The Aeolian Company

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bax,Casella,Cowen,Gill,Goossens,Grainger,Howells,Malipiero,Parry,Ravel,Stanhope and Walker,Stravinsky,Willis
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: The Aeolian Company
WORKS: Original works and arrangements by Willis, Grainger, Stravinsky, Goossens, Howells, Casella, Malipiero, Cowen, Parry, Bax, Gill, Ravel, Stanhope and Walker
PERFORMER: Rex Lawson (pianola)
CATALOGUE NO: D136

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As Rex Lawson’s booklet notes explain, there are major differences between the player-piano – where composers could ‘record’ their own performances directly onto piano rolls – and the pianola – which requires its performer to control and judge tempo-shifts and accentuation, while pedalling away to keep the punched paper roll turning. Lawson’s skill at all this is so complete that he almost compensates for the irritation caused by most of the music itself. The early years of the last century saw the market-dominating Aeolian Company, besides churning out pianola arrangements of orchestral music, also commissioning composers to create original works. Sure enough, most of them fell straight into the trap of crowding in as many notes as they could. The contributions by Casella and Malipiero sound like a six-handed pianist on speed. Even Herbert Howells, in his Menuetto, was tempted into hyperactivity. Far more ear-catching results come in Stravinsky’s Etude, and Ravel’s Frontispiece – both composers having realised that the pianola is much more interesting when deploying widely-spaced musical strata, rather than unleashing shedloads of notes for notes’ sake. Malcolm Hayes