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Introducing the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls

Steinway Red Welte (1922), detail

In support of a major initiative to bring attention to the study of roll playing musical instruments, the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound and Department of Music have acquired the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls, a collection of over 7500 rolls and ten players. The Condon Collection has long been known as one of the most important collections of reproducing pianos and piano rolls in private hands. Leading figures in the field of rolls and players are working along with Stanford faculty and staff on the project. The initiative will include roll preservation through scanning and digitization, restoration of instruments for playback, item level cataloging to allow for content discovery, and research into under-represented or rare systems and rolls. Plans for the collection include making streaming audio files of the recordings available to the public at large.

Many of the rolls in the collection were recorded by major composers playing their own works starting as early as 1904 and extending as late as 1941. Composers represented include Saint Saëns, Busoni, Bartók, Mahler, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Joplin, and Zez Confrey, to name just a few. In addition, many of the rolls are extremely rare, such as Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor played by Liszt’s protégé, Eugen d’Albert, one of only three pupils of Liszt to record the monumental work, all of them on rolls.

The collection includes a wide selection of systems and rare rolls by Hupfeld, Art Echo, Welte (Red, Green, Licensee), Ampico (A, B), and Duo-Art. The instruments include a keyboardless Red Welte Steinway, two Ampico grands (Chickering and Marshall and Wendell), Hupfeld Animatic Phonoliszt, Behning Art Echo, and four Vorsetzer players (Ampico, Duo Art, Welte Red, and Welte Green).

Following from the acquisition of the Condon Collection two other collections were acquired. In preparing his monumental bibliography, The Classical Reproducing Piano Roll: A Catalogue-Index, Larry Sitsky compiled a comprehensive collection of piano roll catalogs of over 300 volumes. This collection is invaluable for research, documentation, and cataloging of the rolls in the Condon Collection. Complementing the Condon Collection, the Richard David Pawlyn Collection of Organ Players and Rolls consists of an Aeolienne and a Duo-Art organ player with a collection of over 1200 organ rolls including performances by Marcel Dupre, Edwin Lamare, Max Reger, Karl Straube and others. The collection of Aeolian rolls represents nearly eighty percent of the entire Aeolian organ roll catalog.

This roll project follows from efforts at Stanford in historical performance research under the banner Reactions to the Record, which have established Stanford as a leader in the field.  The roll collection will be housed at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound, a leading music archive with over 400,000 items in its permanent collection.  The archive is located on the campus of Stanford University with its world-class music facilities including the newly opened Bing Concert Hall, where a concerto performance featuring rolls from the collection accompanied by the Stanford Symphony Orchestra is planned for Spring 2015.   

Following cataloging of the collection, announcements will be made to let people know that the collection is available for use. Stanford is also interested in adding more reproducing piano rolls to its collection and is accepting donations of rolls that complement the collection. To make a donation or to inquire about other ways to assist in this important project, contact the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound.

Key contacts for this project include: 

Kumaran Arul, Lecturur (piano), Department of Music

Jerry McBride, Head, Music Library and Archive of Recorded Sound


Watch and listen to George Gershwin's performance of "I'm forever blowing bubbles," recorded in the Bronx in 1920 (Purple Seal Welte Mignon 3970, reprinted by the Gryphon Co.)



A portion of the Condon Collection piano rolls, prior to shipment from Australia.

A portion of the Condon Collecton piano rolls, prior to shipment from Australia. 

Watch the time-lapse video of the packing process (Filmed by Greg Punch; courtesy of Robert Mitchell)


The Steinway Red Welte Reproducing Piano (1922) finds a new home in the Archive of Recorded Sound.

The Steinway Red Welte Reproducing Piano (1922) finds a new home in the Archive of Recorded Sound.


Steinway Red Welte (1922), interior.

Steinway Red Welte (1922), interior