk Music Settings
2.Molly on the Shore (No. 19)
3.Shepherd's Hey (No. 21)
4.Igor Stravinsky: Étude pour Pianola
5.Eugene Goossens: Rhythmic Dance
6.Herbert Howells: Phantasy Minuet
Alfredo Casella: Trois Pièces pour Pianola
Gian-Francesco Malipiero: Tre Improvvisi per Pianola
10.No. 1
11.No. 2
12.No. 3
13.Sir Frederick H. Cowen: Overture, The Butterfly's Ball
14.Sir Hubert Parry: Incidental Music to The Frogs (Aristophanes)
15.Sir Arnold Bax: Scherzo
16.Harry Gill: Caprice
17.Maurice Ravel: Frontispice
David Stanhope: Three Folksongs for Pianola
18.Lord Bateman
19.O Shepherd
20.The Keel Row
21.Robin Walker: Halifax

This album was recorded in July 2007 at the Old Granary, near Beccles, Suffolk, using Rex Lawson's 88-note Pianola push-up from 1910, attached to a 1950s Steinway concert grand supplied by Andrew Giller. The recording engineer was Richard Black, and Denis Hall acted as musical consultant.

The CD is currently available from the NMC website, where further information and audio examples may also be found.

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Robin Walker - Halifax and Other Compositions
Riverrun Records - RVRCD 66 : April 2003

CD Contents
1.Robin Walker: Dance/Still (1982)
2.Robin Walker: Dances with Chant and Chorales (1986)
3.Robin Walker: Mr Gilbert Dines at the Modern Hindu Hotel (1994)
4.Robin Walker: Invention (1994)
5.Robin Walker: I Thirst (1994)
6.Robin Walker: Halifax (1995)
7.Robin Walker: At the Grave of William Baines (1999)
8.Robin Walker: His Master's Voice (2001)

Robin Walker attended a pianola recital given by Rex Lawson at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 1994, and as a result turned his thoughts to the writing of a new composition for music roll. Halifax received its première during a live recital given by Lawson on Radio 3 in May 1996, and it was later included on this general CD of Robin Walker's music.

The piece celebrates the town of the same name in the composer's native Yorkshire, with its former carpet mills, its markets and the striking structure of Gilbert Scott's All Souls' Church. The composition might almost be likened to an audible "Lowry", painting a portrait in sound which derives a certain objectivity from the use of the pianola.

The CD is currently available from the Riverrun Records website, where further information and audio examples may also be found.

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Les Noces and Other Works for Pianola
Aeolia 1001 - OM 1001 : 1998

CD Contents
1.Igor Stravinsky: Les Noces, version for Pleyela (1923)
2.Witold Lutosławski: Wariacje na temat Paganiniego
3.Sergei Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
4.George Frederic Handel: Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
5.Charles-Marie Widor: Toccata from Organ Symphony no. 5
Sir Arthur Sullivan - Sir Charles Mackerras: Pineapple Poll
7.Belaye's Solo

The Pianola Institute's first CD was recorded in the Djanogly Recital Hall at the University of Nottingham, using Denis Hall's 88-note Pianola push-up and a Steinway concert grand belonging to the County of Nottinghamshire. The recording engineer was Nicholas Sackman, and Denis Hall acted as musical consultant. The CD was issued jointly by the Institute and the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco.

The Pianola Institute version of this CD is no longer available, but the Other Minds CD, entitled The Virtuoso Pianolist, may still be obtained from the Pianola Institute shop.

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Stravinsky - Song of the Nightingale and Other Works
Erato CD - 4509-98955-2 : 1995
Erato LP - STU 71428 : 1982 / RCA LP - ARL1-4453 : 1982

CD Contents (Disc 2)
1.Igor Stravinsky: Le Chant du Rossignol (1917)
2.Igor Stravinsky: Quatre Chants Paysans Russes - Les Soucoupes
3.Igor Stravinsky: Trois Pièces pour Quatuor à Cordes (1914)
4.Igor Stravinsky: Étude pour Pianola (1917)
5.Igor Stravinsky: Quatre Études pour Orchestre (1928)

Rex Lawson's contribution to these discs consisted of his first commercial recording of Stravinsky's Étude pour Pianola. The recording was made at Radio France in Paris in June 1981, during a lull in rehearsals for the world première of Les Noces (1919 version), with pianola, cimbaloms, harmonium and percussion. The original LPs contain the same music as the second disc of the CD set, except that the Song of the Nightingale was replaced by its lengthier cousin, The Nightingale in the 1995 reissue. The Erato LP was also published in cassette form, MCE 71428.

The pianola used for the recording no longer exists, but it was designed and constructed by Patrick Handscombe and Rex Lawson between 1978 and 1980, using a small upright piano case supplied by Monington and Weston, a two-deck pneumatic stack from an upright Pianola Piano, and a great deal of aluminium angle. A video survives of a programme on Yorkshire Television in 1982, featuring a performance of the Chopin Ab Polonaise played by Rex Lawson on the unusual instrument.

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Igor Stravinsky - Pianola Works
MusicMasters - 67138 : 1994 / Musical Heritage - 513738F : 1994

CD Contents
1 - 4.Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka
5.Igor Stravinsky: Étude pour Pianola
6 - 7.Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

The Musical Heritage Society in New Jersey not only publishes CDs on a subscription basis for its members, but in some cases also issues direct to the public as well. This accounts for the two separate CDs in this case, each with its own different serial number and sleeve design.

The recording of Petrushka was a world première, and together with the Rite it was recorded at the State University of New York in Purchase, the day after George Antheil's Ballet Mécanique, which comes next on this page. During the pianola's return to the UK, the US Customs at Newark attempted to crowbar their way into the instrument's wooden crate, constructed by Denis Hall and Rex Lawson themselves, both retrospectively relieved at the solidity of construction.

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George Antheil - Ballet Mécanique and Other Works
MusicMasters - 67094 : 1992

CD Contents
1.George Antheil: A Jazz Symphony
2.George Antheil: Second Sonata for Violin, Piano and Drum
3.George Antheil: String Quartet no. 1
George Antheil: Ballet pour Instruments Mécaniques et Percussion
4.Roll One
5.Roll Two
6.Roll Three

Maurice Peress, formerly asssistant to Leonard Bernstein, organised and conducted a revival of the Ballet Mécanique at Carnegie Hall in 1989, and some two years later the same forces were re-assembled at Purchase, in upstate New York, to record the result on to CD. The actual sessions took place on April 3rd, Rex Lawson's 43rd birthday, and as at the live performance, the array of Baldwin concert grands dominated the proceedings.

The CD cover uses a photograph of the Carnegie Hall concert, taken by Charles Amirkhanian from his seat in one of the boxes at the side of the auditorium. The pianola was accorded pride of place, surrounded by a corps de ballet of eight normal pianists, including a rather young Marc-André Hamelin, whose late father was a long-time member of the Friends of the Pianola Institute.

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Igor Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring
IMP Masters - MCD 25 : 1991 / Carlton Classics - 30366 00992 : 1998

CD Contents
1 - 8.Igor Stravinsky: Part 1 - Adoration of the Earth (Orchestral Version)
9 - 14.Igor Stravinsky: Part 2 - The Sacrifice (Orchestral Version)
15 - 22.Igor Stravinsky: Part 1 - Adoration of the Earth (Pianola Version)
23 - 28.Igor Stravinsky: Part 2 - The Sacrifice (Pianola Version)

Benjamin Zander had a theory that the orchestral version of the Rite of Spring would benefit if conductors were made aware of the composer's arrangement for Pleyela, the brand of player piano manufactured by Pleyel in Paris. He based many of the speeds in his own performances on those he encountered on a tape of some of the Pleyela rolls made on an electrically driven upright Pleyela in Paris during the 1980s.

Whether it is wise to draw any definitive conclusions regarding tempi from such piano rolls, especially when the tape recording in question seems to play back at the wrong pitch, is perhaps questionable, but Zander's enthusiasm for the project provided the opportunity for the first ever audio recording of the Pleyela version. At the last minute, Rex Lawson organised a recording studio and Bösendorfer Imperial Grand Piano at his former school, Dulwich College, and the sessions took place on 30th September 1990, a very hot day, to judge from the surviving photographs.

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Maarten Bon - Boréal and Other Works
Donemus Composers' Voice LP - 8404 : c. 1984

LP Contents
1.Maarten Bon: Boréal - for Violin and Percussion Ensemble
2.Maarten Bon: Boréal - Pianola Transcription by Rex Lawson
3.Maarten Bon: Display V - for Twelve Cello Players
4.Maarten Bon: Nee, die Idee(e)n (A.T.) - for Piccolo Solo
5.Maarten Bon: Display IV - for Six Pianists and a Piano Tuner

The late Dutch pianist and composer, Maarten Bon, became aware of the pianola after Rex Lawson gave the first broadcast performance of Jan van Dijk's Concert voor Pianola, Op. 608, with the Nederlandse Omroep Orkest at the KRO in Hilversum in November 1981. During a return visit to the KRO Studios in 1983, no less than three versions of Boréal were performed, the pianola version taking precedence as the world première.

The arrangement of the composition for pianola represented something of a challenge, especially since the version for two pianos called on one pianist to play a number of chords silently, and to hold down the notes, while the other pianist played the same notes loudly and staccato, thus creating an unusual resonance between the two pianos. A similar effect was achieved on the pianola by playing various octaves and harmonics silently, and extending the perforations in the roll.

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CD and LP Recordings of Public Concerts

Flanders Festival 2000 - Radio Klara : 2002

CD Contents
Igor Stravinsky: Pribaoutki
4.Starez i sajaz
5.Igor Stravinsky: Les Noces - 1923 Version
6.Igor Stravinsky: Etude voor Pianola
Igor Stravinsky: Concerto voor Piano en Blazers
10.Igor Stravinsky: Elegie voor Altviool Solo
11.Igor Stravinsky: Elegie voor J.F.K.
12.Igor Stravinsky: Epitaphium

The Flanders Festival in 2000 included both the 1919 and 1923 versions of Les Noces, sung by the New London Chamber Choir, conducted by James Wood. One of the choral sopranos on this occasion was Rona Eastwood, who was subsequently kind enough to marry the pianolist.

Collegium Musicum Copenhagen - CM11 : 1997

CD Contents
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 - Soloist: Percy Grainger
1.Allegro molto moderato
3.Allegro moderato molto e marcato
4.Percy Grainger: Gumsucker's March - Soloists: Percy Grainger and Lotta Hough
5.Percy Grainger: Jutish Medley - Orchestral Version

CD made at the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen on 26 January 1997, with the Collegium Musicum, Copenhagen, Michael Schønwandt conducting. The Duo-Art rolls of Grainger's performance were edited by Denis Hall, the Duo-Art push-up was converted and restored by Peter Davis, and Percy was kept in with the orchestra by Rex Lawson.

Städtischer Gymnasium Bern-Neufeld - Turicaphon 50 113 : 1988

LP Contents
1.Igor Stravinsky: Les Noces - 1923 Version
2.Igor Stravinsky: Les Noces - 1919 Version with Pianola and Ensemble
3.Sergei Rachmaninov: Trois Chansons Russes, Op. 41

In 1988 the students of the Gymnasium (High School) at Neufeld, near Bern in Switzerland, put on a stunning concert of Russian music, with an enormous coloured backdrop designed by Bernard Schlup and his art class. The LP sleeve gives only a tiny glimpse of the equally eye-catching concert posters. The conductor was Adolf Burkhardt.

A London Razzle-Dazzle - Bravo Records BR-7002 : 1986

LP Contents
1.Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto, First Movement - Soloist: Percy Grainger
2.Sir Arnold Bax: Scherzo for Pianola - Soloist: Denis Hall
3.David Stanhope: The Keel Row - Soloist: Rex Lawson
4.Camille Saint-Saëns: Carnival of Animals (Excerpts)
3.John Philip Sousa: Stars and Stripes Forever

The Inaugural Concert of the Pianola Institute took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in December 1985, with the aid of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra under its conductor, Orcenith Smith. Richard Baker, the well-known TV newsreader and presenter, introduced the concert, which featured both Duo-Art and Pianola performances, as well as some very enthusiastic orchestral playing from the young musicians, who were celebrating their first ever overseas concert tour.

The souvenir LP contains a selection from the concert, including Grainger on Duo-Art, and Denis Hall and Rex Lawson as soloists in Saint-Saëns' Carnival of Animals, complete with Ogden Nash's verses, specially adapted to suit the pianola, and recited by Richard Baker. Not many such concerts happen during a lifetime of music-making!

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